College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Illinois Panel Concludes IRBs Overregulate and Underprotect


Michael PrattA University of Illinois panel that included Michael Pratt, associate professor of organization behavior and James Towey Fellow, wrote an editorial published in the June 9 issue of Science which concluded that mission creep has compromised the central goals of institutional review panels (IRP). According to the authors:

"Our IRB system is endangered by excessive paperwork and expanding obligations to oversee work that poses little risk to subjects. The result is that we have simultaneous overregulation and underprotection."

Nine researchers from several colleges on the Urbana campus authored a white paper that concluded that an "obsession with paperwork and mechanical monitoring may undermine protection of human subjects." The focus on paperwork and forms by federal agencies, say the authors, does little to move the work of IRBs back to their core mission to protect human subjects involved in risky medical or behavioral research. The authors contend that "all researchers must take primary responsibility for professional, ethical conduct."

"The IRB system is in trouble, and that means trouble for the safety and efficacy of research on human subjects. We should refocus our efforts on the core issues and stop expanding the mission into less productive territory."

The editorial is available on the Science website.

UIUC College of Business