Why are there IRB’s at all?

May 26 '11

Jim Fearon asks, “Why aren’t there IRB’s [institutional review boards] for the development industry?”

My question is: Why are there IRB’s at all? The IRB seems like some sort of parallel legal system. If people are doing something illegal, it should be stopped. If something is legal but should be illegal, the law should be changed. But I don’t know that we need a parallel legal system. Or maybe it is necessary for international development studies, given the weakness of international law (for example, the widespread worry that a person arrested for rape in the United States would not be extradited, if he were to somehow manage to escape back home to France).

P.S. More on the IRB process in the United States:

1. This article by Carl Elliott reminded me why institutional review boards (IRBs) are needed.

2. This site (via Seth Roberts) reminds me of why IRBs can be a bad thing.

For me, IRBs are typically a waste of time, nothing more, but for others they are a (potential) protection against health hazards and exploitation, and for others they are a barrier to research progress.

P.P.S. I do understand there is a connection between the IRB and the legal system, that one role of the IRB is to catch potential problems in research design before they break the law. So maybe my problem is more with the U.S. legal system than with IRB’s.