Thursday, August 25, 2011


Someone, who apparently hadn't looked at my lack of significant published research, decided I should be chairman of our IRB. My FIRST WEEK on the job and I've been hit with a crisis override urgent request that could have been handled months ago if the so-called investigator had gotten off his or her duff.

But this has so many $$$ attached to it and enough bigwigs have gotten involved that I'm having to drop my work (You know, minor things like writing a syllabus I'll need for class on Monday and writing up my own research) to deal with the investigator's -- shall we say -- shortcomings.

I can't afford to give more details. Just take my word for it that, in the short run, I can't fight this.

I'd love to hear your IRB stories -- both when you were on the IRB and got slammed like this and when you just wanted to do research and got slammed by your IRB.


  1. Okay, I'll bite. What the hell is an IRB?

  2. That'd be an Institutional/Internal Review Board.

    My best story would give too much away, but let's say it had to be the most ridiculous turn-down for human subject work ever in the history of such turn-downs. It was for an undergraduate thesis, and involved fully anonymized field interviews of people involved in a routine everyday activity that anybody who engages in it would enjoy discussing openly and freely with anyone. It was ludicrous that it got kicked back. But even more ludicrous was how much of my time got wasted appealing it.

  3. My grad school also had a medical school, and the entire IRB was composed of med school and natural science faculty. My dissertation used only social science methodology for the human subjects portion. Despite the fact that the uni gave doctorates in psychology, sociology, and anthropology, as well as the notorious EdD degree, you would've thought I'd sent them a proposal in Klingon. They required me to put incredibly stupid language in the consent form that actually scared some of the students I observed and interviewed--stuff about unwanted side effects and possible physical complications and whom to contact at the medical school if these things occurred.

  4. Then there's the other side of the coin—like the psychology prof at our undergrad school who studied how emotional state affected the experience of chronic pain. The psych students we knew had no idea how he'd gotten the IRB to sign off on reducing people to tears before subjecting them to electric shocks.

  5. I have to agree re: the legalistic language that comes from IRBs. If that's what our institutions' insurance requires, then there we are, but I have certainly had research participants pull out of a project they believed was socially valuable because they felt intimidated by the agreed language of the consent form...

  6. But Wanderer, any professor who brings in grant money is, at least by definitions now common in Texas, "productive," and you, with your time-consuming committee work and teaching, are not. Hence you should, of course, drop everything to make the productive faculty member more productive (besides, I don't think you need a syllabus to count as productive, you just need to show up and "teach" the class, whatever that means. Outside-of-the-classroom prep/grading work is invisible in this system.)

    I haven't yet delved into the results of a recent revision, but at one point our IRB wanted to prevent students (and faculty) from conducting the sort of interview that is absolutely routine in historical and journalistic work without getting permission first. If I'm remembering correctly, this was a national trend, and the AHA and some professional journalists' associations weighed in.

    There's also the interesting idea that one must be especially careful when talking to (not medicating or sticking needles into) pregnant women. That's reminiscent of the 19th-century "if you make her think blood will flow away from her reproductive organs" reasoning that was used to question the wisdom of sending women to college at all.

    Of course we do need safeguards to prevent a repeat of the Tuskeegee experiment and other similar atrocities, but, yes, from my perspective, it has gotten out of hand.

  7. My school has a very silly committee that functions as an IRB, and their rule is pretty much "If it's about sex, swearing, or drugs, we disapprove." One of my students wanted to research the impact of swearing in different public venues (not sure why, but she was shot down by our "IRB" simply because swearing might be harmful to those within proximity of its occurrence." Her response: "Fuck this shit!"


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