Research ethics committees are consistently faced with the challenge of approving research that proposes new uses for data, and with little empirical evidence on what has widespread ‘social licence’. Cue the Cambridge Analytica scandal of March 2018 – a watershed moment for understanding how the public feels about having their information harvested.
Aleksandr Kogan, the academic involved in the company that collected the data, applied to Cambridge University for ethics approval to use the data in research and was declined. Documents of the review made available under the Freedom of Information Act include 126 pages of submissions, re-submissions and appendices – the backstage workings of the research ethics committee.
In this presentation I’ll draw on experience at my own institution as well as the literature to consider what we can learn from this detailed account of disagreement. How does this case inform how research ethics committees should assess data science projects, the role of the committee more broadly, and what does it show about how these projects interact with the society whose data they trade on?