Computers and Writing Research: Insitutional Review Boards

I just attended a roundtable called -

Digital Writing Researchers: Institutional Review Boards: Mapping the Issues for Organizational Position Statements

The framing questions for this roundtable were: How do C&W scholars deal with IRB approvals? Do we always need IRB approvals?

The conversation got a bit contentious at times, and I decided to lay low (I came in a bit late and had to park in the corner of the room). My biggest question about IRBs is this: Are we scholars in the humanities or are we social scientists? I do see the need for some type of institutional review in certain situations, but it often feels like we are being pushed into a social science set of methods/rhetorical assumptions. If researchers are interviewing students who will be revealing potentially sensitive information (about their instructors, for instance), or if researchers are given access to information that is to remain private (grades, for instance), I can see the need for an IRB review. But I also see a need to hang on to some of our disciplinary practices - practices that may or may not fit into an IRB template.

Cynthia Selfe gave us a great handout that encourages us to "think against the grain about IRBs." I thought I'd post an abbreviated version of that handout here.

Some of her questions:

  • Is the IRB tail wagging the research/scholarship dog at educational institutions?
  • What are the boundaries (intellectual, moral, practical) between art and research, between journalism and art?
  • Do we need IRB approval when we are co-authoring a piece with an adult participant-researcher?
  • Are there sufficient appeal processes built into the IRB process?
  • Why do IRBs at different institutions yield different approaches, responses?
  • Is ethical research behavior appropriately policed by the IRB? (Should the government be the ethical police?)

Cynthia's Works Cited...

Communication Scholars' Narratives of IRB Experiences (August 2005). Journal of Applied Communication Research, 33(3), p. 204-230.

Gunsalis, C. Kristina; Burbules, Nicholas; Dash, Leon Decosta; Finkin, Matthew; Goldberg, Joseph; Greenough, William; Miller, Gregory; Pratt, Michael C. (2003). The Illinois White Paper: Improving the System for Protecting Human Subjects: Counteracting IRB "Mission Creep," The Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois.
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Gunsalis, C. Kristina (2003). Human Subjects Protections, Some Thoughts on Costs and Benefits in the Humanistic Disciplines. Working Draft.
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Nelson, Cary (2003). Can E.T. Call Home?: The Brave New World of University Surveillance.
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Perlstadt (Winter 2004). The Researcher's Bill of Rights. Medical Humanities Report, 25(2).
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Steele, Robert M. (2003). What Turns a Person into a Human Subject? How Do We Find and Then Draw the Lines? & Is There a Difference between Those Who do Academic Research and Those Who Practice Journalism
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Lantos, John D. (2007). Research in Wonderland: Does 'Minimal Risk' Mean Whatever an Institutional Review Board Says it Does? The American Journal of Bioethics, 7(3) p. 11-12.

Research on Human Subjects: Academic Freedom and the Institutional Review Board (2006). Report of the AAUP.
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