AAUP has released a new report, the first in five years, on restrictions posted by the IRB system on academic freedom. The report is here. A couple of key points:
- The list of exemptions to IRB review is too short and, more importantly, contains no guiding principle as to what makes exempt:
What is peculiarly objectionable in that requirement [that interviewing be subject to IRB approval] is that it interferes with freedom of speech. You do not need to get approval from an appropriately chosen Moral Review Board if you want to invite your neighbor to tell you about his or her voting preferences, or about the teaching of evolution, or about anything else, whether your aim is to do research or merely pass the time while waiting for the bus and whether, given that the conversation is public, your neighbor will have been caused a harm by it. It is no more in order to require researchers to obtain IRB approval before inviting their subjects to discuss or report on their views.
- Even exemptions require approval by the IRB which is overly restrictive.
Research on autonomous adults should be exempt from IRB approval (straightforwardly exempt, with no provisos and no requirement of IRB approval of the exemption) if its methodology either
(a) imposes no more than minimal risk of harm on its subjects, or
(b) consists entirely in speech or writing, freely engaged in, between subject and researcher.