At dinner a few weeks ago with the head of a public-interest law firm, I was raving about the iniquities of the Institutional Review Board process, which isn’t much good at protecting human subjects but is excellent at interfering with research.
My favorite example is the IRB decision to tell a research team studying undergraduate life that paying $25 per quarter for filling out interview forms was “coercive,” because some students might be so financially squeezed that they didn’t feel free to refuse such an enormous sum of money. The IRB insisted that the payment be reduced to $10 a quarter, thus protecting a bunch of students from making a little bit of pocket money while destroying the utility of the survey by causing a sufficiently high non-response rate to cast doubt on whether the respondents were representative of the original sample. All this despite that fact that the proposed study posed no risk whatever to its subjects.
The public-interest guy has now called my bluff; his outfit might be interested in taking on the IRBs, especially insofar as their activity interferes with freedom of inquiry.
My personal stock of IRB horror stories is limited, since I rarely do human-subjects research. So I’m asking the RBC readership to contribute. At this stage, I don’t need more than a sentence or two per horror story. If there are scholarly studies of the process, I’d appreciate pointers to those as well.