Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

The Institutional Review Board

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

The Institutional Review Board

Article excerpt

Some scholars (William Epstein in these very pages) argue that deception (and perhaps other harms) are necessary if experiments and clinical trials are to result in beneficial information. It is obvious that there is much data unavailable to the ethical observer or experimenter: Animals may not be tortured or killed and humans may not be deceived, denied a cure for syphilis, irradiated, frozen, or physically or mentally harmed in any way. In the most extreme cases, many argue that the data gleaned from truly horrific experiments, those performed by Nazi psychopaths for example, should not be utilized, despite the benefits that may accrue from their application. In social sciences such as psychology, the harms are usually emotional rather than physical. Some of the innocents who metamorphosed into monsters in Stanley Milgrim's famous obedience experiments or Philip Zimbardo's equally well-known Stanford prison experiment were irrevocably harmed. The desire to protect those willing to participate (with informed consent, naturally), the need to meet federal guidelines, and the fear that someone may be sued have resulted in the necessity for the institutional review board (IRB).

Anyone at a college or university who wishes to work with human subjects must formally run his or her proposal past an IRB, which may bless the work with its imprimatur or negate the project. …

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