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Ad Hoc Committee to Advance Research to meet in February

A variety of changes have been recommended for stricter oversight and enforcement of regulations pertaining to research with human participants.

Over the past few years, the oversight of research with human participants has become a hotbed of controversy and debate, and is being given increased scrutiny by the public, regulators, and legislators. A variety of changes have been recommended for stricter oversight and enforcement of regulations pertaining to research with human participants. Although many of these recommended changes stem from lapses in the conduct of biomedical research, they have a direct impact on behavioral research. Some of the issues include increased accountability for regulations that have always been on the books but have not been strictly enforced; revamping of the traditional institutional review board (IRB) system, accreditation of research programs, and mandatory education in research ethics for all research personnel.

In 1993, the Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) recommended to the Board of Directors and Council of Representatives to sunset the Committee on Standards in Research (formerly called the Committee for the Protection of Human Participants in Research). While recognizing the significant contributions made by the Committee over the 15-year period of its existence, BSA determined that given the relatively stable and widely accepted system of research oversight that existed at that time, the activities of the Committee could be adequately handled by BSA and Science Directorate staff.

Since the late 1990’s, however, numerous adverse incidents that occurred in the course of biomedical research studies have resulted in increased scrutiny of the research regulation and oversight system and mounting concerns for both researchers and IRBs. BSA convened the IRB Project Working Group that produced an article titled, IRBs and Psychological Science: Ensuring a Collaborative Relationship, which is available at http://www.apa/org/science/rcr/irbs_psychsci.html. At a spring 2003 meeting, the Board of Directors approved a BSA request for a task force that would be charged with reviewing the current status of research regulations and its impact on research in the behavioral sciences, and developing appropriate resources that would facilitate the review and conduct of such research.

The task force identified a number of issues and potential products that APA could develop to assist scientists and IRBs to forge a more collaborative relationship with the aim of facilitating behavioral research with human participants. For example, staff is currently working on preparing for posting on the Internet, a Web-based resource aimed at helping investigators navigate the IRB process that was developed by the Task Force. It also developed a survey aimed at gauging the current experience of behavioral researchers in dealing with their IRBs. The survey is currently being conducted by the APA Research Office.

As part of its Psychological Science for the 21 st Century (PSY21) initiative, BSA approved a comprehensive initiative to be put into place to position APA to provide resources and to serve as a clearinghouse for RCR issues, since these issues span across APA constituencies and require policy and education activities. RCR, as defined by federal agencies, refers to data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership, mentor/trainee responsibilities, publication practices and responsible authorship, peer review, collaborative science, human subjects, research involving animals, research misconduct, and conflicts of interest and commitment. In support of this initiative, BSA decided to convene an ad hoc committee that would deal with issues of responsible conduct of research.

The Ad Hoc Committee to Advance Research is composed of six members who will serve three-year terms. The members are to broadly represent the various areas of psychological research involving human participants. The mission of the Committee, which reports to the Board of Scientific Affairs, will complement the specialized charge of the Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE).