The role of ethics review boards (aka Institutional Review Boards or IRBs) has long been discussed when considering social science, human factors, or usability studies. How much review is appropriate when the behaviours involved are limited to things people do in everyday life (e.g., trying a new computer program or completing a questionnaire)? Is the level of review done for medical experiments appropriate when it comes to usability research? This debate has flared up again with some recent rule changes in the US.
If you took Psychology 101 in college, you probably had to enroll in an experiment to fulfill a course requirement or to get extra credit. Students are the usual subjects in social science research — made to play games, fill out questionnaires, look at pictures and otherwise provide data points for their professors’ investigations into human behavior, cognition and perception.But who gets to decide whether the experimental protocol — what subjects are asked to do and disclose — is appropriate and ethical?