USA: Censorship threatens fieldwork - A call for resistance
Not so easy to be researcher in the USA: There's more and more censorship. Not long ago I wrote about Iranians not allowed to publish papers. Another form of censorship are the Internal Review Boards (IRB ). In Anthropology News May, James Boster calls for a three graded stages of response: Reform, Resolve and Resist:
The faculty head of the University of Connecticut IRB recently told me that the IRB would not now permit me to do the field work I have recently completed with the Waorani, because she considered Waorani as far too belligerent for me to have risked my own safety in doing research with them. It was a shock to learn that I could be regarded a human subject of my own research.
Many human scientists, anthropologists included, have experienced ever-increasing burdens of regulation and oversight by IRBs in their research with human subjects. Most of what is onerous about the regulation has nothing to do with providing protection to human subjects and has everything to do with requiring human scientists to submit to the arbitrary exercise of power and authority.
IRBs at a number of universities have instituted policies that have no foundation in ethics or law, ones that violate our most sacred academic freedoms and civil rights. The first amendment to the constitution states: “Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech.” Yet what is regulated here is speech—the freedom of investigators to speak with other members of the society. The freedom to find things out is a basic human right, not a privilege to be licensed, especially when the obstacles to inquiry have never been demonstrated to prevent any actual harm to human subjects. The unconstitutionality of these restraints on free speech are clearly and comprehensively laid out by Philip Hamburger in a 2005 article for the Supreme Court Review, “The New Censorship: Institutional Review Boards.”
>> read the whole text in Anthropology News May 2006 (link updated)
Another anthropology-specific problem is mentioned in an article by As Rena Lederman: IRBs are comprised mostly of researchers from non-ethnographic disciplines "folks whose picture of “real research” looks nothing like ethnographic fieldwork." Therefor this advice (!):
So it is crucial that your board view participant observation as a sound, productive research method. This cannot be taken for granted. If IRB members are mystified or horrified by participant observation—if they imagine that it is useless or even itself unethical—then your proposal may be denied even if your project’s topic is completely innocuous!