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.]

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Bioethicists learn from history

Now that I’ve had my rant about the Belmont Report’s year of publication, I can turn to the more substantive arguments of Barron Lerner and Arthur Caplan’s recent essay, “Judging the Past: How History Should Inform Bioethics." These scholars wisely argue against simplistic condemnations of past behavior, yet they also reject the other extreme of attributing all past misbehavior to the age rather than the individual. By understanding what choices were open to actors in the past, we can better assess the morality of their actions and the choices that we ourselves face.

[Barron H. Lerner and Arthur L. Caplan, “Judging the Past: How History Should Inform Bioethics,” Annals of Internal Medicine 164, no. 8 (April 19, 2016): 553–57, doi:10.7326/M15–2642.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Belmont Report was published in 1978, goddammit!

Bioethicists Barron Lerner and Arthur Caplan have published a nice essay about using history to make better decisions today. I will comment on their main points in a separate post, but I want to address separately the authors’ repetition of a common error: the suggestion that the Belmont Report was published in 1979.

The Belmont Report was published in 1978, goddammit!

[Barron H. Lerner and Arthur L. Caplan, “Judging the Past: How History Should Inform Bioethics,” Annals of Internal Medicine 164, no. 8 (April 19, 2016): 553–57, doi:10.7326/M15–2642.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Emmerich seeks case studies about social science ethics

Nathan Emmerich seeks case studies about social science ethics for the SAGE Research Method Cases.

The Methodspace page explains:

This special collection will be edited by Dr Nathan Emmerich (  We are interested in cases that discuss substantive ethical issues or concern the process of securing ethical approval to conduct research. In both instances we seek accounts that will provide a description of ‘what really happened’ and offer lessons for those who are conducting similar research. These case studies will have significant pedagogical value whilst also engaging with current developments in the ethics of social science research. This includes the ESRC’s recently revised Framework for Research Ethics (FRE) and the generic principals of research ethics recently adopted by the UK’s Academy of Social Sciences.

If you are interested in publishing your experiences, disseminating your thinking and to promoting your research, or would simply like to discuss the possibilities further, please contact Dr Nathan Emmerich, at:

Monday, May 23, 2016

CITI Program is not unique in its mortifying stupidity

Writing in Slate, L. V. Anderson condemns simplistic, online training programs that are supposed to encourage regulatory compliance, but really just suck up time and money without improving behavior.

[L. V. Anderson, “Ethics Trainings Are Even Dumber Than You Think,” Slate, May 19, 2016.]

Anderson writes,

Regulators, managers, and employees are caught in a vicious cycle. Regulators pressure companies to implement training programs in hopes of reducing corporate crime and malfeasance. Executives implement training programs in hopes of protecting themselves against lawsuits and prosecution. Employees see through executives’ motivations and ignore, or even rebel against, the lessons of the trainings.

Although there’s not much research one way or the other, the online nature of compliance courses probably exacerbates this vicious cycle.

Anderson does not specifically mention the mortifyingly stupid CITI Program and its cousins in the IRB world, but everything she says applies to them.

Ethics of big data research are unsettled, and so are mechanisms

Sarah Zhang of WIRED uses the OKCupid data dump to explore the unsettled state of big data research ethics and mechanisms to promote them.

[Sarah Zhang, “Scientists Are Just as Confused About the Ethics of Big-Data Research as You,” WIRED, May 20, 2016.]