Institutional Review Boards: An Attack on Academic Freedom

By James Nichols

Abstract:

Over the past four decades, institutional review boards have evolved into somewhat unwieldy beasts. The once-modest safety control has grown into thousands of independently operating ethical review boards called institutional review boards (IRBs). While the power of these boards has grown, there is little legislation that controls or even guides these boards in their attempt to protect human research subjects. As a result, scholars are being forced to edit seemingly harmless research after, during, or even before it has begun. Despite the current system, the concerns of academic freedom of research and human safety are not opposing forces, but can coexist in a manner that promotes intuitive and promising research without sacrificing human integrity and protection. All it would take to realize this balance is minor legislative adaptations mirroring the recent changes in review boards adopted in Canada.

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