Friday, June 19, 2015

Chilling Effects

Leon Neyfakh’s essay on Alice Goffman’s methods illustrates the dangers of researchers’ anticipating, rather than documenting, IRB restrictions on their work.


[Leon Neyfakh, “The Ethics of Ethnography,” Slate, June 18, 2015.]

Goffman's Tightrope

Two new articles add useful context to the debate about Alice Goffman’s On the Run. Together, they show just how narrow a path Goffman was walking between privacy and verifiability, and between scholarship and good writing. I will address the IRB issues in a separate post.


[Jesse Singal, “The Internet Accused Alice Goffman of Faking Details In Her Study of a Black Neighborhood. I Went to Philadelphia to Check,” Science of Us, June 18, 2015.; Leon Neyfakh, “The Ethics of Ethnography,” Slate, June 18, 2015.]

Monday, June 8, 2015

PRIM&R Meets with OIRA

Elisa Hurley, executive director of PRIM&R, reports that representatives of her organization met with officials from the federal Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to discuss a potential notice of proposed rule making (NPRM).


[Elisa Hurley, “PRIM&R Meets with OMB to Offer Input on Proposed Changes to the ‘Common Rule,’” Ampersand, June 8, 2015.]


Recall that PRIM&R’s comments on the 2011 ANPRM were ignorant of the concerns of qualitative researchers, particularly historians, misleading about the responsibility of IRBs for bad consent forms, and contemptuous of the goal of efficiency.


I hope OIRA will hear from other parties as well.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Klitzman Wants "Case Law." As Did Katz, 42 Years Ago

In an opinion piece drawn from his new book, The Ethics Police?, Robert Klitzman calls for IRB transparency and respect for precedent. That is a good idea, and one that should have been implemented decades ago.


[Robert Klitzman, “Who Polices the ‘Ethics Police’?,” CNN, May 26, 2015]


Why Notes Get Shredded

While Steven Lubet criticizes Alice Goffman for having “shredded all of her field notes,” Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service prosecutes Ivor Bell based on an interview seized by subpoena.


How are those shield laws coming, Josh?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Berkeley IRB: 1 + 1 = Undue Influence

In a series of four tweets, Nicholas Christakis of Yale reports a horror story out of Berkeley:


  • colleague’s experience with Berkeley IRB: including both the following sentences in an appeal for a survey may result in undo influence.

  • sayeth the IRB: so just pick one of 2 sentences “Your participation would mean a lot to me and help my research.”

  • sayeth the IRB: so just pick one: “Many of your neighbors are participating, and I’d like to hear your opinion, too.”

  • 100,000 people die from medical care yearly, none die from surveys, & our IRB’s are wordsmithing to avoid undue influence?

Earnest Member Reads the Belmont Report

My favorite portion of The Censor’s Hand is Schneider’s invention of Earnest Member, a conscientious gentleman with good intentions but no ethical training until he is appointed to the IRB and handed copies of what Schneider terms the Sacred Texts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Schneider: IRB System Is A Model of How to Regulate Badly

In an interview about his new book, The Censor’s Hand: The Misregulation of Human-Subject Research, law professor Carl Schneider charges that IRB abuses are inherent to the design of the system.


[Scott Jaschik, “‘The Censor’s Hand’,” Inside Higher Ed, June 3, 2015.]


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A/B ≠ A&B

A/B testing is the comparison of two products by providing each, simultaneously, to two randomly selected groups. As Michelle Meyer notes, the practice is less ethically suspect than a common alternative: imposing a new product on all of one’s customers without first testing it.


A&B is an abbreviation for assault and battery. Depending on the jurisdiction, the two may be a single crime or distinct crimes, but everywhere A&B is unlawful.


Law professor James Grimmelmann has confused the two:


Suppose that Professor Cranium at Stonewall University wants to find out whether people bleed when hit in the head with bricks, but doesn’t want to bother with the pesky IRB and its concern for “safety” and “ethics.” So Cranium calls up a friend at Brickbook, which actually throws the bricks at people, and the two of them write a paper together describing the results. Professor Cranium has successfully laundered his research through Brickbook, cutting his own IRB out of the loop. This, I submit, is Not Good.


IRBs for everyone, or you get hit with a brick. I suggest that this parade of horribles is missing its elephant. Blame the IACUC?


Anyway, thanks for the link.


ETA(2:18PM): I originally linked to the wrong Meyer paper. Of course, that one's worth reading too.

Elliott Still Wants to Scrap IRBs

Writing in the New York Times about a series of scandals at the University of Minnesota, bioethicist Carl Elliott calls for the IRB system to be abandoned and replaced with “a full-blown regulatory system.” This is essentially the same argument he made in the New York Times in 2011, when the ANPRM was issued.


[Carl Elliott, “The University of Minnesota’s Medical Research Mess,” New York Times, May 26, 2015.]