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Regulating Creativity: Research and Survival in the IRB Iron Cage

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Whether one looks at the United States or abroad, up or down the edu- cational pyramid, or across the disciplines, the singular impact of the IRB on recent U.S. academic history cannot be understated. All this raises two obvious questions: (1) How, in the face of this tightening regulatory vise, has research, particularly social science research, survived at all? And, (2) how has it changed in order to do so? Our scope is restricted largely to the social sciences, though IRB attempts to regulate biomedicine in recent years are central to the social science story. We first sketch the history of the U.S. IRB system and its penetration into local institutions. With an eye to the core concepts that underlie IRB purview (“risk,” “research,” “regulation,” and “compliance”), we outline some key works in organization theory (classic and popular) that illuminate the continuing growth of the IRB nationwide and its intensifying efforts to develop techniques to preempt risk. We then turn to the pragmatic re- sponses these trends have produced in research universities: how local players have begun to incorporate the regulatory demands into their think- ing and practice. We focus on responses that we call “deterrence,” resulting in chilling and distortion of research. We also highlight responses we call “consensual censorship” among researchers as well as IRB representatives who, from their structurally antagonistic positions, develop unspoken work- ing understandings and pursue collective agendas of collusion that result in what IRBs can then call compliance. Such collective constructions of lan- guage and practices to create pathways through the otherwise-impossible review hurdles, we believe, are the key factor that has kept U.S. social sci- ence research alive in the era of IRB ramp-up. Describing the models that result, we reflect on the deep systemic changes in scholarship and teaching that the institution appears to be generating. Our focus on the players— researchers, students, and IRB representatives—thus becomes a window into the rise of an entirely new configuration by which creativity itself be- comes regulated.
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... Carefully examined histories of misconduct also demonstrate how diff icult it is to identify the intersection of ethics and politics. Such accounts are important in that they can prompt political change and indicate the contours of a collective conscience, recognizing the importance of carefully articulated research ethics that inform research practice (Bledsoe, Sherin, Galinsky, et al., 2007;Moore, 2009;Messick & Tenbrunsel, 1996;Shamoo & Resnick, 2009;Smith, 2006;Stark, 2012;Steneck, 1994). ...
... Educational researchers are confronted with ethical dilemmas each day in the research setting, and they experience the ebb and flow of tensions that impact ethical decision-making. With the ebbing of ethical conduct in concert with the challenges of ethical research practices, researchers are confronted with yet another challenge, that of ethical drift 6 in the behaviour of others that are primary to ethical research practice (Bledsoe, Sherin, Galinsky, et al., 2007;Sternberg, 2012aSternberg, , 2012bTenbrunsel & Messick, 2004). Kleinman, 2006 has argued this point forcefully: ...
... Finally, people may see no other viable way out of the dilemma. They feel they cannot just leave the situation, exit means losing one's position and professional identity (see Bledsoe, Sherin, Galinsky, et al., 2007;Sternberg, 2012c;Whitney, Alcser, Schneider, McCullough, McGuire, & Volk, 2008). Kleinman (2006) explained that ethical drift is "an incremental deviation from ethical practice that goes unnoticed by individuals who justify the deviations as acceptable and who believe themselves to be maintaining their ethical boundaries" (p. ...
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See, e.g., IRB Member News, http://www.orau.gov/communityirb/news.htm (last visited Nov. 11, 2006);