Bioethics Blogs

A Reply to Maxine Robertson

In an essay in Research Ethics, Maxine Robertson, Professor of Innovation and Organisation at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), responds to my essay, “The case against ethics review in the social sciences,” published in the same journal in 2011. I wish she had responded to more of the broader ethics-review critique and offered more details about ethics review at her own institution.

[Robertson, Maxine. “The Case for Ethics Review in the Social Sciences: Drawing from Practice at Queen Mary University of London.” Research Ethics 10, no. 2 (June 2014): 69–76. doi:10.1177/1747016113511177]

Is the United States unusually bad?

Robertson argues that I assume “that the somewhat draconian measures taken with respect to the ethical review of social science research in the US are applied equivalently elsewhere. This,” she claims, “is not the case in the UK.”

Adam Hedgecoe made a similar claim in 2012, and I addressed it in a subsequent blog entry. Robertson knows of my blog, but it is not clear she has read that entry, or any my many entries tagged “United Kingdom.

Robertson does cite Martin Tolich and Maureen H. Fitzgerald. “If Ethics Committees Were Designed for Ethnography,” Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 1, no. 2 (June 2006): 71–78. doi:10.1525/jer.2006.1.2.71, but she does not mention that their critique is based in part on “Fitzgerald’s extensive study of ethics committees in five countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and United States).”

She also allows (in a footnote) that British researcher Irena Grugulis endured “a very unfortunate experience,” and that “a range of approaches are applied in the UK and elsewhere,” some of which produce “evidence of silly practice.” She does not ask what mechanisms might be responsible for such conduct, or how they might be reformed.

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.