February 7, 2013
Tora K. Bikson, a nationally known advocate for ethics in social science research and a longtime RAND Corporation psychologist, died Feb. 1 at UCLA Medical Center. She was 72.
Bikson headed the human subjects protection committee at RAND for more than 25 years and was a leading figure nationally on ethical issues involving human participants in social science research.
“Tora Bikson was an advocate for the highest ethical standards in social and behavioral science research, and she worked tirelessly to assure that the rights of people involved in research were respected,” said Michael D. Rich, president and CEO of RAND. “She also was a skillful and innovative researcher who made significant contributions to understanding how technology influences our behavior.”
While most of the discussion in the United States about human subjects protection involves biomedical research, Bikson was among a group of advocates who work to highlight the unique ethical issues over how to protect individuals who take part in social and behavioral science research.
Bikson served on a panel organized by the National Research Council that produced a widely regarded report in 2003 that recommended ways to strengthen protections for human subjects in social science research. Stronger protections had been widely seen as necessary.
“She was highly regarded and admired in this area of inquiry,” said Felice J. Levine, executive director of the American Educational Research Association. “One of her special qualities was how well she was grounded in both the complex issues of human subjects protection and the needs of scientific researchers.”
Among Bikson's other pioneering efforts was helping to organize a 2007 workshop that examined ethical principles in socio-behavioral research on terrorism. In January, she was among the first experts to address a national committee that is again revising the United States' rules for human subjects protection in research in the social and behavioral sciences.
Bikson joined the RAND research staff in 1974. Her early research focused on the ways that technology altered human behavior in the office environment, including a series of studies about changes prompted by the early use of e-mail. She also studied the use of technology in education, as well as many issues involved in both individual and group decision making.
Bikson received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Missouri (Columbia) and a doctorate in psychology from UCLA. She lectured and taught at many universities during her career.