Like most parents, after learning about the latest mass school shooting this morning, my thoughts immediately went to my own kindergartener. And of course, like most reading this blog, I thought about how poorly we handle guns and mental illness. Before too long, though, I couldn’t help but make a less direct connection between today’s events and my scholarly interests. I’m thinking of the way journalists cover school shootings as compared to how we regulate human subjects research.
As I write in The Heterogeneity Problem, 65 Admin. L. Rev. __ at 14-16 (forth. June 2013):
Studies on sexual abuse and assault, grief, war, terrorism, natural disasters and various other traumatic experiences are critical to better understanding and addressing these phenomena. But exposure to trauma — whether as a survivor or as a first rescuer or other third party — often causes substantial psychological morbidity. . . . Given their potentially fragile state, IRBs understandably worry that “questioning [or otherwise studying] individuals who have experienced distressing events or who have been victimized in any number of ways . . . . might rekindle disturbing memories, producing a form of re-victimization.”
IRBs — local licensing committees who operate according to federal statute and regulation and must approve most studies involving humans before researchers can even approach anyone about possibly participating — sometimes impose burdensome requirements on the way trauma research is conducted in order to protect adult subjects from the risk of revictimization. And they do so in addition to applying regulations that require that researchers disclose that risk (and others) to subjects.
Contrast this with the way journalists cover trauma.