Bioethics Blogs

Texas A&M IRB Imposed Review for Surveys of Public Officials

In their contribution to the PS symposium, Kenneth Meiera and Apolonia Calderona complain of IRB interference in work that is clearly exempt or not even human subjects research.

[Kenneth J. Meier and M. Apolonia Calderon, “Goal Displacement and the Protection of Human Subjects: The View from Public Administration,” PS: Political Science & Politics 49, no. 02 (April 2016): 294–98, doi:10.1017/S1049096516000238.]

Meier and Calderon complain of two types of IRB overreach. First, the Texas A&M IRB is reviewing activities that are not human subjects research:

Our surveys of school districts (Meier and Rutherford 2014) are required to go through the Texas A&M IRB process. These surveys ask for public information: What is the process for selecting members to the board (e.g., election procedures), what is the racial composition of the board, the student enrollment, and the district administrative and teaching staff? The surveys are not confidential; school districts are identified so that these data can be merged with other public datasets for analysis. The question posed to our IRB was: “Who are the human subjects in this research and what risks do they incur that we should be prepared to mitigate”? The answer was the people who filled out the form are human subjects and they might be subject to retaliation if it were revealed how they filled it out. Insofar as we do not know exactly who fills out this form (it is likely a staff person designated to respond to information requests), the idea that an employee would be subject to retaliation for providing public information—information often posted on the district website—strikes us as an argument that is absurd on its face.

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.