When Brown University Associate Professor of Education Jin Li began her research on learning among Chinese immigrant children, she secured funding from private sources, prepared her methodology, and received approval from the IRB. As the research began, she noticed that her plan to provide $600 to all families who participated did not reflect the added effort low-income families expended on the learning assessments, so she decided to offer some families $600 and others $300.
She submitted her modified budget to the IRB and was rejected. Moreover, the Board told her she could not use data collected from families paid only $300 even though they had signed consent forms. Nor could she pay those families an additional $300 because she had run out of funds. So, she is suing Brown for harm to her research.
Originally, IRB approval was intended for research funded by federal sources. A new book, Ethical Imperialism, documents how that mission has grown to encompass all research with human subjects. Social scientists, in particular, find the restrictions ill suited for their work with interviews, archives, and oral histories. Just as under regulation can be harmful, so can overreach.