Regulations-A Threat to Scholarship

April 2002

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) were established to protect research participants. In recent years, however, they have expanded in ways that seem unrelated to their original mandates. As a recent editorial article, "Time to cut regulations that protect only regulators," in the journal Nature (2001, 414, 379) states "much of the research that falls under the purview of [these committees] does not warrant such close scrutiny, as it causes little real risk for the study subject or, in the case of animals, involves generally accepted procedures..." Moreover, IACUC reviews typically must be completed before a grant application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) can be considered and, since the majority of proposals are not funded, much of the research will never be conducted. Nevertheless vast amounts of researchers’ time is taken up with completing research protocols and serving on committees to vet the proposals of others. The article goes on to state that the "climate under which even routine protocols are reviewed by IACUCs and IRBs is now one of fear – fear by the institution that it will be ‘out of compliance’ with one or more aspects of the paperwork, and so subject to penalty upon audit." Indeed, the "fear factor" results in absolute absurdities. The article states that in "some institutions, scientists who never work with organisms more complex than yeast and bacteria are now being forced to attend lectures on how to conduct experiments on humans, ‘just in case.’" This is yet another example of the way in which university administrations have turned away from promoting and protecting the interests of their faculty by buckling under government pressure.