Michelle Meyer: Misjudgements Will Drive Social Trials Underground

Michelle Meyer has a new piece in Nature – an open letter on the Facebook study signed by a group of bioethicists (including PFC’s Executive Director Holly Fernandez Lynch) in which she argues that a Facebook study that manipulated news feeds was not definitively unethical and offered valuable insight into social behavior.

From the piece:

“Some bioethicists have said that Facebook’s recent study of user behavior is “scandalous”, “violates accepted research ethics” and “should never have been performed”. I write with 5 co-authors, on behalf of 27 other ethicists, to disagree with these sweeping condemnations (see go.nature.com/XI7szI).

We are making this stand because the vitriolic criticism of this study could have a chilling effect on valuable research. Worse, it perpetuates the presumption that research is dangerous.”

Read the full article.

Art Caplan: Facebook Experiment Used Silicon Valley Trickery

Art Caplan has a new opinion piece on NBCNews about a recently published study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, where a  Facebook scientist teamed up with two academics to subtly tweak the news feeds of nearly 700,000 Facebook users.

From the piece:

“The question of whether or not an experiment is ethical hinges upon the question of “informed consent.” Generally, this means that a subject in a study needs to have basic information about the study he’s participating in, understand the nature of the experiment and its risks and benefits, and have the ability to withhold his consent without fear of harm or retribution.

The authors of the study argue that they obtained subject consent: Their manipulation of Facebook users’ emotions was “… consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.” This is nonsense; it’s not informed consent. It is an old Silicon Valley trick for systematically eliminating the legal rights of its customers.”

Read the full article.

Sunstein Keynote at Petrie-Flom Annual Conference featured in Harvard Law Today

sunstein-atlanticHarvard Law Today has posted a feature on Cass Sunstein’s keynote address at the 2014 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference, “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.” Sunstein, who is the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard Law School and the co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, addressed the opening day of the conference on May 2, 2014, on the subject of “Choosing Not to Choose.”

Full video of the conference will be available soon via the Petrie-Flom Center’s website. In the meantime, you can read about and view Sunstein’s keynote address here.

#BELHP2014 7: Defaults in Health Care

[Ed. Note: On Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted its 2014 annual conference: “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.”  This is an installment in our series of live blog posts from the event; video will be available later in the summer on our website.]

Our esteemed moderator Gregory Kurfman of the New England Journal of Medicine oversaw a session that dug deep into how defaults work and why. The result was a better understanding of the regulatory tool most associated with soft paternalism, but doubt about whether its operation in healthcare is as libertarian or asymmetrically paternalistic as advertised.

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#BELHP2014 Plenary 3, Michael Hallsworth, UK Behavioral Insights Team

[Ed. Note: On Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted its 2014 annual conference: “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.”  This is an installment in our series of live blog posts from the event; video will be available later in the summer on our website.]

Today’s lunchtime plenary, Applying Behavioural Insights in Theory and in Practice, was presented by Michael Hallsworth, Principal Advisor, The Behavioural Insights Team (BIT)

Michael described the BIT as a “social purpose” company, originally founded within the UK government, but separated from it (in part) in February 2014.  The company is now partly owned by government, partly owned by its employees, and partly owned by the innovation charity, Nesta.  Michael indicated that when the Team was started, there was genuine doubt about whether behavioral interventions could make a difference or whether this was just a trendy new fad.  The Team responded by implementing rigorous methods of testing, measuring, and evaluating its proposals.

What does the BIT do?  Michael explained that its goal is to incorporate empirical findings about behavior into policy making. Although it has been colloquially referred to as the “Nudge Unit” and Richard Thaler does indeed advise them, the BIT is not actually a nudge unit.  Its first question is not how to nudge but rather how to solve policy problems.  It is a fact that policy tends (and is intended to) influence behavior.  Behavioral insights can allow governments and other policymakers to enhance and assess policy options, and offer new ones.  Put another way, Michael explained that there is not a distinction between policy-making and influencing behavior, they are one and the same.

Michael also argued that we should use behavioral insights as a lens through which to see all government action.  Moreover, whenever the government has decided to act, it should do so in way that it is actually most effective; there is a moral duty to maximize effectiveness and to spend limited government resources wisely.

Michael then went on to describe seven different ways of applying behavioral analysis to show that the best option is to:

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#BELHP2014 Panel 6, Deciding for Patients and Letting Patients Decide for Themselves

[Ed. Note: On Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted its 2014 annual conference: “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.”  This is an installment in our series of live blog posts from the event; video will be available later in the summer on our website.]

Christopher Robertson is moderating this session.

This session was kicked off by Matthew Lawrence, a Fellow at the Petrie-Flom Center, on “Rationing Justice by Default”. His paper departs from the fact of a huge backlog in Medicare appeals. The question is, if procedural justice is scarce, how do you ration it? Trim procedural protections for everyone? Limit access by a filing fee? Quadruple funding? Lawrence proposes a better alternative: Give full procedural protection to some and none to the rest based on the value that claimants get by from procedure claim, which is heterogeneous. You can then sort the cases via choice architecture. Many Medicare appeals are by large repeat players like the Scooter Store. Beneficiaries appealing is very small. The reasons why we give process lines up quite well to identity of appellant. Fairness, dignity/autonomy, normative legitimacy. The first two of the three probably apply less to the Scooter Store, whose interest is primarily financial. How do you sort? The classical solutions would include: (1) Treating providers differently – but that would discourage assignment, results in inequality, and would be over and under inclusive. (2) Fee for hearing – but leads to externalities since there are public values of process, there are behavioral biases that lead to undervalue process, and perhaps it normatively should be free. His preferred approach: sort with default rule. Maximize the stickiness. Give incentives for sophisticated party to opt into efficiency track. He explained this approach and then considered a set of objections.

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#BELHP2014 Panel 5, Behavioral Economics and the Doctor-Patient Relationship

[Ed. Note: On Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted its 2014 annual conference: “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.”  This is an installment in our series of live blog posts from the event; video will be available later in the summer on our website.]

This session was kicked off by Jennifer Zamzow, Post-Doctoral Fellow, Center for Ethics and Policy, Carnegie Mellon University, with a talk called “Affective Forecasting in Medical Decision-Making: What Do Physicians Owe Their Patients?”  Jennifer began with an example of a recently paralyzed patient requesting termination of life-sustaining care on the grounds that his injury feels like a fate worse than death.  On the one hand, we feel compelled to respect the decisions of competent patients, but on the other hand, given what we know about errors in affective forecasting, we anticipate that the patient would be able to eventually adapt to his new circumstances and lead a happy, full life.  The question, then, is whether physicians have any obligation to help their patients make more accurate affective forecasts.

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#BELHP2014 Plenary 2, Russell Korobkin

[Ed. Note: On Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted its 2014 annual conference: “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.”  This is an installment in our series of live blog posts from the event; video will be available later in the summer on our website.]

Today opened with a plenary talk by Russell Korobkin, who is the Richard C. Maxwell Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law.   His talk was titled “The Choice Architecture Problem and Health Care Decisions.”

He began by suggesting that the fundamental problem that unites the conference is that efficient health care decisions are often too difficult for boundedly rational individual to make optimally.   Classical economics suggests that revealed preferences match predicted hedonic experience.  Behavioral economics shows us that this is not true, and provides insights into why.  The million dollar question is what should policy makers do with these insights.

Yesterday, most of discussion oriented around the solution of libertarian paternalism.   But as Korobkin notes, that is just one approach and it has several drawbacks that keep it from providing a complete solution.  First, policy makers don’t always know what is best, so we don’t know which way to nudge.   Second, the best choice is often heterogeneous.   Third, the best choice for individuals is not necessarily socially optimal.  With these limits in mind, Korokin’s central claim is that the menu of non-coercive responses to bounded rationality should be expanded.  He proposes two additional choice architecture options: (1) simplification, and (2) libertarian welfarism.

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#BELHP2014 Panel 4, Crowding Out

[Ed. Note: On Friday, May 2 and Saturday, May 3, 2014, the Petrie-Flom Center hosted its 2014 annual conference: “Behavioral Economics, Law, and Health Policy.”  This is an installment in our series of live blog posts from the event; video will be available later in the summer on our website.]

This panel, moderated by Dr. Neel Shah concerned motivational crowding out.

The first paper, presented by Aditi Sen, was a paper co-authored with Huffman, Lowenstein, Asch, Kullgren, and Volp. The paper examined motivational crowding out from incentive payments in the weight loss context. They measured motivation via a survey administered before and after the introduction of financial incentives in two weight loss field experiments and found no evidence that intrinsic motivation fell when participants were given financial incentives as compared to controls.

The second paper, by Kristen Underhill, went deep into the theory of motivational crowding out.  The article reviews the existing literature and shows how sloppily the notion of crowding out is used. She offers 9 different dynamics of crowding out and discusses which have been validated when. She then offers a framework for thinking about when regulatory interventions are justified focused on autonomoy, behavioral outcomes, and the principal and beneficiary of the incentive scheme. The goal of the project was to offer “incentive architecture” techniques for regulators and guidance as to when they are appropriate.

The audience questions include: in what contexts do crowding out occur or not and how woudl we predict? Tax incentives as an example of the relevant incentives? Does motivational crowding out varies with SES? Do the empirical results apply more to moralized behavior like smoking and weight loss than others, and other topics?