Academic Regulation of Research: Human Subjects restrictions

Nathan Newman nathan.newman at
Sat Aug 26 20:19:37 PDT 2000

On Fri, 25 Aug 2000, Chuck Grimes wrote:

> The Psychology and Education Depts.(I think) conducted a series of studies
> of poor high school girls who were pregnant or had just had children in
> several counties in and round the Bay Area. In order to get the
> subjects and then get them to participate in the study, the
> researchers pulled some strings in the country welfare department,
> school district offices, and the juvenile justice system. It was
> extremely intimidating and coercive.

So the research is attacked and restricted, while the coercive structures that intimidate welfare recipients in the first place are left in place.

Which is exactly the point of my objections.

I don't like or approve such abuse, but I think it is the worst form of liberal self-deception to think that gains are made repressing use of power for research, yet leaving it in place for everything else.

The problem is that the research will be repressed not only in investigating the poor (who will suffer surveillance by the state in non-research settings on pain of losing benefits in any case) but in investigating the powerful. Researchers who have deceived police officers in order to get close enough to investigate police brutality have run afoul of such human subject rules. While the poor inevitably live there lives in public spaces that are subject to surveillance (increasingly literal with cameras covering projects), it takes essentially deceptive investigation to penetrate the sanctums of power in many cases. From academic researchers to journalists, the mantra of "consent" and opposition to "invasion of privacy" are used to chill all kinds of investigations.

The poor are subject to power and their consent can be extracted in all sorts of ways that fulfill the rules of human subject guidelines. It is the powerful and models of authority that will end up most protected by such rules.

-- Nathan Newman

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