Bioethics Blogs

A satisfied customer at American University

Patricia Aufderheide, University Professor of Communication Studies at American University, reports her satisfaction with the IRB at that institution. It’s great to hear some good news, and Aufderheide’s essay points to the importance of having the right people in positions of power. But it also raises questions about how good and how replicable AU’s experience is.

[Patricia Aufderheide, “Does This Have to Go Through the IRB?,” Chronicle of Higher Education, August 17, 2016.]

Aufderheide writes that the AU IRB, “which primarily deals with social-science and humanities research, has been more helpful to me than I ever expected it to be.” IRB staff review, she writes, helped her and a colleague think through reasons why the people they interviewed might hesitate to be interviewed, and the protocols they worked out gave them “a clear signal at the start of our work together that we were conscientious and considerate professionals.”

Aufderheide credits the people involved. The IRB includes faculty in marketing, public opinion research, government, psychology, international relations, as well as a librarian. This is a far larger range of disciplines than most social scientists can hope to face, and AU is to be applauded for securing such intellectual diversity. Moreover, Aufderheide credits the unfailing patience of Matt Zembrzuski, the research compliance manager, who directs IRB operations.

But Aufderheide’s raises some troubling issues as well, which suggest that not everything is as rosy at AU as she suggests, and that other universities may have trouble replicating the experience.

Why is Aufderheide destroying records?

The only research project that Aufderheide describes in any detail is an ongoing collaboration with Peter Jaszi to interview “creative colleagues on how they did their work, given their understanding of copyright.” As she describes the protocol,

Our research team gave interviewees an informed-consent form that said in simple words what we were trying to find out and why, why we valued their time, what we thought the risks were, and how we would deal with those risks.

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.