Bioethics Blogs

Goffman Blames IRB, Again

Sociologist Alice Goffman claims that “IRB guidelines” prevent her from disclosing the location where she was interrogated by police.

[Paul Campos, “Alice Goffman’s Implausible  Ethnography,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 21, 2015. (paywall)]

Goffman’s comments come in response to a lengthy critique of her book, On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, by Paul Campos, a professor of law at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Campos points to several passages, some of which have been flagged by other critics, that he is reluctant to believe without further documentation, documentation that Goffman has been unwilling to provide or is unable to because she destroyed her field notes.

The only mention of IRBs in the essay concerns this passage from Goffman’s book:

[The police officers] take me up the stairs to the second floor, the Detective Unit. I sit in a little room for a while, and then two white cops come in, dark green cargo pants and big black combat boots, and big guns strapped onto their legs. They remove the guns, and put them on the table facing me.

Campos ran the claim by three Philadelphia police officers. They doubt the story, noting that “as a matter of basic security, all personnel are prohibited from bringing weapons into interrogation rooms, let alone placing guns on a table where they could be seized by a suspect.” Campos hints that Goffman may be confusing her experience with a scene in the movie Menace II Society. He then reports,

When asked by email where she was interrogated, Goffman declined to provide this information on the grounds that doing so would be “stepping far outside the IRB guidelines for protecting the identities of human subjects.” Why an institutional review board would protect the identities of the officers who interrogated her, who were not her research subjects, is unclear.

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.