Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Horror Story Buffet

We end the year with two collections of IRB horror stories.

[Varma, R. “Questioning Professional Autonomy in Qualitative Inquiry.” IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 33, no. 4 (winter 2014): 57–64. doi:10.1109/MTS.2014.2363983; Glenda Droogsma Musoba, Stacy A. Jacob, and Leslie J. Robinson, The Institutional Review Board (IRB) and Faculty: Does the IRB Challenge Faculty Professionalism in the Social Sciences? Qualitative Report 19 (2014), Article 101, 1-14,]

From Varma:

  • "According to a researcher, the IRB did not understand why his research questions were not converted into a hypothesis to be easily tested. Additionally, the IRB was not in agreement with his need to conduct face-to-face interviews with human subjects. Alternatively, the IRB expressed that administering an anonymous survey could collect the same information."
  • "The IRB told a researcher that the snowball sampling that he had proposed was similar to collecting data from friends. In his experience, purposive sampling, interviews, and small sample size do not generally fall in line with IRB approval standards. They tend to favor surveys with a large sample that is selected randomly."
  • "The IRB took over eight months to approve an application to study the selection of majors in institutions of higher education."
  • "In the study on teaching mathematics in a developing country . . . the IRB contested that subjects may feel bored or tired during interviews."
  • "earlier informed consents were brief, approximately 100 to 200 words. Now they consist of . . . multiple headings [each with] a brief write up."
  • "In a developing country [participants] became apprehensive in reading the statement about possible concerns about interview, and the idea that they could call/contact the person listed on the consent form, who was located in the United States. They considered this a physical burden on them due to about a 10-hour time difference between their country and the United States. Furthermore, this meant they were being asked to use their personal funds to make long-distance phone calls."

From Musoba, Jacob, and Robinson:

  • An IRB insists that a researcher get a nearby college's approval before administering a ten-minute survey to students in a course; the college blocks it, "citing the burden to students. However, a member of the institution’s committee shared with Andrea that the focus of the research committee’s discussion was the potential of the research findings reflecting negatively on the college."
  • "The staff member told Sam to use a quantitative survey in lieu of the qualitative design submitted for approval. It took two firm rejections by Sam for the staff member to back down--one a simple no and the second an assertion of a faculty member’s authority to decide research methodology."
  • "Virtually identical research projects were to be conducted at two different research sites . . . The research team saw the studies as parallel with the same survey instrument, distributed the same way, and identical “compensation processes,” yet the process that was approved in the first application was denied in the second because it was deemed coercive." (So much for Laura Stark's "local precedents.")
  • "A doctoral student was reprimanded for copying one sentence from the approved informed consent document into the approved recruitment letter at the request of the research site director. As a result, participants were given information about the study earlier as a result of the change, increasing their opportunity to be fully informed . . . The professor as principal investigator and the doctoral student were summoned for an emergency meeting and were reprimanded by IRB staff with threats that the doctoral student would not be able to use the data. The intentionally humbling nature of the interchange seemed disproportionate to the mistake."

While Varma notes that "IRBs are not functioning constructively," she does not propose specific remedies. Musoba, Jacob, and Robinson argue that "faculty committee members must take ownership of the review process or academic researchers must handle contact between the committee and researchers." They correctly note that greater faculty involvement need not be limited to membership on the IRB itself; researcher evaluations of IRB staff, for example, could signal areas needing improvement.

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