February 22, 2024


American institutional review boards are drowning in paperwork and the resulting frustration could “alienate some researchers enough to turn them into scofflaws”, says an editorial in Science. IRBs were established after the 1979 Belmont report to protect human subjects in potentially risky research. But after a quarter of a century, IRBs are being “overwhelmed by a focus on procedures and documentation at the expense of thoughtful consideration of the difficult ethical questions surrounding the welfare of human subjects,” writes a team from the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign.

This “obsession” with paperwork could undermine the protection of human subjects, comment the authors of the editorial, if IRBs get a reputation as “ethics police”. “It will be a sad day if scholars come to see human protection in research as the source of frustrating delays and expensive paperwork.”