Troubling: IRB approval for the Facebook study only came AFTER the study was done

Media statement on Cornell University’s role in Facebook ‘emotional contagion’ research
[Via Cornell]

Cornell University Professor of Communication and Information Science Jeffrey Hancock and Jamie Guillory, a Cornell doctoral student at the time (now at University of California San Francisco) analyzed results from previously conducted research by Facebook into emotional contagion among its users. Professor Hancock and Dr. Guillory did not participate in data collection and did not have access to user data. Their work was limited to initial discussions, analyzing the research results and working with colleagues from Facebook to prepare the peer-reviewed paper “Experimental Evidence of Massive-Scale Emotional Contagion through Social Networks,” published online June 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science-Social Science.

Because the research was conducted independently by Facebook and Professor Hancock had access only to results – and not to any data at any time – Cornell University’s Institutional Review Board concluded that he was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required.

[More]

We are finding out more each day that makes the Facebook study very worrisome.

Looks like groups are falling into CYA mode. There was no IRB approval before the study was done.

Cornell in the last paragraph simply stated that the IRB said examination of the results of a pre-existing database was okay. This is much narrower than saying an IRB approves the study.

But it is also problematic.If the data are collected by unethical means, the same logic can be used – “he was not directly engaged in human research and that no review by the Cornell Human Research Protection Program was required”

Under this sort of approach, the results of the Tuskegee experiments could be approved by an IRB and published if someone just looked at the pre-existing results.

In fact, the entire purpose of an IRB is to prevent something like the Tuskegee experiments from ever being done again. Yet, according to the rationale used by Cornell, it would be perfectly acceptable to use that database.

This is very disconcerting.

Advertisements