orgtheory.net

is the asa missing in action?

Earlier this morning, I discussed the Federal governemnt’s proposed changes to the system of institutional review boards. In the comments, Gabriel asked – where is the ASA? He is reponding to the NY Times article on IRB reform:

I was partly pissed off that ASA didn’t appear anywhere in that article (as compared to anthro, three different historical societies, and the consortium). The only thing I could find about this on asanet.org was a reference in the April Footnotes to us paying our dues to COSSA (which in turn does good work on the human subjects issue). Assuming that I didn’t simply miss something, I have to wonder why ASA hasn’t done anything directly about one of the biggest problems facing the discipline.

It would be one thing if ASA deliberately took a minimalist mandate limited to publishing the journals and organizing the annual meeting, but it’s back asswards for ASA to ignore an issue that is core to our professional interests and where we could actually sway administrative lawmaking while taking a position on every hot button political issue that is irrelevant to the practice of sociology and on which we all know the association’s efforts are completely swamped by more powerful political actors. Remind me why exactly we’re paying for them to be on K-Street instead of in (say) Nashville? The way I see it, if the Consortium of Social Science Associations is doing the heavy lifting on lobbying for issues that actually matter to the discipline then I’m all in favor of ASA paying them for their efforts and passing along the costs to the membership. However this also implies that there’s no point in keeping up ASA’s independent lobbying efforts (and the expensive locational decisions that go with that).

So, in good faith, where is the ASA’s statement on this issue? What have they done to lobby the Federal government so we can get a less onerous regulation of human subject research? Can someone direct me to the ASA website that explains what they have done?

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Written by fabiorojas

October 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Posted in bleg, fabio, research

16 Responses

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  1. What Gabe said.

    Like

    Omar

    October 26, 2011 at 4:00 pm

  2. As entertainment, I suppose that I’m all for resurrecting last year’s “ASA Wars” – ah, good times…where’s Jimmy? – but I’m not sure this is going to do. I think GR’s hobby horse has left the corral. We own the building on K St. and we’re not moving to Nashville. Also, I doubt that few will sit on the edge of their seats for a report from ASA in 6-9 months on ASA’s righteous work on the IRB front. Just not as sexy as a financial statement, with its promise of intrigue, malfeasance, and dark possibilities of bureaucratic capture. This just won’t do.

    Like

    JF

    October 26, 2011 at 6:03 pm

  3. JF,

    Realistically, I agree but I’m still not happy about it. If the membership failed to take the opportunity of a revenue shortfall to rethink the association’s priorities, it probably never will rethink them. (Anyone who knows the history of the English parliament will understand that being asked to assent to revenue increases is a great time to demand reform).

    The underlying issue is that ever since the Iraq War resolution it’s been apparent that the median member seems to get some kind of expressive satisfaction from having the ASA serve as the nation’s most pathetic general-purpose policy shop. (This is why I distinguish between issues that regard “the practice of sociology” as compared to issues that the membership finds interesting). From my perspective this is kind of like cheering on a city council for issuing resolutions about foreign policy while neglecting to keep the streets and sewer system in good repair. Unfortunately I think sociology has the professional association it deserves, but in a perfect world I’d like to see ASA focus on the objective interests of the discipline and the members could pursue other interests in their capacities as private citizens. If most sociologists happen to care a lot about more general political issues then more power to them, but it would be better if they pursued these goals through donating to or consulting for Center for American Progress rather than broadening ASA’s mission to the point that it costs a fortune, neglects its core duties, and diminishes our claims to professionalism.

    Condo delenda est

    Like

    gabrielrossman

    October 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm

  4. PS, by “private citizen” I really just mean “not using the ASA as a channel.” I definitely don’t have a problem with sociologists who consult for political actors and use their expertise and credentials to do so. For instance, I think it’s laudable that OlderWoman works with lots of political/community groups and does so in her capacity as a sociologist. Likewise, if the Webb Commission on mass incarceration hadn’t been defeated in the Senate, I would have been proud of my discipline to see Devah Pager and Bruce Western give testimony before it.

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    gabrielrossman

    October 26, 2011 at 6:40 pm

  5. I too was surprised that ASA was not mentioned in the article, as this is a core issue for sociologists. In the past year, as some of you may know, there have been huge cuts to Fulbright-Hays, FLAS, and area studies more generally. I’m a member of the Association for Asian Studies, and they were very active in protesting the cuts, but I was disappointed that ASA did not seem to be very involved in the issue. However, I was reassured by someone in the know that ASA leaders were part of a larger coalition effort led by the Council on International Education. I imagine the same is happening here with CSSA, although I agree with the comment that if ASA is letting others do the lobbying, then perhaps a Washington, D.C. office is no longer necessary (and in fact AAS is in Ann Arbor and seems to do plenty of lobbying).

    Like

    bedhaya

    October 26, 2011 at 7:03 pm

  6. Actually GR, I’m entirely on your “side” on this. Consider my post an attempt to find some humor between a long sigh and a shrug.

    Like

    JF

    October 26, 2011 at 7:06 pm

  7. JF,

    didn’t think otherwise

    Like

    gabrielrossman

    October 26, 2011 at 8:23 pm

  8. I think ASA ought to be involved in IRB type issues, as well as in the FLAS issue and other professional issues. But these are surely “political.” It is just that they are the political issues that matter to us as members of a particular profession.

    I think that being for or against ASA taking positions on “liberal” causes is a different issue from whether you want the ASA to defend the interests of the profession as a whole. I’m guessing that the folks who want the ASA to take “liberal” positions also want it to defend the profession, even though the impact of this is not always progressive in other ways. As the “liberal” positions tend to come from the membership not the staff, it seems to me that mixing the two issues might be a red herring.

    If one wants the ASA to be involved in the IRB issue, perhaps one could call the ASA office and volunteer to help. Or lobby a council member.

    Like

    olderwoman

    October 27, 2011 at 1:35 am

  9. If one wants the ASA to be involved in the IRB issue, perhaps one could call the ASA office and volunteer to help. Or lobby a council member.

    Or give several hundred dollars a year to an organization whose stated mission is “to promote the vitality, visibility, and diversity of the discipline … to articulate policy and implement programs likely to have the broadest possible impact for sociology now and in the future.” Oh wait.

    Like

    Kieran

    October 27, 2011 at 10:26 am

  10. Kieran, yes, I agree, I’d like them to do it without prodding. But the actions ASA took that some of you opposed happened because some people prodded and others volunteered their time. They were not initiated by staff nor, so far as I can tell, carried out by staff. It is not inappropriate to prod the staff or council to do what you think they ought to focus on.

    Like

    olderwoman

    October 27, 2011 at 12:58 pm

  11. Insofar as this appear to be a classic principal-agent problem, maybe we need some economists to help us here.

    Like

    Omar

    October 27, 2011 at 1:19 pm

  12. Either they were already working on this, or they really like to read orgtheory

    Like

    Diego

    October 27, 2011 at 8:29 pm

  13. Criminal penalties only came in those cases where the researchers cheated the government. Cheating a private entity is a matter for civil suit. Where no valuable consideration has been exchanged, i.e, no fraud occurred, university censure is the only control. Thus, on June 28, 2006, Eric Poehlman was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for defrauding the National Institutes of Health. On the other hand, Jan Hendrik Schön was stripped of his doctorate and barred from participating as a judge in peer reviewed journals. It may be that the academic community should continue to adjudicate for itself.

    “In responding to and resolving the criminal behavior of employees, organizations routinely choose options other than criminal prosecution, for example, suspension without pay, transfer, job reassignment, job redesign (eliminating some job duties), civil restitution, and dismissal… While on the surface, it appears that organizations opt for less severe sanctions than would be imposed by the criminal justice system, in reality, the organizational sanctions may have greater impact… ” (The Hallcrest Reports: Private Security and Police in America, William C. Cunningham and Todd Taylor, Stoneham, Mass. Butterworth-Heinemann, 1985. “This publication reports a 30-month descriptive research project performed by Hallcrest Systems, Inc., MacLean, Virginia, under a grant from the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.”)

    Like

    Michael Marotta

    October 27, 2011 at 9:02 pm

  14. Diego,

    thanks for posting that. from skimming through it i’m still not sure that it represents the ASA taking action itself or just signing off on things written by other societies. the most favorable scenario from the perspective of having a DC presence is that ASA repeatedly met face-to-face with our sister organizations and was generally directly involved in crafting this document in a deeply collaborative fashion. the least favorable scenario is somebody else wrote it and ASA signed off on it. i have no idea which is closer to the truth but the former would certainly weigh towards justifying the expense of keeping ASA in DC.

    Like

    gabrielrossman

    October 27, 2011 at 11:56 pm

  15. I just spent an hour reading the whole thing. The lead authors are Felice J. Levine (former executive director of the ASA, now Exec Director of the American Educational Research Association, Richard O. Lempert ( professor of sociology and Law from Michigan with NSF ties) and and Paula R. Skedsvold (a psychologist and lawyer with NIH ties). So no one currently in the ASA office, but two people with sociology degrees of whom one used to have very strong involvement in the ASA. I leave it to others to decide what they think about DC offices, but it is clear that the lead authors of this report have DC offices.

    Like

    olderwoman

    October 28, 2011 at 5:08 am

  16. I feel like there are two complaints in the original post:
    1. ASA isn’t doing anything about an issue that is very relevant for members.
    2. The ASA office shouldn’t be in DC

    Regarding #2, I think that when the council approved the purchased of the office, as being the governing body of the association, they felt like it was a good idea. Of course, the economy crashed and things changed, and that changed things a lot. I respect the opinion of people who don’t think we should have our offices in such an expensive place. I honestly don’t mind.

    The reason I was posting the link is because I think it is important to know that ASA is involved in this conversation and that they are doing something about it (#1). I doubt that the ASA just added their name to this document. I know from personal experience that the ASA is very active in COSSA, and COSSA meetings took place in the ASA office for a while (I’m not really sure if this is still the case).

    Like

    Diego

    October 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm


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