Wednesday, December 28, 2011

AAA Draft Code: "Easily Remembered" or Overly Simplistic?

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has released a draft code of ethics, the latest step in a revision process that began in late 2008, as well as a Final Report of The Task Force for Comprehensive Ethics Review. An Executive Board subcommittee is taking comments until January 30, 2012, at

As a non-anthropologist who respects disciplinary differences, I don't mean to tell anthropologists what to do, and I do not plan to submit a comment to the subcommittee. But I can point out that while the two documents represent an impressive effort, the draft code does not reflect all the concerns of some anthropologists who have thought seriously about ethical obligations.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

IRB Thinks Overweight People Are Less Capable of Giving Informed Consent

Since it concerns a medical study, this is a little off-topic for this blog, but a recent essay tells us something about the paternalist mindset of IRBs and their reliance on guesswork.

[Jerry Rabow, "An IRB Public Member’s Education," Journal of Clinical Research Best Practices 7 (December 2011). h/t Roberto Veloso]

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Judge Demands Boston College Oral Histories

Judge William G. Young has ruled that Boston College must turn over oral history recordings and materials to him so he can decide whether to share them with U.S. prosecutors.

The full ruling and other coverage can be found at Boston College Subpoena News. The Boston Globe also covers the story.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Presidential Commission Prescribes Medical Ethics for Everyone

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has released a 200-page report, Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research. Continuing a decades-old tradition, the report treats medical experimentation as the model for all research with human beings, ignoring the rights and responsibilities of researchers in other fields.

[Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research, December 2011]

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Veterans Denied Chance to Comment on Foreign Policy

In a comment on Alex Halavais's blog post on IRBs, Wynn W. Gadkar-Wilcox of Western Connecticut State University relates a horror story:

I will never forget a case from several years ago in which we were asked to approve a study that asked veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan their opinion of the foreign policy of the Bush administration, and the study was denied because of fears that the question might trigger PTSD. Ridiculous. If that study triggers post-traumatic stress, then vets should never be allowed to take history or political science courses.

We need to remember that this kind of IRB abuse diminishes not only the freedom of researchers, but also the freedom of participants--in this case veterans denied the chance to comment on national policy--and of all who can benefit from research.

Gadkar-Wilcox, who identifies himself as "a long-time member of an IRB," also notes that "sometimes IRB’s do important work, such as when they prevent (in one case I remember) the distribution of a non-anonymous survey to students that asked them to reveal potentially illegal conduct. In general, though, there is plenty of overregulation."

Halavais Calls for "Open Publication of IRB Protocols or Ethics Reflections"

In an essay in Nature and on his blog, Alexander Halavais, president of the Association of Internet Researchers, calls for funders to require "the open publication of IRB protocols or ethics reflections."

[Alexander Halavais, "Social Science: Open Up Online Research," Nature 480 (8 December 2011): 174–175, doi:10.1038/480174a; Alexander Halavais, "IRBs and Clean Secrets, A Thaumaturgical Compendium, 8 December 2011.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Yesterday marked the fifth birthday of the Institutional Review Blog.

Not long after starting the Blog, I explained my intentions to Inside Higher Ed:

Schrag said that the problems with IRBs will probably remain for some time. "I think the regulations themselves are poorly drafted, with terms that are not well defined, and I anticipate problems until they are amended," he said. "Perhaps until then, I'm going to have to keep up the blog."

With the ANPRM out, I am closer to retirement as blogger than I dared to hope five years ago.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bush Official: Ask IRB Before Speaking in Public Park

Diane Auer Jones, U.S. assistant secretary of postsecondary education in the George W. Bush administration, believes that professors should seek IRB permission before giving political speeches in public parks.

This Time, Vote as If Your Whole Research Agenda Depended on It

Alice Kessler-Harris, president of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), devotes her column in the November OAH Outlook to the question of "Historians and the Institutional Review Board."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Special Issue of Qualitative Sociology: "Ethics Beyond the IRB."

I have just learned that the September 2011 issue of Qualitative Sociology is a special issue on the topic, "Ethics Beyond the IRB." It may be some time before I can address this issue in depth, but meanwhile here is the table of contents.