Sunday, June 29, 2008

Oral Historians Draw Conclusions, Inform Policy, and Generalize Findings

In the lead story of today's New York Times ("Occupation Plan for Iraq Faulted in Army History"), Michael R. Gordon reports on a new 700-page official history of the early occupation of Iraq, produed by the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. As Gordon reports, "the study is based on 200 interviews conducted by military historians and includes long quotations from active or recently retired officers." He notes that "the study is an attempt by the Army to tell the story of one of the most contentious periods in its history to military experts — and to itself." It draws important conclusions with policy implications, finding, for example, that "the military means employed were sufficient to destroy the Saddam regime; they were not sufficient to replace it with the type of nation-state the United States wished to see in its place.”

This sounds suspiciously like the kind of project comprising generalizable research as defined by OHRP's Michael Carome in his October 2003 discussion with the UCLA Office for Protection of Research Subjects (as reported by UCLA.) In that conversation, Carome noted that

Systematic investigations involving open-ended interviews that are designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge (e.g., designed to draw conclusions, inform policy, or generalize findings) WOULD constitute "research" as defined by HHS regulations at 45 CFR 46.

[Example]: An open ended interview of surviving Gulf War veterans to document their experiences and to draw conclusions about their experiences, inform policy, or generalize findings.

Except for the fact that it's the wrong Gulf War, the Army study nicely fits Carome's example of research requiring review.

Fortunately for federal historians, no one else in the federal government seems to share Carome's view on this matter. I know of no federal agency, executive or legislative, that requires IRB review for oral histories conducted by its employees. As reported on this blog, even OHRP officials did not submit to IRB review when conducting oral history research.

Maybe Dr. Carome will try to discipline the researchers at Fort Leavenworth. Him and what army?

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