A new report by the American Association of University Professors recommends curtailing the power of institutional review boards (IRB) and entrusting researchers with the ability to decide whether individual projects involving human subjects should be exempt from regulation.
“When one steps back from it, one can find oneself amazed that such an institution has developed on university campuses across the country,” the report concludes, criticizing the IRB system for leaving the fate of research projects up to “members [who] have no special competence in assessing research projects in the wide range of disciplines they are called on to assess ... and whose judgments about whether to permit the research to be carried out at all are, in most institutions, final.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2011 called for input on how it regulates research on human subjects, also known as the Common Rule. The request generated over 1,100 responses. In its report, the AAUP compiled recurring trends seen in responses from researchers representing behavioral and social sciences, and history, oral history and folklore associations -- chosen because of the high number of complaints from researchers within those fields.
“[T]he fact that more than eleven hundred responses were submitted to the government’s [advance notice of proposed rulemaking] suggests there is a deep and widespread dissatisfaction with the current regulations,” the report says. “We express a hope that comparably deep rethinking of the current regulations will be undertaken in response to them.”
Apart from the common complaint that more types of research be exempt from an IRB review, the AAUP found researchers are worried the system imposes excessive and sometimes inappropriate reporting requirements. Many researchers also highlight the need for an appeals process for rejected research projects, while they are divided on regulations governing the confidentiality of data.