Gavin (selfishgene) wrote,

Institutional Review Board

A judgment body from whose decisions there is no appeal; secret regulations, unknown, typically, even to body members; an ever-widening scrutiny, even of mundane activities, for unconforming ideologies.
We can see the bureaucratic mindset of prior restraint in its full horror here. Every attempt by any person to rationally investigate a topic must first obtain approval from religious or secular ethicists (witchdoctors). It would be far better to allow any investigation without restraint and then provide recourse to civil or criminal procedures when important ethical rules are breached. The irrational sects have always longed to bring science under their power and IRBs empower them to do so. I expect their stranglehold on research to become ever tighter.

Criticism of an IRB, however gentle, is probably career suicide for any researcher. Since there is no appeal from their decisions they are likely to punish anyone who dissents by curtailing their research projects. (I base this purely on my cynical view of human nature not any actual evidence.) I found one brave skeptical commenter on this subject :

But in his account, the FBI was not Harper's biggest problem; it investigated a threat of nuclear terrorism and closed the case with reasonable efficiency. The IRB, by contrast, apparently offered no such resolution. Perhaps Price needs to worry less about the National Security State and more about the Human Subjects Protection State.
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Damn, just had to delete my first comment spam on this journal.
As an interesting exercise, I would suggest trying to formulate a meta-rule (e.g. imagine that you are writing the constitution/charter/whatever for a new society) that would prohibit the formation of bodies like this. In plain English, the challenge is to define with reasonable precision what "like this" means. What is the root of evil here?
State > coercive taxation > tax funded research > co-option of scientists > scientists meekly accept control > control becomes increasingly arbitrary since there is no competition and no possibility of refusing to fund them or work with them.
In short our enemy is the state, as always. Once people are compelled to pay eternally for a service, there are no limits to the scope, size and inefficiency of said service.
If there was choice I would donate/invest money for research (if at all) only to organizations which elevated reason and science above legalism, superstition and bureaucracy.
There is still some accountability: big-name scientists can leave institutions with stupid IRBs and move to other institutions with less stupid ones -- and take their grant money with them.

Institutions can also contract out IRB work to for-profit agencies. They are easier to fire than internal IRBs.
Those are fairly high cost methods of solving the problem. I have already seen some leftist complaining about for-profit IRBs simply rubber-stamping everything. There will be attempts to centralize control with this 'abuse' as a pretext.
If IRBs rubber-stamp things, they aren't doing the job of protecting institutions from lawsuits. Leftists should take their concerns to the institution administration.
Leftists (by definition) prefer a vast government solution to every problem. Using reason to solve specific cases is what they don't like, because then vast government programs (which coincidentally employ leftists) will not come into existence. If there is no actual problem they will exaggerate, invent or invert one. By invert I mean the trick where the very thing that proves there is no problem, is used by leftists to indicate a problem. E.g. The Antarctic 'ozone hole' was used to scare people about CFCs when the very fact that it was only above Antarctica was proof that it could not possibly harm any humans.
This has not been my experience at all with IRBs (and although some have to have, by their charter, a community member, there is rarely if ever more than one non-medical person on the board). The boards are bound by the Geneva Convention and charged with protecting human subjects. The only rejections I've ever been a part of were for consent forms that were too difficult to understand (easily fixed), and one crazy allergist (in MA) who continually came back to the board with plans to test a penicillin allergy test on penicillin allergic patients (we deemed it too risky) - it was soon moot as the guy went on to murder his wife.
Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad to hear the system isn't totally rotten. (Since my life may depend in it someday). I don't work in medicine or research myself so I like to hear from people on the 'inside'.