The New York Times
Originally published May 22, 2017
Who gets to decide whether the experimental protocol — what subjects are asked to do and disclose — is appropriate and ethical? That question has been roiling the academic community since the Department of Health and Human Services’s Office for Human Research Protections revised its rules in January.
The revision exempts from oversight studies involving “benign behavioral interventions.” This was welcome news to economists, psychologists and sociologists who have long complained that they need not receive as much scrutiny as, say, a medical researcher.
The change received little notice until a March opinion article in The Chronicle of Higher Education went viral. The authors of the article, a professor of human development and a professor of psychology, interpreted the revision as a license to conduct research without submitting it for approval by an institutional review board.
That is, social science researchers ought to be able to decide on their own whether or not their studies are harmful to human subjects.
The Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (known as the Common Rule) was published in 1991 after a long history of exploitation of human subjects in federally funded research — notably, the Tuskegee syphilis study and a series of radiation experiments that took place over three decades after World War II.
The remedial policy mandated that all institutions, academic or otherwise, establish a review board to ensure that federally funded researchers conducted ethical studies.
The article is here.