Beyond IRBs: Designing Ethical Review Processes for Big Data Research

December 10, 2015 by

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The ethical framework applying to human subject research in the biomedical and behavioral research fields dates back to the Belmont Report.Drafted in 1976 and adopted by the United States government in 1991 as the Common Rule, the Belmont principles were geared towards a paradigmatic controlled scientific experiment with a limited population of human subjects interacting directly with researchers and manifesting their informed consent. These days, researchers in academic institutions as well as private sector businesses not subject to the Common Rule, conduct analysis of a wide array of data sources, from massive commercial or government databases to individual tweets or Facebook postings publicly available online, with little or no opportunity to directly engage human subjects to obtain their consent or even inform them of research activities.