IRB review

Zachary Schrag points to a report by the American Association of University Professors , and gives a quoted excerpt that deserves to be forwarded on: “AAUP Publishes Final Report, Regulation of Research on Human Subjects: Academic Freedom and the Institutional Review Board”.

As things now stand, the IRB system assembles local committees whose members have no special competence in assessing research projects in the wide range of disciplines they are called on to assess, whose approval is required for an only minimally restricted range of research projects and who are invited to bring to bear in assessing them an only minimally restricted body of what they take to be information, who are only minimally restricted in the demands they may make on the researchers, and whose judgments about whether to permit the research to be carried out at all are, in most institutions, final. When one steps back from it, one can find oneself amazed that such an institution has developed on university campuses across the country.

Different kinds of human research raise different kinds of ethical concerns. A good aspect of the IRB process is that the board members themselves often learn a lot about the ethical issues in other fields. But the composition of particular boards can make the process of review troublingly arbitrary.