The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that IRBs at both NYU and the University of New Mexico are investigating the conduct of Professor Geoffrey Miller, now notorious for a June 2 tweet warning "obese PhD applicants" that "if you didn't have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won't have the willpower to do a dissertation."
According to the Chronicle, Miller "explained his action to university officials in New Mexico by saying he had sent the Twitter message as part of a research project." (In proper troll-speak, one says "social experiment.") But Miller also maintains that "IRB approval was not necessary under his own understanding of federal law."
[Basken, Paul. “In Reversal, NYU Investigates Professor Who Tweeted on Obese Ph.D. Students.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 11, 2013.]
Michelle Meyer may disagree, but I think Miller has a reasonable case here, were he to assert that he obtained neither "(1) Data through intervention or interaction with [a living] individual, or (2) Identifiable private information."
Certainly, he got a lot of reactions to his posting, but he did not directly solicit responses from any group. This puts his message in the same category as a provocative essay published in a more traditional venue, such as Daniel Callahan's earlier, longer work of fatshaming.
If every written work likely to spark reaction is to count as interaction with living individuals, IRBs would need to vet everything written by university faculty and students, except for those works guaranteed to be obscure and dull.
Whether Miller can be trusted to evaluate applications to UNM's PhD progam in psychology, and whether his statement is comparable to that of a university administrator "who writes publicly against the very policies that her government employer charges her with creating, promoting, and enforcing," is another matter, thankfully beyond the scope of this blog.
Note 1. A correspondent notes that I earlier reported on Miller's critique of IRB assumptions about trauma and sex surveys.
Note 2. I wrote my dissertation on coffee, but my college thesis was mostly Chips Ahoy.