Human Subjects Research at Drexel University

I am visiting Philadelphia. Yesterday I learned that if you want to do human subjects research at Drexel University you must:

1. Include indemnification language in the consent form. The subject must promise to not sue Drexel no matter what happens. This is a bluff: You cannot sign away your ability to sue. Of course this requirement leaves subjects more vulnerable, not less, the usual purpose of consent forms. Shades of twisted skepticism.

2. Never contact subjects via email.

3. Never advertise your research on the web.

4. Never contact subjects who have been in a previous experiment.

The Drexel IRB (Institutional Review Board) will never approve any study that involves giving any drug to a non-patient. This means the very important studies by David Healy that involved giving Prozac to ordinary (non-depressed) people — some of whom became suicidal — wouldn’t be possible.

I suppose it’s no surprise that Drexel IRB members, such as literature professors, criticize research designs. In an NPR piece, a former IRB member boasted about the accomplishments of her membership, which included correcting faulty designs. At UC Berkeley a few years ago, I submitted to the animal research IRB a proposal to test with rats a key observation behind the Shangri-La Diet: Drinking sugar water caused me to lose weight. The proposal was turned down: It couldn’t possibly be true that sugar water can cause weight loss, said the IRB. Testing this idea was a waste of time.

IRB Watch. Earlier post about IRBs.

6 Replies to “Human Subjects Research at Drexel University”

  1. This is a very extreme example, and I can’t even guess the reasoning behind points 2-4. But one hears these kinds of things about American IRBs all of the time.

    I wonder: Why is it in a University’s interest to sabotage its own researchers? It just doesn’t make any sense at all.


  2. Seth,

    that does make sense. Reminds me of other stories I hear from the US – doctors performing useless medical tests just to be on the safe side, companies having their products come with hilarious warning labels (“Remove child before folding stroller!”) and the like.

    It seems that American tort law needs some serious overhaul.

  3. “indemnification language”

    In many states you can give up your right to sue. Indemnification language, however, is a contract by you to pay for their cost to defend against your lawsuit and to pay them for any damages they have to pay out as the result of your suit (or someone suing through you — e.g. your health insurance company who would have a right of indemnification). That is much stronger than a mere waiver.

    Just FYI.

    Too bad about the rat study being nixed. Wonder what it would cost to have it funded by private donors?

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