Should we trust experiments on the web?

When I first started doing Web-based experiments, a number of people in my own lab were skeptical as to whether I would get anything valuable out of them. Part of this was due to worries about method (How do you know the participants are paying attention? How do you know they are telling the truth?), but I think part of it was also a suspicion of the Internet in general, which, as we all know, is full of an awful lot of crap.

For this reason, I expected some difficulties getting my Web-based studies published. However, the first of these studies was accepted without much drama, and what concerns the reviewers did raise had nothing to do with the Web (granted that only one of the experiments in that paper was run online). Similarly, while the second study (run in collaboration with Tal Makovski) has run into some significant hurdles in getting published, none of them involved the fact that the experiments were all run online.

Until now. After major revisions and some new experiments, we submitted the paper to a new journal where we thought it would be well-received. Unfortunately, it was not, and many of the concerns involved the Web. Two of the reviewers clearly articulated that they just don’t trust Web-based experiments. One went so far as to say that Web-based experiments should never be run unless there is absolutely no way to do the experiment in the lab.

(I would use direct quotes, but the reviewers certainly did not expect their comments to show up on a blog, anonymously or not. So you will have to take my word for it.)

Obviously, I trust Web-based experiments. I have written enough posts about why I think concerns are misguided, so I won’t rehash that here. I am more interested in why exactly people have trouble with Web-based experiments as opposed to other methodologies.
Is it because the Web-based method is relatively new? Is it because the Internet is full of porn? Or is it simply the case that for any given method, there are a certain number of people who just don’t trust it?

I have been doing street-corner surveying lately (a well-established method), and I can tell you that although it ultimately gives decent results, some very odd things happen along the way. But I suppose if, as a reviewer, I tried to reject a paper because I “just don’t trust surveys,” the action editor would override me.

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