Ethics: IRB approval and article reviews

Data collection in the social sciences must typically pass through an institutional review board’s (IRB) human subjects committee (HSC) before being conducted in order to ensure comformity with IRB regulation. This we all know.

I once reviewed an article and while doing so got the sneaking suspicion that the author (whomever s/he was) had not gotten their study passed through the IRB. The reason was that data in the article came in the form of casual conversations and e-mail correspondence. Quotations from data sources identified the speaker/e-mail-writer by name, not pseudonym. There was little written about the length of these conversations, how many there were, where they were conducted, etc. or any mention of the methodological strategy employed or method of analysis. This sort of methodological sloppiness is reprehensibe in its own right, but the idea that this research study might not have passed through the proper research channels started to bothered me.

And then it bothered me a little more.

As I read, article in hand, I increasingly felt like I was holding a soiled garment.

And so, I wrote the editor and, without making any accusations, expressed my “sneaking suspicion” and provided the evidence that encouraged me to think so.


1. Has anyone been asked for proof of IRB approval for articles when social/human subject data used?

2. Has anyone read a paper and wondered if it had passed IRB?

3. What would you do if you read a paper like this during reivew?

1 thought on “Ethics: IRB approval and article reviews

  1. Compare with medical research, where publications require a statement (not sure abt ‘proof’) that the research underwent ethics review is (usually). Also, there’s a feedback loop here: historically, editors of medical journals have played an important role in the institutionalisation of IRBs/RECs, by just such requirements.


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