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APS Observer
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Volume 14, Number 9
Letters
November 2001

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Psychological Scientists in the Private Sector

Experiences with IRBs

The Observer asks readers to send their success stories with institutional review boards (IRB). Here is a recent response:

When I started my first position as a newly minted PhD, I discovered the small institution I was working for had no functioning IRB. The committee never met, had no requirements for documenting or reviewing research, and no one seemed the least bit interested in pursuing the topic. But a new president was hired and found the state of affairs unsatisfactory. And since I was the new guy on the block that had brought the issue up in the first place, it was put on my plate to develop the guidelines, documents and procedures to satisfy the administration and the Feds. There went my first summer vacation.

Now I wonder if I shouldn't have left well enough alone, given the new attention from Congress. I presently conduct jury research in the real world for attorneys. Part of my research is developing questions that are sometimes presented orally by the attorney and sometimes on questionnaires. Would the new regulations being proposed by Rep. DeGette require that my jury research be approved by an IRB? Of course I cannot reveal what questions I'm giving to my client to ask of the jury pool as it would violate the attorney work product confidentiality rule. Just how far would these new regulations go?

Gary W. McCullough
Visiting Professor of Psychology
University of Texas of the Permian Basin

Share your IRB stories with your colleagues. Email the OBSERVER at apsobserver@aps.washington.dc.us.


Where We Publish

Robert Sternberg (Observer, October 2001) with laudably characteristic candor, defiance, and unsullied integrity, said what has long needed to be said about the universal reliance in academia on where an article is published, and woefully neglected reliance on the article substantively, on what the article says, on what is in the article. This happens not only in psychology, but in other arts and sciences as well as in professional programs such as business, law, and medicine.

The purpose of this letter is to propose procedures for ameliorating this lamentable and shameful practice.

But first I believe that it would be useful to point out that other than the obvious reasons why people publish in less than prestigious journals-the article may have been turned down by an elite journal or the author chose not to send it to a journal where it was felt that the article had a nanoprobability of being accepted-there is still another reason why some of us choose to send some of our pieces to unextraordinary publications.

I have sent what I thought were worthy articles to garden-variety publications because I had easy access to those publications. I wanted to get those pieces published quickly and without the frequently interminable review process and other bureaucractic roadblocks to publication. For example, I sent reviews of Arthur Jensen's G-Factor, of a wonderful festschrift to William Bevan, and of others, to relatively little known outlets because I knew that its acceptance there would be hassle-free I also had a very good piece, I think, on hedonism, published in a less than worldbeater publication. And there have been others of this ilk.

I have also noted in lists of references that more than a few heavily cited articles originally appeared in schlock publications.

Now for my constructive, I believe, proposals for helping to turn the situation around. The first, for which I have very little expectation of its being accepted, I mention, nevertheless, because hope springs eternal. Department heads, deans, and other such lofty personages should be encouraged to reward professors to read articles, no matter where they are published, by giving the readers some kind of credit, say, a modest reduction in course load for every 25 or so-let them choose the number-articles they read in their entirety and evaluated faithfully and fully. Another "credit" or "payment" for the drudgery of reading articles word for word might be points, or whatever coin of the realm is used, for "public service" or service to the profession.

However, the incentive for thoroughly and carefully reading articles no matter where they were published might be to pay the faculy person, paying him or her with cold cash. Where would this money come from? In the long run it should be built into a department's or school's budget. Maybe the author of the article might contribute to this kitty.

The point is there has got to be an incentive for people to actually read articles rather than judge an article's worth by the prestige of where it is published. As Sternberg has pointed out persuasively and dramatically, too many good people are punished by having their articles assessed in terms of the where instead of the what. It's high time for this embarrassing practice to come to a halt.

Robert Perloff
University of Pittsburgh


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