Trust Us, We Know What We’re Doing

The June 5, 2017 issue of The Weekly Standard magazine discloses that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and fifteen other Federal Departments and Agencies have issued final revisions to the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (the Common Rule). The Final Rule was published in the Federal Register on January 19, 2017.

“For nearly 40 years, the federal government has enforced the ‘Common Rule.’ The rule required researchers in the social and medical sciences to get the approval of an independent review board, or IRB, for their federally funded experiments. The purpose of the boards, which are usually set up by the researchers’ universities, is to protect human research subjects—college students, usually—from potentially harmful experiments.”

“In January the Department of Health and Human Services relaxed its regulations governing the use of the review boards. For example, psychological researchers who believe their experiments entail only ‘benign behavioral interventions’ can exempt themselves from seeking the approval of their IRB…”

The article cites another example of the mental health industry trying to push its boundaries. “…members of the American Psychiatric Association are hoping to repeal the APA’s ‘Goldwater Rule,’ which forbids members from pronouncing on the psychological health of public figures whom they haven’t examined personally.”

The article concludes with, “…the exalted role social scientists have assumed in the public conversation requires that we view them with redoubled scrutiny and skepticism. ‘Trust Us, We Know What We’re Doing’ is a suspicious motto for any profession.”

Here is an extract of the actual wording of the exemption in the text of the Final Common Rule as recorded in the Federal Register:

“…the following categories of human subjects research are exempt from this policy:…Research involving benign behavioral interventions in conjunction with the collection of information from an adult subject through verbal or written responses…”

There are a lot of ifs, ands and buts in this convoluted rule. However, the bottom line is that the original goal of protecting human research subjects is being eroded in favor of the convenience of researchers. The ethics of allowing psychologists or psychiatrists to run experiments without independent oversight is questionable.

One of the essential problems with psychology is its reliance upon psychiatric or biological behavioral models—-a far cry from its foundations as the study of the human spirit.

For reference, here is a paper on Ethical Problems in Psychiatric Research.

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