To the Editor:
Richard A Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett make the case that research deregulation is a positive development (“Long-Sought Research Deregulation Is Upon Us. Don’t Squander the Moment,” The Chronicle, March 12). It comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with deceptive research practices, the abrogation or distortion of informed consent, minimal or no debriefing, misconduct (falsification, fabrication, plagiary), and the harm that ensues (in the infamous Tuskegee, Milgram, and Zimbardo experiments, for example) that these two scholars work in psychological fields, and hold that “...far too much effort has been expended protecting human subjects from the nonexistent risks...” of petty experiments. Maybe, unless you happened to be the person harmed.
No one wants an overburdening and unnecessary bureaucracy to control one’s life’s work, but IRBs were instituted to protect subjects who have been abused, deceived, and harmed — on an ongoing basis. That the IRB procedure is abused is no less surprising than the probability that researchers will take advantage of the new deregulated environment and commit atrocities. It is ironically appropriate that the example of a foolish request (note the consonant strings to be memorized) happens to be the very experiment this author participated in as a subject, more than 50 years ago, and which left him mildly traumatized.
For those unfamiliar with the sordid history of psychological (and clinical) research, take a look at the Office of Research Integrity’s website, the work of Diederik Stapel, and Tomasz Witkowksi and Maciej Zatonski’s Psychology Gone Wrong and Witkowski’s Psychology Led Astray. You will be shocked by how scholars worked under a draconian set of regulations. Imagine how things will follow when a freer environment is tendered.
Professor Emeritus, St. Cloud State University
Editor, Journal of Information Ethics