My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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IRB issues covered by NYTimes

In the New York Times today, there’s an article on Institutional Review Boards (the board that handles human subjects issues for academic institutions). I’m definitely amongst the people who constantly bitch about the absurdity of IRBs (even if their intentions are good) and this article discusses my frustration in much more polite terms than i ever could. I’m glad to see this issue being publicized because it’s at the core of my existential crisis. I am most likely going to graduate next year. I’m trying to decide whether or not to go on the academic market. Currently, i’m leaning against it purely because i want to get some research done without the limitations and bureaucracy of an IRB. There’s a part of me that finds that unbelievably depressing. I wonder how many others slink away from academia or choose not to pursue a particular research question purely because of IRB.

(Tx Irina)

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7 comments to IRB issues covered by NYTimes

  • Erica

    hey danah! remember me?? i’m actually working with a psychologist right now on eating disorder research and i knew nothing of the IRB until now. they are a pain in the ass. some of the people on the board want things done one way and then others want it done another and it screws with your data and with any system that you think you may have set up. i’m in charge of databasing (never done it before so it’s a whole new experience) so it gets a bit crazy sometimes. anyway, i hope you’re well. take care, stay sane!
    -erica
    buffalo, ny

  • AJ

    Ensuring human right violations aren’t hidden behind or justified “in the name of science”, I like. I don’t support an academic dictatorship or micromanagement. Also, the line between what would offend someone, or hurt their feelings, and what is psychological torture needs to be clearly defined (is it?) for the the IRB to put their hands in issues such as
    “forbidding a white student studying ethnicity to interview African-American Ph.D. students “because it might be traumatic for them.”

  • my question is, where are you going to do research that you don’t have to deal with limitations and bureaucracy? IRBs are a royal pain, I whole heartedly concur, but there are limitations and bureaucracy involved in conducting industrial or governmental or non-profit or any other kind of research, as well. it’s just a matter of having different sorts of hassles in different environments. sure, if you don’t go into academia, you probably won’t have to deal with an IRB, but with what other hassles will you have to deal?

  • Bertil

    One thing I don’t understand is why they should look into non-Federal research?

    They sound like pain in the back, with little clue about what are Science common pratice, so they must be reformed — fine to me. But once they become reasonable and actually do they mission properly, why should non-fed experiments be allowed to harm human beings? Sounds like some people are trying to avoid a problem they can’t solve.

    About corporate science, you might have to face narrow-mindeed questions such as: “Have you little games any consequenc on the bottom-lie that is not pure loss?”, constant C-y-A attitude and similar “Oh: we can’t do that: I have no idea what you are talking about, but it will certainly damage the company’s image.” I wrote “might”: my PhD is in a Corporate company, and I am very happy about it.

  • Baby

    B@by i think cellphone are very cool cuz u could call who eva u want 2 and txt too cell phones are just kool for teens!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Steve

    So. if I’m a historian studying the Bush Presidency, do I have to get him to sign a consent form?

  • When I was sitting undergrad finals at Oxford in 2002, my tutor took me to one side and told me that while ten years earlier he would have encouraged me to do graduate work, that there was no future in the humanities, and that I should ‘Work hard, get my First, and shove off’. I did; I’ve spent the years since trying to find ways of pursuing my interests outside the ivory tower. I don’t have such easy access to erudite colleagues or huge libraries; but on the other hand I can cross boundaries, ask questions, conduct experiments, generally explore my interests relatively unfettered. I’ve worked with the UK open learning community; I’m working on a Web startup oriented at pushing pro-am learning outside traditional institutions; I work with the Institute for the Future of the Book, one of whose projects is MediaCommons, an experiment in collaborative digital publishing in media studies.

    There is a growing feeling that (certainly in the UK) universities are becoming little more than sausage machines for commodifiable intellectual property. I know I’m not the only one of my peers to have decided against graduate study for these and other reasons. But what interests me is the way the Web is enabling the growth of new initiatives either directly challenging the academic institution, or else exploring ways of crossing the boundary between increasingly-specialised intellectual disciplines and practitioners ‘outside’.

    Beyond enabling rich collaborations between academics and others, the flight of clever young things from academia may radicalise a whole sector of society in very interesting ways. Perhaps the era of the public intellectual is over, but I think the era of Web-literate, self-publicising, networked intellectuals free (because self-deselected) from the vested interests of tenure and academic politics may be just about to begin. The marketisation of humanities studies is doing such a good job of ushering young eggheads out of the glasshouse that hitherto stopped so many intellectuals throwing stones that I’ll be surprised if a fair few don’t gather round the edges and start lobbing things in.