SOC 412: Designing Field Experiments at Scale

Online platforms, which monitor and intervene in the lives of billions of people, routinely host thousands of experiments to evaluate policies, test products, and contribute to theory in the social sciences. These experiments are also powerful tools to monitor injustice and govern human and algorithm behavior. How can we do field experiments at scale, reliably, and ethically?

(image from research by Martin Saveski on detecting network effects in randomized trials)

What You Learn

In this hands-on undergraduate class (gradstudents are welcome), students will develop practical experimentation skills, engaging with methods, theory, ethics, and politics of large-scale behavioral research online. For a final project, student teams will develop, conduct, and report on a novel experiment together with an online community or platform.

By the end of the semester, you will be able to:

About the Instructor

J. Nathan Matias, PhD, is a computational social scientist who organizes citizen behavioral science toward a fairer, safer, more understanding internet. Nathan teaches in the department of sociology and is a post-doctoral researcher at the Paluck Lab in psychology and the Center for Information Technology Policy. He is also a visiting scholar at the MIT Center for Civic Media.

Nathan is the founder of CivilServant, a nonprofit that supports community-led behavioral science—conducting independent, public-interest audits and evaluations of social technologies. CivilServant achieves this through software systems that coordinate communities to conduct their own A/B tests on social issues. Nathan has worked with communities of millions of people to test ideas to prevent online harassment, broaden gender diversity on social media, manage human/algorithmic misinformation, and audit algorithms.