Sunday, October 2, 2016

Brazil calls for "equitable representation from the Social Sciences and Humanities"

Brazil is revising its research ethics standards in ways that will help tailor them to research in the social sciences and the humanities. The standards provide for greater representation by scholars in those fields when policies and decisions are made, and they decenter some of the medical assumptions that had previously governed all research. But they do not go as far as the Canadian TCPS2 in recognizing the legitimacy of critical inquiry.

[Iara Coelho Zito Guerriero, “Approval of the Resolution Governing the Ethics of Research in Social Sciences, the Humanities, and Other Disciplines That Use Methodologies Characteristic of These Areas: Challenges and Achievements,” Ciência & Saúde Coletiva 21, no. 8 (August 2016): 2619–29, doi:10.1590/1413–81232015218.17212016.]

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"One more impediment to getting a worthwhile project done"

A final horror story posted in response to Patricia Aufderheide’s essay, “Does This Have to Go Through the IRB?."

Brian Abel Ragen writes,

Eventually you will probably find a reasonable person to stop the nonsense. That was my experience when one of my graduate students was told that his plan to interview a writer for the New York Review of Books meant he was using “human subjects” and therefore needed to submit his thesis proposal to the IRB after filling out all the appropriate forms and applications. A student asking a professional literary critic why he had championed the reputation of a certain novelist was, quite rightly, seen as an interaction WITH a fellow human being, not research ON a human subject. But that should have been obvious from the beginning. What the whole process did for me as an English professor and my student in the humanities was to create just one more impediment to getting a worthwhile project done—this new obstacle laced with fear of getting in trouble with the Federal government if we made a mistake. It also protected a writer from hearing from someone who admired his work and wanted to explore it with him for a few weeks. So I would say that the limits of the IRB’s powers need to be more clearly drawn, so as to remove one more hazard from the already obstacle-strewn path to completing a degree or a research project. I won’t say that i can’t imagine projects in literary studies that don’t involve using people as actual “human subjects,” but I think the default assumption should be that any project that involves neither deception nor asking the interlocutor to do anything but talk about something is beyond the scope of an IRB.

An IRB need not block a project to discourage curiosity.

Friday, September 30, 2016

IRB consent form spooked respondents

Commenting on Patricia Aufderheide’s essay, “Does This Have to Go Through the IRB?,” a writer with the screen name “reinking” relates:

I was investigating a routine instructional intervention in a school district serving a large hispanic population. IRB required, not just that the consent form be translated into Spanish (not unreasonable if a consent form was necessary), but also that I develop several versions in different dialects. Nonetheless, when sent to parents, remarkably few were returned, and I eventually determined why. The standard template for IRB consent (modeled on far riskier medical research) indicated that any questions or concerns should be directed to me as “principal investigator.” “Investigator” was apparently a term (in English or Spanish) that set off alarm bells among parents in this hispanic community.

So much for IRB sensitivity to local conditions.

Monday, September 19, 2016

More failures of "local precedents"

Laura Stark’s 2012 book, Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research, devotes a chapter to what Stark calls “local precedents,” her term for “the past decisions that guide board members’ evaluations of subsequent research.” “By drawing on local precedent,” Stark claims, “board members can read new protocols as permutations of studies that they have previously debated and settled based on members’ warrants. The result is that IRBs tend to make decisions that are locally consistent over time.” (47)

But I keep getting stories about IRBs that are locally inconsistent.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A satisfied customer at American University

Patricia Aufderheide, University Professor of Communication Studies at American University, reports her satisfaction with the IRB at that institution. It’s great to hear some good news, and Aufderheide’s essay points to the importance of having the right people in positions of power. But it also raises questions about how good and how replicable AU’s experience is.

[Patricia Aufderheide, “Does This Have to Go Through the IRB?,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 17, 2016.]

Thursday, August 11, 2016

"Vulnerable" participants may have the most to gain from talking

Seven qualitative researchers forcefully argue that IRBs mislead research participants when they demand consent forms stating that interview research has “no known benefits.” In fact, people labeled “vulnerable” by IRBs often gain a great deal by participating in projects the IRBs deem “risky.”

[Tara Opsal, Jennifer Wolgemuth, Jennifer Cross, Tanya Kaanta, Ellyn Dickmann, Soria Colomer, and Zeynep Erdil-Moody, “‘There Are No Known Benefits …’ Considering the Risk/Benefit Ratio of Qualitative Research,” Qualitative Health Research 26, no. 8 (July 2016): 1137–50, doi:10.1177/1049732315580109.]

Monday, August 8, 2016

Will TCPS2 Improvements Reach Researchers?

Canadian oral historian Nancy Janovicek applauds the ways that TCPS2 improves over TPCS’s treatment of oral history, but she warns that historians still must devote time to bureaucratic strategy that might be better spent exploring ethics and interviewing narrators.

[Nancy Janovicek, ,“Oral History and Ethical Practice after TCPS2,” in The Canadian Oral History Reader, ed. Kristina R. Llewellyn, Alexander Freund, and Nolan Reilly (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s Press, 2015), 73–97.]

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Ethical Imperialism of the NAS

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Federal Research Regulations and Reporting Requirements has released the second part of its report, Optimizing the Nation’s Investment in Academic Research: A New Regulatory Framework for the 21st Century. The new part includes a chapter on “Ethical, Legal, and Regulatory Framework for Human Subjects Research.” While presenting valid critiques of the NRPM, the chapter ignores the voices of scholars in social sciences and the humanities. Its proposals are unlikely to be adopted, and if they were they would continue the half-century history of marginalizing those disciplines.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Linguist condemns "moral depravity of ethics protocols"

George van Driem, Professor of Historical Linguistics at the University of Bern, minces no words in condemning the “moral depravity of ethics protocols.” He argues that human subjects rules primarily serve to cover the asses of Western universities while hampering linguists in the field and insulting the people they encounter. Paraphrasing couldn’t do justice to this marvelous essay, so enjoy the block quotations. Better still, read the whole thing.

[George van Driem, “Endangered Language Research and the Moral Depravity of Ethics Protocols,” Language Documentation & Conservation 10 (2016): 243–252,].

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Strangers on a Train

In Patricia Highsmith’s novel, Strangers on a Train (adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock), a sociopath plans to get away with murder. Rather than kill his own nemesis and risk arrest, he will kill the troublesome wife of a stranger, and expect that stranger to reciprocate by killing his detested father. Since each man could arrange to be out of town at the time of his relative’s murder, each alibi could be ironclad.

Ethnographers Staci Newmahr and Stacey Hannem think this is a good way to deal with the IRB. The idea might be stupid enough to work in some cases, but it is also a distraction from the hard work of regulatory reform.

[Staci Newmahr and Stacey Hannem, “Surrogate Ethnography Fieldwork, the Academy, and Resisting the IRB,” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, May 10, 2016, doi:10.1177/0891241616646825.]