Bioethics Blogs

Yanow and Schwartz-Shea: IRBs Miss Their Targets

The first IRB related article in the April 2016 issue of PS, and the only one not formally part of the symposium on IRBs, is Dvora Yanow and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, “Encountering Your IRB 2.0: What Political Scientists Need to Know.” This essay is intended as an introduction to IRB issues for political scientists, and therefore presents material that will be familiar to readers of this blog.

In addition to this helpful introduction, Yanow and Schwartz-Shea make an interesting point about the scope of IRB review: on the one hand, it can be under inclusive, failing to cover serious ethical questions. On the other hand, mission creep continues apace, as universities impose restrictions not dictated by ethics or law.

[Dvora Yanow and Peregrine Schwartz-Shea, “Encountering Your IRB 2.0: What Political Scientists Need to Know,” PS: Political Science & Politics 49, no. 02 (April 2016): 277–86, doi:10.1017/S1049096516000202.]

The example of under-inclusiveness, also mentioned in Melissa Michelson’s contribution to the issue, is the ill-fated 2014 postcard study, in which political scientists at Stanford University and Dartmouth College mailed tens of thousands of postcards to voters in Montana, California and New Hampshire, to see if they would influence voters. Each postcard bore an official state seal—likely confusing voters about the source—while the universities failed to disclose the expenditures as required by Montana law.

At the time, Montana asked Carroll College political science professor Jeremy Johnson to explore the controversy. Johnson concluded that the IRB “process as currently constituted is not useful for the research conducted by many political scientists,” including the postcard 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.