Bioethics Blogs

Reforms for “21st century science” would have been good for the 20th too

A group of 11 researchers and IRB professionals, most of them affiliated with the University of California, San Diego, report on a brainstorming session from early 2015. They argue that readable consent forms, expert review, a less punitive system, and more exemptions would better serve researchers and participants. While they present their ideas as “a human research protections system that is responsive to 21st century science,” the measures they propose are equally valid for research as it has been practiced for decades.

[Cinnamon Bloss et al., “Reimagining Human Research Protections for 21st Century Science,” Journal of Medical Internet Research 18, no. 12 (2016): e329, doi:10.2196/jmir.6634.]

Five recommendations

The team presents its proposals under five headings, but I see the second and fifth as similar in intent.

  • Redesigning the Consent Form and Process

There’s broad consensus that written consent forms often fail to give prospective research participants the information they need to make a good decision. The UCSD team proposes consent forms based on Creative Commons licenses (like the one used by this blog). “Research studies,” they explain, “could create three consent forms: one that contains all the legalese and scientific exposition; one in plain English that presents the facts; and a third that is simplified even further and presents risks in bullet point format.”

  • Empowering Researchers to Protect Participants

Though the authors call for “empowering researchers,” really they are calling for expert peer review:

Researchers intending to engage in human-participant research could produce a document that lays out plans and risks of the research. They could then offer those documents, along with an outline of the proposed consent process, for review by their peers.

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.