Waltz, M., Fisher, J. A., Walker, R. L. 2023. Mission creep or mission lapse? Scientific review in research oversight. AJOB Empirical Bioethics 14(1), 38-49.
Background: The ethical use both of human and non-human animals in research is predicated on the assumption that it is of a high quality and its projected benefits are more significant than the risks and harms imposed on subjects. Yet questions remain about whether and how IRBs and IACUCs should consider the scientific value of proposed research studies. Methods: We draw upon 45 interviews with IRB and IACUC members and researchers with oversight experience about their perceptions of their own roles in reviewing the quality and value of scientific protocols. Interview transcripts were memoed to highlight specific findings, which were then used to identify key themes through an iterative process. Results: IRB and IACUC members expressed broad trust in the need for and value of research, and they often assumed that protocols had social value or that prior review, especially when associated with funding, affirmed both the rigor and merit of those protocols. Some oversight members also took an explicit stance against scientific review by stating that such review is not within the regulatory mandates governing their parts in the oversight system. Yet other interviewees expressed uneasiness about the current paradigm for evaluating the quality and overall value of science, suggesting that IRB and IACUC members perceive gaps in the oversight systems. Conclusions: These findings reveal many similarities in how IRB and IACUC members understand the roles and limitations of their respective oversight committees. We conclude with a discussion of how the lack of a clear mandate regarding scientific review within US federal regulations may undermine ethical engagement of whether human and animal research is scientifically justified, resulting in a “mission lapse” wherein no organizational body is clearly responsible for ensuring that the research being conducted has the potential to advance science and benefit society.