Zachary Schrag: Professor starts blog to examine institutional review boards





To hear it from Zachary Schrag, assistant professor of history at George Mason University, getting clearance from an institutional review board to conduct an oral history project is not only onerous, but it can place demands on a researcher that compromises professional ethics. An IRB must approve any study that involves human subjects, and IRBs at some institutions have asked oral historians to destroy primary sources of information such as taped interviews.

“I once had to fill out a form on the race and age of everyone that I interviewed for a project,” Schrag said. “That would make sense for a medical study where you want to make sure that you’re getting a representative sample, but it’s really none of the IRBs’ business when it comes to history work.”

Schrag started Institutional Review Blog (<http://institutionalreviewblog;) to document unfortunate encounters with IRBs, and to create an interdisciplinary community of researchers from across academe — fields such as communications, history and psychology — who struggle with IRBs. He has been providing links to reports and new studies and said that he has been getting some positive feedback from people who also feel his frustration.

While they were designed to protect people who participate in experiments, critics say that IRBs have expanded their oversight and now sometimes regulate activities such as interviews with family members. In the late 1970s, the agency that is now called the Department of Health and Human Services revised and expanded the regulations that govern IRBs, and published the Belmont Report, which explains the underlying ethical guidelines for protecting human subjects....



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