Mark Kleiman takes on IRBs at The Reality-Based Community. On April 14 he asked his readers for IRB horror stories, and on May 2 he posted some of the responses.
The saddest concerns a group of law students who wished "to send testers of different races in different styles of clothing to the restaurant over some period of time to test whether they enforced their dress code in a discriminatory manner." Law school administrators told them they would have to secure IRB approval. This discouraged the students, who did not want to go through the time and effort of the approval process.
This was not the intent of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. At its 15 April 1978 meeting, the commission discussed just such a scenario (pp. II-5 to II-21 of the transcript), and all the members seemed to agree that such testing for discrimination should not require IRB review. But, as I've noted before, the commission wrote a definition of human subjects research that plausibly includes a great deal of activity the commission did not seek to regulate. Thirty years later, justice suffers as a result of the commission's sloppiness.
NOTE: In honor of Professor Kleiman's search, I have gone back through this blog to add the "horror stories" tag to some posts that should have had it to begin with. Clicking on that tag now yields more than a dozen posts, with even more documented horror stories.