Bioethics Blogs

McCarthy’s Mysterious Mythmaking

PRIM&R has launched “People & Perspectives (P&P),” described as a “digital story-telling library.” The site features a blurb by Joan Rachlin, PRIM&R’s soon-to-retire executive director, who calls it “an enduring and dynamic record of our historical antecedents, how and when we come together.“

But is anyone going to vet the accuracy of stories posted on the site?

That question is raised by a 4-minute clip (taken from a much longer November 2013 interview) with Charlie McCarthy, director of the Office for Protection from Research Risks from 1978 to 1992.

I have not watched the full interview (not transcribed, and therefore a chore). But the four minutes and 12 seconds on “social-behavior research” is by itself a disturbing stew of faulty memory and misinformation.

Here are some of the key inaccuracies.

“Social science and behavioral science.”

The segment begins (0:14) with McCarthy saying that “the [National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research] was well aware that the law called on them to issue statements and guidance on social science and behavioral science.”

McCarthy also made this claim in his 2004 interview with OHRP. It’s still not true.

Public Law 93-348, the National Research Act of 1974, is there for all to read, including Title II, Part A, which established the National Commission and enumerated its duties. The law calls upon the commission to

(i) conduct a comprehensive investigation and study to identify the basic ethical principles which should underlie the conduct of biomedical and behavioral research involving human subjects, (ii) develop guidelines which should be followed in such research to assure that it is conducted in accordance with such principles, and (iii) make recommendations to the Secretary (I) for such administrative action as may be appropriate to apply such guidelines to biomedical and behavioral research conducted or supported under programs administered by the Secretary, and (II) concerning any other matter pertaining to the protection of human subjects of biomedical and behavioral research.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.