[URBANTH-L]clarification IRB at my school

Kathy Nadeau kathleennadeau at adelphia.net
Mon Apr 2 10:55:09 EDT 2007

Hello, colleagues

My IRB has provided some clarification for how we work here at Cal. State San Bernardino.  Hope this helps.  Kathy

Not quite Kathy.

The key term is Human Subjects and as a respected former board member, I know that you appreciated the distinctions when you were making decisions.  Sorry if I sound pompous.

Our IRB is extremely efficient and supportive of all faculty research.  However, the issue is the question of risk to the subject, and the knowing acceptance of risk to the subjects.  We of course emphasize protection to vulnerable populatons, but we do request that faculty submit all human subject protocols to the IRB so that we may declare them exempt, deal with them as expedited, or require full board review.  Most expedited reviews are handled within 1-2 days if we have sufficient information (the faculty member took us a bit seriously) expedited usually take 2-5 days at the most, and full board reviews take 7-14 days for a full board review and recommendations. 
We have faculty doing oral history projects, classroom exercises, and business survey research submitting their projects and they have not had any significant delay beyond the above times. And most appreciate a positive comment, or a recommendation or two to tighten up the work--exempt or not.  

The basic question in social research we ask ourselves is always, if the information was to get out with the individual's name attached would there be a serious and (not understood) risk to the subject that would cause damage.  And the reciprocal for those in vulnerable situations is whether they are truly free to decline or answer honestly.  It is a poor research project that doesn't care if a subject feels that they have to answer the way that the boss, or the caretaker wants, at the risk of retaliation.  But we see far too many of those.

I am familiar with someone doing work studying/doing participation observation on websites used by criminal actors to recruit and disseminate plans for violent action.  His IRB is attempting to force him to inform these persons of what he is doing and what the consequences might be if he reports them.  I feel that that IRB is wrongheaded and a bit foolish.  However they might be correct in calling on him to discuss the possibility of someone unthinkingly playing with fire and getting caught by his study.  I don't think that someone who is advocating (and/or attempting) murder, destruction, and such over the public media is vulnerable.  The act of taking up arms (and to use the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes "Calling fire in a crowded theatre.") is to understand the consequences.

Enough said.  Our IRB will not be an obstruction to serious research and we will not stand in the way of anthropologists and other social researchers who clearly value the lives and privacy of their objects of study--if the release of the information is of potential significant damage.  We just ask them HOW they are going to ensure that salutary objective.  If they can tell us that is one thing.  If they cannot, that is another.

Yes, my terms are ambiguous.  So are all such terms--privacy, safety, freedom, justice, liberty, etc.  We do our best.  And we always try to remember that we are at a university whose business is to teach research, do research, and support research, to bring forth information and hopefully knowledge.  And if we are very lucky, we do it with wisdom.



Kathleen Nadeau, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Anthropology Department

California State University

San Bernardino, CA 92407

http://anthropology.csbs.csusb.edu <http://anthropology.csbs.csusb.edu/>

Tel. 909-537-5503

Cell 909-915-8001

knadeau at csusb.edu <mailto:knadeau at csusb.edu>



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