Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Community Researchers: IRBs Reinforce Power Differentials

Practitioners of community-based participatory research (CPBR) warn that standard IRB review can reinforce the power inequalities that CPBR hopes to mitigate.


[J. Cross, K. Pickering, and M. Hickey, “Community-Based Participatory Research, Ethics, and Institutional Review Boards: Untying a Gordian Knot,” Critical Sociology, June 3, 2014, doi:10.1177/0896920513512696; Bruce Pietrykowski, “Participatory Economic Research: Benefits and Challenges of Incorporating Participatory Research into Social Economics,” Review of Social Economy, July 7, 2015, 1–21, doi:10.1080/00346764.2015.1044841.]


Monday, July 27, 2015

British Universities See Ethics Committees as "Easy and Convenient" Censors

Adam Hedgecoe reports on two cases in which British university administrators turned to their university research ethics committees (URECs) not to protect the subjects of research, but to block controversial research they feared would tarnish the universities’ reputations.


[Adam Hedgecoe, “Reputational Risk, Academic Freedom and Research Ethics Review,” Sociology, June 25, 2015, doi:10.1177/0038038515590756.]

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Exemption by the Numbers?

Two computer researchers describe a system at Microsoft Research designed to provide automatic approval for low-risk studies. Rather than follow the Common Rule’s exemption model of requiring IRB review if any of a series of conditions is met, the Microsoft system assigns numerical values to aspects of a proposal that bear some risk to participants. Proposals with a low total get immediate approval from an Excel spreadsheet.


[Bowser, Anne, and Janice Y. Tsai. “Supporting Ethical Web Research: A New Research Ethics Review.” In Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on World Wide Web, 151–61. WWW ’15. Republic and Canton of Geneva, Switzerland: International World Wide Web Conferences Steering Committee, 2015. doi:10.1145/2736277.2741654.]

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.