In an important and sad new paper Meyer et al. demonstrate the phenomena in a series of 16 experiments which show that unease with experiments is replicable and general. The authors, for example, ask 679 people in a survey to rate the appropriateness of three interventions designed to reduce hospital infections. The three interventions are:
Badge (A): The director decides that all doctors who perform this procedure will have the standard safety precautions printed on the back of their hospital ID badges.
Poster (B): The director decides that all rooms where this procedure is done will have a poster displaying the standard safety precautions.
- A/B: The director decides to run an experiment by randomly assigning patients to be treated by a doctor wearing the badge or in a room with the poster. After a year, the director will have all patients treated in whichever way turns out to have the highest survival rate.
It’s obvious to me that the A/B test is much better than either A or B and indeed the authors even put their thumb on the scales a bit because the A/B scenario specifically mentions the positive goal of learning. Yet, in multiple samples people consistently rate the A/B scenario as more inappropriate than either A or B (see Figure at right).