“Scaled-up programs almost never use randomized assignment so the RCT has a different assignment mechanism, and this may be contested ethically even when the full program is fine.”
Lotteries aren’t so exotic
It is not uncommon to read about medical trials for new drugs which get stopped early because they are too successful and it would be unethical not to offer the treatment to the control group (e.g.
The latest issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives (all content openly available online), has a symposium on the use of field experiments in economics. We’ve discussed or linked to posts on three of the four papers in previous blog posts: A paper on mechanism experiments by Ludwig, Kling and Mullainathan; a paper on the
The Telegraph has an article on seven scientific experiments that would have large pay-offs to science, but which would be completely unethical. Examples include separating twins at birth, testing new chemicals on humans, and cross-breeding a human with a chimpanzee. For each, they discuss the scientific premise, and the payoffs to science if it were to be accomplished.
The basic principles of ethical research as laid out in the Belmont Report include “respect for persons”, which stipulates that all individuals should be treated as autonomous agents. Typically this principle is translated into practice with a statement read to all study subjects concerning the voluntary nature of study participation and the freedom to withhold consent. These ethical guidelines largely derive from medical trials where individual targeting of an intervention such as an experimental drug is typical.
Last year the British Medical Journal published the results of an impact evaluation of local immunization campaigns with and without incentives in rural India. Full immunization rates were very low in the study area (2%) and the researchers wanted to test two nested approaches to improving participation in immunization campaigns.