A final horror story posted in response to Patricia Aufderheide’s essay, “Does This Have to Go Through the IRB?."
Brian Abel Ragen writes,
Eventually you will probably find a reasonable person to stop the nonsense. That was my experience when one of my graduate students was told that his plan to interview a writer for the New York Review of Books meant he was using “human subjects” and therefore needed to submit his thesis proposal to the IRB after filling out all the appropriate forms and applications. A student asking a professional literary critic why he had championed the reputation of a certain novelist was, quite rightly, seen as an interaction WITH a fellow human being, not research ON a human subject. But that should have been obvious from the beginning. What the whole process did for me as an English professor and my student in the humanities was to create just one more impediment to getting a worthwhile project done—this new obstacle laced with fear of getting in trouble with the Federal government if we made a mistake. It also protected a writer from hearing from someone who admired his work and wanted to explore it with him for a few weeks. So I would say that the limits of the IRB’s powers need to be more clearly drawn, so as to remove one more hazard from the already obstacle-strewn path to completing a degree or a research project. I won’t say that i can’t imagine projects in literary studies that don’t involve using people as actual “human subjects,” but I think the default assumption should be that any project that involves neither deception nor asking the interlocutor to do anything but talk about something is beyond the scope of an IRB.
An IRB need not block a project to discourage curiosity.