Graduate students quickly learn to loathe human subjects review. It’s not that they don’t see the need, nor that they would like to be doing intrusive research. It’s just that most of what we do, while it certainly has an effect on our subjects (how could it not?!), has an effect that is extremely small. And we would like to think, at least, that such a small impact is vastly outweighed by our contribution to human knowledge. Yet, we often have to wait several weeks to hear back only that they do not have to review our research.
The US Office for Human Research Protection has recently changed the rules so that oral history recording need not be cleared by a human subjects panel. The funny thing is, the methods they use — interviewing individual subjects — do not differ much from what we do. In some ways, since anonymizing our sources is second nature, our subjects are far more protected. Why, then, are they allowed to bypass IRBs? Because the OHRP has suggested that doing history isn’t really “research.” That’s an interesting take. An article in the Chronicle (subscription only) argues that this is yet another marginalization of the humanities. My take is: how do I convince people I’m not doing research and avoid the several-week delays?