Sunbelt 2002: Human Subjects Protection and Social
Network Research.  (Proposed Roundtable)

As many of you know, there was a case fairly
recently at the Virginia Commonwealth University in
which the issue was raised of informed consent of
secondary subjects in research on family pedigrees
and human genetics.

Botkin (Journal of the American Medical
Association, 285, 2, Jan 10, 2001, 207-211)
described this case and some of its implications.
One clear implication is for research on social
networks, in particular what seems to be a growing
reluctance among some IRBs to approve research that
involves collecting any individually identifiable
data about the network associates of primary
respondents without the informed consent of both
former and latter.

At one level, one can ask if this will make it
difficult if not impossible to collect the data
used to study networks of interconnections among
those with 'stigmatized' diseases (AIDS, STDs, TB)
that may be transmitted in the course of intimate
relationships (sex, drug use, within household
contact).  At another level, one can ask whether
much data about network associates more generally
falls within the scope of 'private' privileged
information, and hence cannot be sought without
the informed consent of each network member, ie,
primary respondents and each of those named by
them.  Many other questions arise.

The issues involved are already being taken into
account by IRBs and some proposed social network
research has already been - is being - affected.

Hence, is it worthwhile to have a session to
discuss these issues at the coming Sunbelt
Conference, perhaps as a roundtable session?

Over to you ....

Regards, al

Alden S Klovdahl /   [log in to unmask] / fax: +61 2 6125 2222
Social Sciences  / Australian National University / Canberra Australia 0200