Wednesday, March 13, 2013

National Academies Run Workshops on Common Rule Revisions

The National Academies are running workshops on "Revisions to the Common Rule for the Protection of Human Subjects in Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences." I was unaware of the first two meetings in January, but I hope to attend the upcoming meetings on March 21 and 22.

The panel's scope sounds promising:

The work of the panel is intended to inform the current efforts of the federal government to update the Common Rule (45 CFR 46), last revised in 1991. The panel will consider such issues as the appropriateness of the Common Rule for different behavioral and social science research methods; the concept of information risk and its relationship to methods and mechanisms developed by the federal statistical community to protect confidentiality while providing access to research data; the concept and appropriate treatment of psychological risk for human research participants; appropriate classification of research projects by the level of scrutiny required by an institutional review board (IRB); revisions to the consent process to facilitate informed decisions by human research participants while minimizing barriers to participation; and training that can effectively instruct researchers, IRB members, and other administrators with a role in IRB processes.

I am concerned, however, by the composition of the 12-person committee, which seems heavy on quantitative and experimental approaches and concerns with health, and light on qualitative methods.

Based on their NAS biographies, I count six doctorates in psychology, two in economics, and one each in social epidemiology and sociology, plus an MD and a JD. One of the economists (Weir) and the lawyer (Riley) specialize in health issues. Though Charles Plott's doctorate is in economics, he has an appointment in political science as well, so perhaps we can count that discipline as represented. But the committee has no anthropologists, communication scholars, folklorists, geographers, historians, journalists, or linguists, no one primarily interested in ethnography, interviewing, participant observation, or action research.

I am disappointed by this narrowness. The National Academies' committee appointment process states that

The committee must include experts with the specific expertise and experience needed to address the study’s statement of task. One of the strengths of the National Academies is the tradition of bringing together recognized experts from diverse disciplines and backgrounds who might not otherwise collaborate. These diverse groups are encouraged to conceive new ways of thinking about a problem.

Moreover, the National Academies' own 2003 study, Protecting Participants and Facilitating Social and Behavioral Sciences Research, recommended that "any committee or commission that is established to provide advice to the federal government on human research participant protection sould represent the full spectrum of disciplines that conduct research involving human participants."

I don't see how the composition of the present committee meets either goal. I realize that the National Academies post provisional committee lists for public comment, and I am sorry to have missed that phase.

1 comment:

Chris Lawrence said...

Fiske is at least pretty well-known in political psychology circles, and Groves as former director of ISR at Michigan certainly has experience with political science research through SRC and ICPSR (as would Weir to a lesser extent).

That said I do think the humanities and qualitative/interpretivist social sciences are underrepresented.

- Chris Lawrence, Middle Georgia State College