Monday, June 15, 2009

How to fill up ethics review forms?

As I am about to start my research, there is the ass-covering administrative obligation I have to see through. I have to participate in the ceremonial form-filling to ensure research ethics are observed. The organisation concerned here is the NUS Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Because of some rogue medical/science researchers, the research ethics review process involves all faculties. Unfortunately, the organisation/board has yet to incorporate a proper research ethics template/form for humanities/social science based research, and some questions in the humanities/social sciences forms are still oriented towards the hard sciences.

This is a great hindrance to research, as precious time is taken away, with emails flowing back and forth, bouncing here and there. My department has acknowledged that the email volleying is actually part of the application process. I have long believed that the Institutional Review Board should specifically state their demands, and state what are the out-of-bound markers or sensitive topics. And in true PAP government style, they describe the OB markers and sensitive topics as anything deemed to be OB or sensitive by the ordinary reasonable man on the street.

I foresee greater difficulty in getting approval this time, simply because my research has the word "transgender" in it.

Below is a template of the Participant Information Sheet, which is a series of information provided to your interview subject (if you're conducting an interview).

It is worth parodying.

1. Project title
Transgender representations (my real thesis topic).

2. Principal Investigator and co-investigator(s), if any, with the contact number and organization.
The usual. Me.

3. What is the purpose of this research?
Understand trans discourses. (a 3-word summary of everything).

4. Who can participate in the research? What is the expected duration of my participation? What is the duration of this research?
People who give their consent, DUH?????? Of course, their consent has to be informed, which means it also has to be voluntary.

5. What is the approximate number of participants involved?
The more the merrier.

6. What will be done if I take part in this research?
Your opinion will be taken. No blood spilled, although the investigator has coughed out his fair share during the form-filling processes.

7. If biological samples are taken, what will be done with my samples?
If your saliva spill onto my audio recorder, I will wipe it off. This is a bloody humanities/social science research, why on earth is this question here?

Actually, yes. On top of the interview, I will, for my amusement, since I already got the IRB approval for this research, take semen samples, blood sample, pap smear, a fist full of hair, your pet cat, and your car (with keys).

8. How will my privacy and the confidentiality of my research records be protected?
You may choose to wear a Burqa to ensure confidentiality. You may also choose to bring a voice augmenting device, which will render your true voice unrecognisable. You may choose to wear a brand of perfume you don't normally wear, so that you will not be easily identified.

The investigator will also wear a blindfold, to ensure you are visually anonymous. His hands will also be tied behind his back, in the event he tries to feel your face, which will render you identifiable. On top of that, the investigator will wear ear-plugs to ensure he does not recognise your voice during the interview. After the interview, the investigator will take out a wooden plank and hit the back of his head with it, so that all memory of the interview will be lost. This is to ensure that your privacy and confidentiality.

The interview material will be kept under the investigator's bed, but IRB has said it is not secure enough. Not many people get invited into the investigator's house any way. Even the investigator's parents or in-laws do not have his housekeys, so that should be pretty safe. But IRB prefers the material to be kept in school, which does not make sense, given he does his writing and transcribing at home. This means IRB wants the investigator to make continuous 1.25 hour bus trips from Hougang to Kent Ridge and do his work in a place where there is a higher traffic of students and lecturers.

After the end of the research, the material will be shredded, stirred in water and swallowed by the investigator. The excretion, following the digestion, will be placed into the shredder machine, and later set on fire. The ashes will be transported to a space travel facility in Russia and sent to the moon. This procedure will ensure proper disposal of confidential information, and your privacy and confidentiality.

9. What are the possible discomforts and risks for participants?
Possible discomforts may be piles or back problems arising from sitting down for too long. You may also experience locked jaw and swollen eyes as you might be amazed at the amount of ass-covering this investigator have to undergo just because the IRB wants him to do it for them.

10. What is the compensation for any injury?
I will give you a hug for any emotional injury during the interview. I may offer you a glass of water should you experience dehydration during the interview, or when you laugh excessively at the extent to which I have to fill up the IRB forms.

There may also be injury sustained from the sarcastic laughs you might express at this statement, which suggests when compensation is required, IRB's responsibility ends here, and mine begin.

In fact, I the investigator, may have a higher likelihood of suffering an injury than you. I may experience numbness in my arms during my attempts to cover the buttocks of the organisation.

11. Will there be reimbursement for participation?
You will be reimbursed with coffee or tea, and maybe a hug, depending on whether we become friendlier after this interview.

12. What are the possible benefits to me and to others?
The benefit is the amusement you will derive from knowing that I have filled up many forms just to get this interview.

13. Can I refuse to participate in this research?
Sure! You will just make me feel bad about myself for filling up all those forms just to secure the interview that you have refused.

14. Whom should I call if I have any questions or problems?
You must follow the chain of command because the IRB is also bureaucratic. Please do not cc the education minister or Lee Kuan Yew.


Manessa's Memories said...

FYI, I was not allowed to conduct interviews with queer subjects because I was neither a sociology or psychology major. I still do not see the rationale behind this.

I wonder if IRB has some new excuse this time to bar your research. Good luck.

Sam Ho said...

no way!

may i know which dept/faculty you're from?

my research is on transgender discourse, which includes local scholarly discourses and i will talk about IRB in my thesis.

any way, i don't really care if they approve or not. i will still do my research.

the IRB approval only means one thing, i can "brag" that i got approved; and that i can publish this in singapore. if i don't get approved, or if the approval drags on, i'll publish my thesis online, because the aim of my thesis is to compile information on transgender theory and also explore relevant trans discourses in singapore.

thanks for the heads up!

Manessa's Memories said...

I thought IRB is needed for the research to be APPROVED for examination of thesis. Meaning, no go from IRB, no thesis, no degree. It's more about bragging.

I am from Arts. It's the department who also studies media discourses, but not your department :)

Anyway, there are ways to study discourse without talking to the subjects.

Hint: Technology

IRB can't bar you from taking material somewhere.

Sam Ho said...

thanks, sounds scary.

i'll definitely ask them for a reason. i can't see how or why studying/researching on trans theory/discourse should be rejected.

Weiye said...

yea. hahah we were barred from interviewing sexually active teens because we're not medically trained. I didn't know that you need to know medicine to have sex. hahaha.

Sam Ho said... what could that be if it isn't cnm?

tell me more, weiye, when did that happen?

it's bullshit lor.. there are so many teens out there having sex and heavy petting, and high-fiving each other's privates. and we are prevented from understanding them better.

of course, underaged sex is wrong under the law, and the IRB doesn't want itself to be condoning research that breaks the law. this means, knowledge is lost in the non-medical domain on teen sexuality.


Manessa's Memories said...

The contents belonging to other ppl on Internet are not under control of IRB, in the sense of any form of violation.

I asked them if I could cite info from ppl's blogs, and they said yes. But seriously it is of limited help.

I ding-donged via emails and calls reasoning with them for over a month before we came to this agreement. It sucks, it has handicapped my research, but I am going to complete my thesis anyway. I wish it could be better, and wld have made a stronger case with actual ppl talking instead of me using fanciful rhetorics to explain my case. Academics will laugh at me for not using ground work material for this. And whatever ground work I have done these last 2 years are made invisible, and whatever valuable things my queer subjects have told me are kept off-record in my thesis. Their stories will never be heard unless they dare to come out to the media, at the expense of their dignity.

Whatever I know, and cannot be written, will die with me.

Sam Ho said...

i guess by that experience, you could implicate the IRB in queer discourses, like the role the institution plays in silencing queer voices.

you should do an IRB application to interview people on IRB.

Manessa's Memories said...

Btw, seriously, I am not sure if you want to offend IRB. After all, they decide whether you can proceed with a thesis or not.

I suggest that you do something to their agreement first to get your MA, and pick up the "forbidden" topic later at another institution.

You lose a chance to do a smashing piece of research. On the same vein, your institute has shot itself in the foot by killing a piece of research that could have potentially upped its reputation as a research institute. Or maybe, they want to be known for certain types of research only, yeah?

Gd luck, hope you can try to work something out with IRB.

Manessa's Memories said...

Ok there is some point of contention here.

".....results in publications or generalizable knowledge"

Is a thesis counted as a form of publication?

I remember in my time, everyone in my department went through the exemption process, regardless of whether they wanted to publish in a journal later or not.

What's going on?! If it is merely journal issue, I am seriously pissed off that no one told me I have an option to be exempted.

Do check with those folks and clarify with them. If it is just journal issue, go ahead and do the darn thing, then get ppl to quote your work.

Sam Ho said...

i don't think IRB has a say in the research. there are many other departments who don't even clear with IRB when they do interviews.

not clearing with IRB means you cannot publish. that's what i know, but do update me if i got it wrong.

i can't believe they can be that puritanical and narrow-minded.

Manessa's Memories said...

I asked my friend to read both the Q&A and another page entitled "ethics review of student research involving human subjects"

Q&A says as long as no journal published, exempted.

The other page says so long research involving vulnerable populations, regardless of the intent to publish, will need IRB review.

Point of contention: the definition of research is different.

For Q&A:results in publications or generalizable knowledge

For other page: systematic investigation designed to develop and contribute to generalizable knowledge... may or may not be intended for publication or presentation outside the classroom

Ok. I give up. Just leave me alone and let me graduate.