Bioethics Blogs

Does the NPRM Exclude or Exempt Ethnography?

Though I could not attend the October 20 Public Town Hall Meeting on the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (Common Rule) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), I’ve now watched the whole thing on YouTube. Much of the day was spent discussing procedures for biospecimens, which is outside the scope of this blog. But I was interested to see Julia Gorey of OHRP reply to questions that had been sent in by two anthropologists, Lise Dobrin, co-author of the American Anthropological Association’s 2011 comment on the ANPRM, and Edward Liebow, the AAA’s executive director. Gorey frankly admitted OHRP’s lack of expertise on ethnography but held out hope that ethnography may be exempt or even excluded under the NPRM’s proposals.

In Part 3 of the video recording, at minute 56, Gorey read’s Dobin’s question:

DOBRIN (as ready by Gorey): The NPRM provides a list of activities that are excluded on the grounds that they do not count as research. These include journalism, history, and biography. Among the reasons given for exclusion of these fields is that they focus on particular individuals and they are generally carried out by practitioners of disciplines that have their own codes of ethics. On what grounds was this exclusion made?

GOREY: The rationale here really hinges on the concept of generalizability. The line was what activities do or do not create generalizable knowledge. Ethnographic fieldwork, at least as we understand it, when we discussed it, generally involves drawing conclusions from groups or from communities, and not from individuals. However, no one from OHRP was willing to put forth themselves as an expert in the field of ethnography.

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.