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Google, Facebook and others do thousands of A/B tests each year.

In addition, advertisers do them as well. Even universities with review boards are unlikely to review A/B tests of their university web advertising ("should we show smiling multiethnic students at a football game, or students diligently studying in the library?")

But it's easy to spend practically no time writing a column expressing outrage.


I've also been amazed by the response. It hasn't taken the internet to allow this sort of project to run. I know of academics who have been involved with credit card companies mail outs to convince people to use increase their credit card limits. These are a simple randomised trial. Just send different deals to different customers and watch the responses. I expect they do the same thing to increase usage.

I actually find Amazon's and others efforts to sell me a book very worthwhile, and I'm certain that they do A/B testing to attempt to get people to buy a book. If I search them I'm more likely to find something worthwhile than I would be at my university library which doesn't care at all whether I find a book.

Last word might be XKCD http://xkcd.com/1390/ as almost always.


Supporting my earlier point that media are unfairly targeting the Facebook study as a cheap way to fill airtime:


33 Ethicists Defend Facebook’s Controversial Mood Study
by Andy Thomason

"A group of bioethicists wrote in a column published on Wednesday that Facebook’s controversial study of mood manipulation was not unethical, and harsh criticism of it risks putting a chill on future research. The article was written by six ethicists, joined by 27 others."

Andrew Gelman

Well put: "a huge effect for a tiny non-random segment of a large population can coexist with no effect for the entire population."

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