ACM Publications Policy on Research Involving Human Participants and Subjects

ACM Publications Policy on Research Involving Human Participants and Subjects 

Approved by ACM Publications Board on August 15, 2021

Background

ACM is committed to protecting the rights and welfare of all individuals participating in computing research. Research involving human participants and subjects raises ethical concerns regarding informed consent, risks to participants and subjects, and potential coercion. In many countries and jurisdictions around the world such research is subject to regulations, including regulations requiring review by a review board prior to conducting such research. 

While many of these regulations were first developed to govern medical research, such as the Declaration of Helsinki, they have generally been extended to include behavioral research, including some research in computing.  While these regulations generally derive from the same principles, they differ in terms of which research is covered and in the specific review processes and criteria employed. 

In developing this Policy, ACM carefully reviewed The Belmont Report and derived many of the same principles as identified and explained in this report.

In recent years, it has become common for research publications to have policies governing research with human participants and subjects and to require researchers engaged in such research to make declarations, prior to publication, that they have acted in accordance with both ACM’s Policy and any local or governmental laws and regulations governing their research.

Furthermore, in addition to Primary Publishers’ developing and ratifying policies involving human participants and subjects research, many secondary publishers, such as Clarivate and international ethics organizations, like the Committee on Publication Ethics, have in recent years implemented their own requirements and guidelines for published research that involved human participants and subjects. To the greatest extent possible, ACM aims to comply with these requirements.

Reasons for Policy

As the number of articles ACM publishes that include research based on human participants and subjects rises, it is a moral imperative that ACM establishes a clear policy setting standards for practice in connection with ACM Publications. Simply put, it is the right thing to do and it is important for all stakeholders in the publication process, including authors, reviewers, editors, program committees, readers, and third parties making ACM publications discoverable to the world to know that any research published in an ACM publication venue can be trusted to be based on ethical research standards and practices.

Definition of Human Participant and Subject Research

ACM adopts the definition of Human Subjects Research used by the US National Institutes of Health as “Research involving a living individual about whom data or biospecimens are obtained/used/studied/analyzed through interaction/intervention, or identifiable, private information is used/studied/analyzed/generated” (see https://grants.nih.gov/sites/default/files/human-subjects-research-infographic.pdf)

Policy Statement

All authors conducting research involving human participants and subjects must meet appropriate ethical and legal standards guiding such research. In particular, ACM authors must ensure that their human research planning, conduct, and reporting are consistent with their local governing laws and regulations and the general principles detailed below. It is important to note that something may not be ethical even though it is not prohibited by local law or regulation, and thus authors should also ensure alignment that their research practices are compliant with the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct and international and national standards for such research, such as The Declaration of Helsinki, The Belmont Report, and The Common Rule, including, but not limited to:

  • minimization of potential harms, making sure any risks are justified by potential benefits
  • protection for the privacy and right to self-determination of participants and subjects
  • adhering to relevant institutional, local, national, and international regulations
  • adhering to the principle of informed consent
  • adhering to the principle of justice
  • adherence with all other applicable ACM policies

Where such research is conducted in countries where no such local governing laws and regulations related to human participant and subject research exist, Authors must at a bare minimum be prepared to show compliance with the above detailed principles. Authors should also declare any potential conflicts of interest in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Policy for ACM Publications, so that reviewers and editors may determine whether the declared COIs are significant enough to warrant rejection of the Work or another appropriate remedy.

Individual ACM Publications, such as an ACM Journal or Conference Proceeding, may specify a more restrictive policy than required by local legal requirements, however, where an individual ACM Publication (i.e. - conference, journal, etc.) implements a more restrictive policy, the requirements for this stricter policy must be clearly communicated in the Instructions for Authors section of that publication’s website and must be included in any and all publicly distributed Calls for Papers for that publication venue, such as for an ACM Conference. 

Scope of Policy 

This policy applies to all ACM Publications, including ACM Sponsored, co-Sponsored, or In-Cooperation Conferences, International Conference Proceedings Series (ICPS) proceedings, journals, magazines, books, newsletters, or any research data or content published in the ACM Digital Library as primary objects. 

Roles and Responsibilities

Authors.  It is the authors’ responsibility (each author individually and the authors collectively) to comply with and provide evidence of compliance with this Policy.  Where local ethical review boards are required, authors are responsible for having their research reviewed and approved by such boards.  Authors are also responsible for the overall ethical conduct of their research.  All ACM Authors must be prepared to provide documentary evidence to ACM that they have adhered to local ethical and legal standards, as ACM may require documentary evidence of such approval at any time following submission of the Work and prior to or after publication of the Work.

Editors-in-Chief and Program Committee Chairs.  EICs and Program Chairs are responsible for communicating the existence of this policy to authors.  They are also responsible for setting and communicating any publication-specific human subjects research policy, after consulting with ACM Staff and the Chair of the ACM Ethics and Plagiarism Committee, with the requirement that such policies must be no less restrictive than this policy.  Editors-in-Chief and Program Committee Chairs are responsible for determining the appropriate mechanisms for ensuring compliance with this policy (including optionally including questions about human participants and subjects research on review forms and requiring submission of any required documentation as part of article submission) and have the ultimate responsibility for determining whether a submission under review should be rejected for violation of this policy.  

Peer Reviewers.  Reviewers have the opportunity (and if specified by the Editor-in-Chief or the Program Committee Chair, the responsibility) to consider whether human subjects research they are reviewing was conducted ethically and in compliance with local requirements.  Such issues may be raised in reviews or directly to the appropriate Editor or Program Committee member.  

Publications Board Ethics and Plagiarism Committee.  The Publications Board Ethics and Plagiarism Committee is responsible for deciding cases involving alleged violations of this policy in published Works as discussed below.  The committee may also be consulted for advice on cases prior to publication by journal EICs or conference Program Committee Chairs.  

ACM Staff.  ACM Staff is responsible for communication of this policy to authors through the ACM Web site and other author-facing ACM sites, in the ACM Digital Library, ACM SIG sites, and in individual ACM Publications, such as journals, magazines, conference proceedings, books, etc.

Violations and Penalties

ACM will investigate potential violations of this Policy when receiving a credible claim from a named individual(s) that an ACM author(s) may have violated this Policy. To the greatest extent possible, the identity of claimants shall be kept confidential. 

When an allegation of potential misconduct relates to an unpublished submission to an ACM journal, magazine, or book, the Editor-in-Chief of the ACM Publication will work directly with either the author(s) to ensure compliance with this Policy or will have the obligation to reject the submission. 

When an allegation of potential misconduct relates to an unpublished submission to an ACM conference or ICPS conference, the Program Committee Chair(s) will work directly with either the author(s) to ensure compliance with this Policy prior to publication in the ACM Digital Library or will have the obligation to reject the submission.

When an allegation of potential misconduct relates to a Work already published by ACM in the ACM DL, a determination of whether that work violates this policy shall be made by the ACM Publications Board.  ACM Staff will work closely with the Ethics + Plagiarism Committee of the ACM Publications Board to investigate and advise on the case.

In the event it is determined that the Policy has been violated and depending on the circumstances and severity of the violation, a Level 2-5 penalty may be assessed, at the sole discretion of the Ethics + Plagiarism Committee or ACM Publications Board, which may include, depending on the severity of the violation a “Note of Concern” on the Work’s citation page or a Retraction of the published Work in the ACM Digital Library, as per ACM’s policy and procedures for retracting Works in the ACM Digital Library and in accordance with ACM’s Penalties for Publication Violations.

Additional Resources

Questions, Requests, and Contact Information

The ACM Director of Publications can be contacted for any: 

  • Questions about the interpretation of this policy
  • Appeals of decisions made under this policy
  • Requests made under this policy
  • Suggestions for changes to this policy
Mailing address:
ACM Director of Publications
Attn: Publication Policy Claim
1601 Broadway, 10th Floor New York, NY 10119
Phone: +1-212-626-0659
Or via email: publication-policies@hq.acm.org RE: Policy on Research Involving Human Participants and Subjects

 

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