“Medical researchers are not the best people to criticize their own work,” says the bioethicist and science journalist Harriet Washington. “Police can’t police themselves. Writers should not edit themselves. It’s only good logic to have something exterior to look over what you’ve done.”
Washington directs her words to Gabi Valdivieso Calderon ’24, who has asked about the role of IRBs, or institutional review boards, which vet and review medical studies on human subjects. It’s the last Tuesday of September and there’s a pummeling rain outside Room 201 in Chapin Hall, where Anthropology 245, “Medical Anthropology,” is meeting. The students here, many of them pre-med, have prepped for Washington’s visit by reading a chapter from her latest book, Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent.
About those IRBs: they’re mostly stocked with scientists, though the FDA demands they also include laypeople who represent the community being studied. Then again, only one such community representative is required by law.