Blogging and IRB Approval

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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5 Responses

  1. RCinProv says:

    There was once an Attorney general in Rhode Island made infamous by the comment: where the might be smoke, there must be fire.

    Sadly, the IRB at my esteemed institution has its own version: where they might be research, there must be IRB jurisdiction.

    We are currently debating what kinds of “undergraduate research” must go to the IRB. Last time I checked, undergraduates do not, even in the Ivy League, make “contributions to generalizable knowledge.” But that common sense observation has not ended the discussion.

    Two words sum up the recent history of IRBs in America: mission creep.

    So blogs are undoubtedly next — until Congress finally steps in and draws a distinction between actually doing experiments on humans versus all the other things that social scientists do.

  2. Joe Miller says:


    You’ve raised a host of interesting and important questions here. I don’t have answers at the moment, but share your apparent interest in getting them.

    It is interesting to note, in connection with IRBs that, so far as I could tell, nothing in the schedule at the recent AALS annual meeting in DC addressed IRB questions for the law professor. Given that the topic of the annual meeting was empirical research in law, it seems a rather glaring omission.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post.

  3. Macaroni says:

    I have been conducting research on blogs for more than two years now and yes, you do need IRB approval! While RC has had problems with the IRB and other colleagues, who conduct research on special populations, I know have had difficulties, this has not been my experience. My research centers on technology and politics and hence not many of the questions I ask can potentially harm my subjects. Best of luck.

  4. RCinProv says:

    Hi Macaroni!

    I think the question is whether blogging itself requires IRB approval, not studying blogging. If the former requires IRB approval, then academic blogs are doomed. That is my worry–that blogging itself will be considered publishing and somehow be defined as research.

    Studying blogs, that’s different.

  5. Dave Hoffman says:

    RCinProv I think hits the big issue. I take it, though, that no one has actually been called to task for blogging by an IRB board?

    (The study-of-blogging question, which I discuss as part II above, seems to me not a totally clear cut case of requiring approval, but I am moving toward a risk averse position.)