Debating the Need for IRBs – A Chronicle Colloquy

Yesterday the AHA’s own Robert Townsend, assistant director for research and publications, led a live online discussion on the need (or lack thereof) for institutional review boards in oral history. The lively colloquy took place on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s web site and was moderated by Chronicle reporter Jennifer Howard.

Robert Townsend answered questions from academics, historians, and even an institutional review board administrator, addressing a variety of issues with IRBs. Concerns about IRBs’ lack of clear and consistent standards, its spillover into examining undergraduate projects, and the overall application of “criteria that are inappropriate to our discipline,” were just a few topics of discussion.

While questioning whether IRBs should oversee oral history, Townsend did attest that

[T]he Association does believe that historians need to adhere to strong and consistent professional standards in the conduct of oral history research. The Association has strongly endorsed and promulgated the standards developed by the Oral History Association (which are online at http://omega.dickinson.edu/organizations/oha/pub_eg.html) that discuss these issues in more detail.

He went on to say that “[t]he problem is that the [IRB] rules as they now exist seem to leave little room for the concerns and criteria of our discipline.”

Read the full transcript on the Chronicle’s web site: http://chronicle.com/live/2006/11/townsend/

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