Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Schrag on Whitney, Balanced Ethics Review

The Oral History Review has posted my review of Simon Whitney’s 2016 book, Balanced Ethics Review: A Guide for Institutional Review Board Members. (I think that’s three distinct uses of “review,” right?)

[Zachary M. Schrag, “Balanced Ethics Review: A Guide for Institutional Review Board Members. By Simon N. Whitney,” Oral History Review, accessed May 30, 2017, doi:10.1093/ohr/ohx030.]

I note,

Whitney’s approach is basically utilitarian, arguing that the good research creates outweighs its harms. In this vein, he values social science research as the equivalent of medical research . . but what of research that, like much humanities research and a fair amount of social science, aims only to increase human knowledge?

I conclude:

As Whitney well understands, IRB members face considerable pressure to overregulate. The universities or medical schools in which they work may ask them to review research (including oral history) beyond the scope of regulations, or to protect institutions from lawsuits. They will learn that they themselves are far more likely to be sued for letting one controversial study (like SUPPORT) proceed than for needlessly impairing dozens of less risky projects. And if they do receive training from the dominant institutions, they are likely to hear that “efficiency itself is not a moral imperative or an ethical value” (25). Whitney pushes back against this pressure. His book is well crafted to promote its stated goal: balance.

Oxford University Press asks that I not post a link to a free-access version of the review here, but it does allow me to post that link on my personal website.

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