Volokh’s Law Review Experiment
Eugene Volokh reports that, this spring, he participated as a faux-student in the UCLA Law Review writing competition. Happily, he succeeded in writing on (though he assures us that no deserving student was denied a slot as a result.) But when he tells us that he learned a lot that he’ll use in the third edition of his book, and in his blog, I immediately wondered whether a) he needed and b) he obtained approval for this “research” from UCLA’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) for human research. The much debated IRB rules typically demand IRB approval before you do systematic investigations designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge, using human subjects. Under this gaping definition, a massive portion of social science work is subject to IRB review – and it looks to me like Volokh’s project is as well. I imagine that UCLA’s IRB would have exempted it from review, or given an expedited OK, if he had submitted the proposal. But a researcher is usually required to submit a proposal to the IRB so they can make that call.
I doubt that IRB’s were created to manage this sort of low risk research, but I know that administrators of big universities – like Alabama – hope that we law profs don’t personally exempt ourselves from these provisions. Agree with their existence or not, but universities can lose a lot of federal money when they get caught cheating on IRB’s. And I suspect it won’t be the law schools that feel that particular pain.