Should SBER Researchers Attend The AER Conference?

Michael_Kraten_resizedResearchers who attend the Social, Behavioral, and Educational Research (SBER) Conference face an obvious question: should they attend the Advancing Ethical Research (AER) Conference too?

We can certainly understand why a SBER researcher might hesitate before committing to a second conference. After all, the AER event encompasses research in medicine and other fields. If SBER researchers can remain current in their own field by attending a SBER conference, why should they attend another one?

As a SBER researcher, I faced this decision myself, and opted to attend both events this year. Now that the conferences have concluded, was it worthwhile for me to attend the second conference? And from a broader perspective, can researchers learn how to better address their own challenges by understanding how individuals in different fields address similar challenges

In my previous blog posting, for instance, I discussed how Stanford professor and workshop session speaker Jeff Hancock and his colleagues at Facebook might have considered the use of debriefing activities while designing their emotional contagion study. Jeff’s session was placed in the SBER Conference because he engages in social media research.

At a subsequent AER Conference session, Liza Dawson of the NIH’s NIAID Division of AIDS addressed the same topic, even though she works in the field of medicine. While emphasizing that researcher transparency is a critical ingredient for maintaining the public’s trust in medical research, Lisa discussed a possible debriefing requirement that “whenever appropriate, the subjects will be provided with additional pertinent information after participation.”

Liza’s fellow panelist Rachael Sachs, of Harvard’s Petrie-Flom Center for Health, Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics, then cautioned that debriefing activities can generate significant burdens for researchers, and thus must be carefully considered before they are included in studies. Interestingly, Jeff raised the very same concern within a subsequent email conversation.

Had I not attended both conferences, I would have gleaned some insight from Jeff’s comments, but I would not have heard the complementary perspectives from Liza and Rachael at the AER Conference. I would not have enjoyed the opportunity to explore these ideas about this critical issue.

The benefits of cross-disciplinary learning were also raised in a different context at Jeff’s presentation. While discussing the media frenzy that followed the publication of his study, the speakers and attendees briefly addressed an issue regarding human subjects ethics. Namely, they agreed that researchers could glean insights about how to respect the rights of their human subjects by understanding how journalists act to respect the rights of their interviewee sources.

Am I implying that PRIM&R should add a journalism conference to its future SBER and AER Conferences? Well, that might represent a bit too much of a stretch. Nevertheless, if we can conclude that researchers and journalists might be able to learn important lessons from each other, then perhaps we might agree that SBER and other fields of research can learn from each other too.

Michael Kraten, chair of the IRB at Providence College, is a member of the PRIM&R Blog Squad for the 2015 AER Conference. The PRIM&R Blog Squad is composed of PRIM&R members who blogged here, on Ampersand, to give our readers an inside peek of what happened at the conference in Boston, MA.