Aren’t we Guinea Pigs of a system ?

Monikangkan Barooah

People do not like to be guinea pigs and so a community is. People at large tend to rebel if they are forced to some kind of experiment. For companies that’s a problem. Experiments as termed as randomised experiments, often termed as “A/B tests” are the best ways for the private companies or the public officials to learn what they should be doing if they want to save cost or for that matter people’s lives or improve their business model or acceptance of a policy of a Government.

The illustrations will through more light on it.

Illustration 1:  Large private hospitals know that two diabetic medicines work well but they are not sure which one. So they have decided to use them, one half with one set of patients and the rest with 2nd type of medicine. It observes the results over a period of time.  The question is how far it can be termed as ethical to use such experiments over the diabetic patients without their consents?

Illustration 2: An MNC is experimenting their self-driving auto balance two wheeler in USA. It has all relevant permissions to test drive the vehicle on the street. But the question is, the company has two different technologies to test drive the self driving auto balance’ two wheeler. With the first the rider must push a button indicating the ‘I want to ride’. With the second the rider starts to ride and the vehicle automatically shifted to “Auto mode”. The CEO of the company is not aware which technology is safer and provides a better riding experience. To find it out he decides to experiment. Half of the company’s bike will be sold with the first technology and the rest with the second technology. The goal is to find which technology is better, safer and provides better customer experience.

These experiments are so rewarding that these days, the local business houses has started adapting it. One such experiment has encountered few days back here in Guwahati, as narrated below.

Illustration 3: A fast food chain in Guwahati has opted to give self made frozen chapattis while preparing the fast food item “Roll” and wanted feedbacks from the customers.  So they have decided to give one half of their customers with frozen chapattis and the regular one with another half. The goal is to find which suits better to their business model to save time for better productivity, and to launch “Frozen Chapattis” as their next product.

The above experiments are done by the corporate, SMEs etc. with an aim to give better product or service to their customers to enhance their profitability and customer experience.

Whereas, In government verticals the illustrations are pretty wide and variables are varies from time to time along with the sentiments of their franchisees. The illustrations are many but will list a few.

Illegal Immigrants:

In an environment of the decade old influx issues of Assam and Northeast has gone through such experiments by successive governments since independence. Here the variables are not as A/B tests as mentioned above but varies from time to time based on recipes that suit the political bosses to acquire power as a mandate to rule the land.  These experiments made people of northeast as guinea pigs, in the political system, where the mandate has been acquired by such tests they routinely perform through their agents. If one govt comes with appeasing policies to the foreigners another comes with a rider keeping a section of them on religious lines and in such process the whole issues of influx has been put into a laboratory with experiments to win votes and to retain power.

Implementation of NRC:

The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is a register containing names of all genuine Indian citizens. It was first prepared in 1951.The 1951 NRC list has been updated for Assam, which has had a longstanding foreigner problem, to remove out illegal migrants and save further inflow. Now the issue remains for one set of Political masters are to find the foreigners are deport, whereas another set has taken a stand that no Indian Citizens are to be deported.

Indigenous people and Clause-6 of Assam Accord:

Randomised tests are increasingly popular in this area with the increase in communities residing in Assam to come under the clause-6 of Assam Accord. Many studies focus on the effects of credentials like legacy data, Past Voting records, Land Pattas etc. Beyond these papers, a process has been identified by the Government by forming a committee to identify the Indigenous ingredients to be affix against its indigenous people. One set of people would have the above credentials or NRC Card, but they may not enjoy the protection under Clause-6 of Assam accord.

 All-in-all, the randomised test has proved to be an immensely popular and successful tool in policy evaluation across all policy-areas. In the future, their use is likely to increase, and we look forward to the knowledge they provide.

The experiments spanned a wide range and not limited to the auto-balance, self driving two wheelers or launch of a product but also the age-old influx issue, Implementation of NRC, Protection of Indigenous people,   etc.

But question remains, is it ethical?   Is it appropriate to conduct such experiments by profit making companies or by public officials or by Governments?  The answer lies on such experiments are varied from individuals to intuitions. Whereas people will object to such experiments if it is known to them and refused to be part of process to find a technique or technology or a solution which is better.

The issue is of course is that if you don’t know which is better out of A or B, the experiment is an excellent idea to find it out. Such experiments are not even morally forbidden.

 In short many people will think that it is wrong to treat people as guinea pigs- even in situations to find best out of the above experiments. But do you have any choice?

Monikangkan Barooah

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