A simple meta-principle that should govern vast social engineering experiments such as immigration, housing policies, disparate impact quotas and so forth is the health and research concept of “Informed Consent.” The potential consequences of government policies such as lack of enforcement of immigration laws or Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing should be explained to American citizenry in simple, frank language.
Most importantly, no efforts should be made to silence vigorous debate on these subjects in order to bring about Uninformed Submission. In particular, experts, such as Jason Richwine, James D. Watson, and Larry Summers, should not be fired, pour encourager les autres, precisely for offering informed analysis of the likely consequences of social experiments.
Here are the federal guidelines on Informed Consent for human research, which provide a good starting point for applying this principle to social engineering experiments:
According to the U.S. Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP), the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) requires that certain information be provided to research subjects before they participate in a study, including:
A statement that the study involves research, an explanation of the purposes of the research and the expected duration of the subject’s participation, a description of the procedures to be followed, and identification of any procedures which are experimental
A description of any reasonably foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject
A description of any benefits to the subject or to others which may reasonably be expected from the research
A disclosure of appropriate alternative procedures or courses of treatment, if any, that might be advantageous to the subject
A statement describing the extent, if any, to which confidentiality of records identifying the subject will be maintained
For research involving more than minimal risk, an explanation as to whether there are any treatments or compensation if injury occurs and, if so, what they consist of, or where further information may be obtained (Note: A risk is considered “minimal” when the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the proposed research are not greater, in and of themselves, than those ordinarily encountered in daily life or during the performance of routine physical or psychological examinations or tests)
An explanation of whom to contact for answers to pertinent questions about the research and research subjects’ rights, and whom to contact in the event of a research-related injury to the subject
A statement that participation is voluntary, refusal to participate will involve no penalty or loss of benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled, and the subject may discontinue participation at any time without penalty or loss of benefits to which the subject is otherwise entitled
Note: It is essential that consent forms be written in plain language that research subjects can understand. In addition, the consent form should not contain any exculpatory language. That is, subjects should not be asked to waive (or appear to waive) any of their legal rights, nor should they be asked to release the investigator, sponsor, or institution (or its agents) from liability for negligence.
Update: A commenter points to this 2009 Jim Bowery blog post about “informed consent” as a basic ethical principle.