December 12, 2006
By Robert Townsend
Michael Carome has once again “clarified” the federal Office of Human Research Protection’s position on oral history. According to a blog posting by Jeffrey Cohen (“an independent consultant in human research protections”), Carome reiterated his medically themed clarification of two years ago at recent PRIM&R conference of regulators. Unfortunately, it is hard to discern where Carome’s clarifications end and Cohen’s opinions begin in the blog posting.
To his credit, Cohen seems a bit more frank than most in stating that the governing policies and regulations are pretty vague and amorphous on these issues. He also seems to concede that the regulators are typically making up the rules as they go along. Unfortunately, his solutions tend to follow the standard pattern—starting from unstated assumptions about the potential risks and harm from such interviews and then proceeding to offer suggestions for further regulations and further clarification of the oracular pronouncements from the feds.
Unlike many of the regulators and the regulations, he does seem to recognize that oral history does not fit into the standard boxes most IRBs seems to use, that oral historians have particular interests and criteria that they bring to their research, and that they should be consulted in the development of future policies. Regrettably, this still leaves the door open to the same sorry patchwork of policies and misguided regulations that currently beset the field.
Maybe one of these days we will figure out who regulates the regulators, and can get a real clarification of these issues. (Special thanks to Zachary Schrag at George Mason University for sending along the link.)