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Criminology and Criminal Justice Researchers’ Experiences and Challenges with Institutional Review Boards (by Elaine Gunnison and Jacqueline Helfgott): Review 1

Published onDec 10, 2023
Criminology and Criminal Justice Researchers’ Experiences and Challenges with Institutional Review Boards (by Elaine Gunnison and Jacqueline Helfgott): Review 1

Vote: Publish pending minor changes

This reviewer believes that the current manuscript highlights compelling findings from a qualitative study on the treatment of criminal justice and criminology research protocols by their Institutional Review Boards (IRB). The authors provide a clear rationale and justification of the need for, and potential impact of, studying the IRB response to these research protocols, and successfully make a case for undue and inequitable demands placed on researchers in these disciplines. The study is novel and timeless in that it sheds light on an understudied academic research issue that has substantial ramifications for what research is conducted, and subsequently presented or published, in criminal justice and criminology.

The manuscript is well-written, excepting several run-on sentences/paragraphs and typographical errors (e.g., missing end quotation marks in the Criticisms of IRB section, run-on sentences in the Importance of IRBs section).

  • The paper primarily utilizes recent literature to support its arguments, with few exceptions of some older citations (e.g., Breault, 2006 in the Importance of IRBs section).

    • Minor recommendation: Avoid overuse/reliance on a particular citation in the aforementioned section and throughout the manuscript.

    • Moderate recommendation: The manuscript’s description of the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” or “USPHS Untreated Syphilis Study at Tuskegee” needs to be revisited in terms of accuracy. This was a “natural history” study conducted without informed consent that employed deception (men told they had “bad blood,” not syphilis), coercive remuneration/benefits, and a local champion (Nurse Rivers) to collect often invasive longitudinal data. Penicillin became available in the early 1940s, not the 1950s. During the early 1940s, penicillin would have been available to many of these men, as they were otherwise eligible for enlisting in the WWII military recruitment efforts of that time. The result of this study was early death and disability for many of the participants, as well as their spouses and children who also became infected with syphilis. [See published work and interviews by Drs. B. Lee Green, Bill Jenkins, and others on the 1996 Syphilis Study Legacy Committee. Dr. Jenkins leaked the story to the AP Press reporter.]

  • The authors provide a solid background and justification for much of the study, aims, design, and methodological approach. The study represents a follow-up to a previous, original quantitative study performed by the authors. The latter is acceptable in that it is clear in the manuscript that the present work is a “natural” logical next step in their research strand and recruited previous survey participants, rather than reinterpreting the qualitative data from their prior work.

    • Minor recommendation: The manuscript outlines that participants were given the option of participating in individual interviews or focus groups. No meaningful information is provided on why the authors elected to use both methodological approaches beyond convenience. Providing some brief information on the relative benefits to using these approaches and differences in data collected (and potential limitations of the study) would improve the manuscript.

  • The analysis is clear and utilizes a traditional qualitative analytic approach. Themes are provided that “follow” the data and are contextualized using the research literature.

    • Minor recommendation: The table presenting themes and subthemes is a bit unclear. Are the subthemes presented quotes from study participants? The table should be revisited in terms of what the authors are trying to communicate to readers.

    • Minor recommendation: Consider removing the dates of the interviews and focus groups for added protection of participants’ identities.

  • Overall, this manuscript would likely appeal to the journal’s readership and professionals and researchers of related disciplines who may encounter similar difficulties in navigating their IRB committees (e.g., social work, medicine, etc.). It may receive a great deal of interest from IRB and sponsored programs professionals and independent IRBs as well. It has great potential for a solid contribution to the knowledge base and professional development of academics and university staff engaged in IRB work or research ethics training activities.

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