Magazine article Editor & Publisher

J-Schools, Expel Feds

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

J-Schools, Expel Feds

Article excerpt

Requiring review of journalism projects imposes unacceptable prior restraints - and it cheapens research safeguards

Like Catholic schoolchil-dren leaving a little room for guardian angels, journalism students returning to college this month should be prepared to squeeze over in their seats to accommodate the increasingly close scrutiny of their work by the federally mandated institutional review boards (IRBs) on their campuses.

Under federal law dating back to 1974, colleges and universities must establish IRBs to ensure that any federally funded research involving human beings is conducted safely and with the fully informed consent of its subjects. Congress back then was motivated by revelations of the horrific four-decade-long Tuskegee, Ala., syphilis study in which researchers simply watched and took notes as 399 black men were allowed to sicken and die without being offered a cure. The recent death of volunteer Ellen Roche during an irresponsible asthma study at Johns Hopkins University demonstrates the serious and continuing need for oversight of medical research.

But campus IRBs these days are focusing more and more on research that comes out of classes in anthropology, sociology -- and journalism. One reason is the natural tendency of federal regulations to bloat. Others have more to do with the love of committees, petty rules, and interdepartmental squabbling that flourishes in the groves of academe. When the American Association of University Professors reported on IRBs earlier this year, it found schools typically claim sweeping rights to pass on any research involving humans, whether the federal government is paying for it or not. …

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