Variation in research ethics board decisions
There's a research study reported in this month's Journal of Medical Ethics examining variability in the judgments of 44 research ethics boards (REBs) in reaction to a mock research protocol scenario. Snapshot of the results: "Similar criteria were used by most participating REBs. Yet the project was unconditionally approved by 3 REBs, approved conditionally by 10 and rejected by 30."
Citation: de Champlain J, Patenaude J. Review of a mock research protocol in functional neuroimaging by Canadian research ethics boards. J Med Ethics. 2006 Sep;32(9):530-4.
Commentary by Jim Giles in Nature on the study (subscription required to access full-text):
"'Everyone knows institutional review boards make very different decisions,' says Joan Sieber, a psychologist at California State University, East Bay, who helps to train board members. She argues that it would be unrealistic to expect all boards to reach the same decision, but that the range of answers given shows that ethical norms are being applied in worryingly different ways. 'This shows that something needs to be done'...
Sieber says review boards need to be more rigorous in their risk assessments and decisions, and says they should call in outside experts where necessary. She adds, however, that a more common problem with institutional review boards is not a willingness to allow dubious studies, but an overly cautious approach that comes from ignorance of the experimental methods involved."