A review of Laura Stark‘s new book, Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research, appears in the January 2012 issue of Science, Vol. 335, no. 6065 p. 170. Stark is an assistant professor of science in society, assistant professor of sociology, assistant professor of environmental studies.
The review states: “How did we get here? Seeking to answer that question for institutional review boards (IRBs), Laura Stark’s Behind Closed Doors challenges the historical mythology of bioethics.
… The most important contribution of this interesting, slim book is Stark’s demonstration that the conventional version of the origin of IRBs is a very partial story. The IRB regulations were developed and promulgated by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).
… There is, of course, considerable irony in this history. What started out as a means of protecting research from intrusive regulation (and particularly the requirement that subjects sign detailed consent forms) has evolved into precisely what the group consideration process was meant to prevent: an intensive regulatory process that researchers resent as an intrusion on their autonomy.
… Along with the historical account, Stark offers several chapters based on her ethnographic observation of two IRBs at different universities. Some of this interesting material contributes substantially to our understanding of how IRBs make decisions: She describes how committee members persuade one another of their expertise to critique a protocol. She provides a plausible account of why different IRBs generate conflicting reviews even though they have the same basic ethical commitments. And she explores the role of staff-written summaries of reviews in allowing IRBs to develop critical reviews of the ethics of their colleagues’ research.”
The full Science review is online here. (Note: You must be a Science subscriber or member of the Wesleyan network to read the review.)