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Back in 2001, I raised this issue with my IRB.  The crux, as I saw it,
was to have them declare it a situation of minimal risk for the third

The IRB had no problems with approving our protocol.  We conducted the
study and no problems arose.

Here is the relevant part of the letter I sent my IRB:

The issue is that I am conducting a sociometric network study.  In such
a study, as in contact tracing, subjects tell us who their sex partners
and injection partners have been. They then describe various
characteristics of these partners and of their relationships with these
partners.  We later go on to recruit some but not all of these named
partners into the study as persons whom we interview and from who we
collect blood and urine samples.

The issues this raises are whether this makes the named partners
"human subjects"; if so, what their risks and rights are; and how
we can protect them.

It is my impression that although emerging law is not yet definitive,
the tendency is to see such named "third parties" as human subjects.
 This raises a number of difficult questions.  It should be clear than
an overly-narrow interpretation of their rights and of how these rights
can be protected could shut down a number of current fields of study at
research universities and non-profit organizations, including studies of
current politics, parenting, child rearing, and current history.  

A session was held on this subject at a recent NIMH-sponsored
conference on the Role of Families in Preventing and Adapting to
HIV/AIDS.  This session was chaired by Dr. Bruce Rapkin of
Memorial-Sloan Kettering, who is somewhat of an expert in the field. 
Participants at this session included researchers, representatives of
community HIV/AIDS organizations, outreach workers, and others.  After
considerable discussion, some degree of consensus emerged that network
studies were valuable and should continue to be conducted; and that a
good mechanism to do this would be as follows:
	First, that projects would seek waivers from the requirement
that consent be obtained from named partners.  This waiver would be on
the grounds that they were at minimal risk.  As such, it seems to be a
valid use of current authority that allows Institutional Review Boards
to allow waivers for minimal risk situations.  This, I might add, is
particularly appropriate here because there could conceivably be risk to
the origninal human subject (the namer) if the partner were to learn
that he or she had been named as their partner.  (In the original
proposal and Informed Consent, we spell out mechanisms through which we
will prevent such named partners from knowing that they had been
recruited as partners, except in cases in which subjects themselves help
recruit their partners for us after discussion of potential risks. 
These procedures resemble those used in the Social Factors and HIV Risk
study in the early 1990s, in which no untoward incidents involving harm
due to such activities seem to have occurred.)


>>> Tom Valente <[log in to unmask]> 9/13/2007 11:48 PM >>>
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One thing I told my IRB early on in response to this issue was that we

often ask adolescents if their parents smoke and if their siblings 
smoke, but we don't require parents and siblings to be consented.  So 
there is a precedent for respondents providing data on alters without 
them being consented.  (They did say however, that we could not ask 
respondents to indicate if their named peers smoked since smoking is 
illegal and we would be obligated to report on illegal behavior.  We 
could, however, ask if they thought each friend "approved of"

The second thing we emphasized is that confidentiality and anonymity
2 different things.  We can conduct research that is confidential 
without being anonymous.  As long as we protect confidentiality then 
anonymity is less important.  Then we had to convince them we would 
convert names to numbers and then discard the names in a safe way.


Steven Corman wrote:

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>Has anyone made further headway on how to deal with IRB demands that
>people named in network questionnaires be considered consenting
>subjects?  A student just submitted a proposal and got this reply
>our IRB:
>"There are spaces in the survey that ask respondents to list the
>of people they know or who influence them.  Please add the text
>do not identify any individual by name-use a fake name or title for
>person instead' to each place this occurs.  If other people are
>identified within the survey then they would qualify as subjects also
>and would have to consent to data about them being used."
>As discussed at a Sunbelt a couple of years back, this makes network
>research impractical to impossible.  If I am going to fight them I
>use some ammunition.
>Steven R. (Steve) Corman
>Professor, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
>Arizona State University
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Evaluating Health Promotion Programs (Oxford U. Press): 

My personal webpage:	

The Empirical Networks Project 

Thomas W. Valente, PhD
Director, Master of Public Health Program 
Department of  Preventive Medicine
School of Medicine
University of Southern California
1000 S. Fremont Ave.
Building A Room 5133
Alhambra CA 91803
phone: (626) 457-6678
fax: (626) 457-6699
email: [log in to unmask] 

SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social
network researchers ( To unsubscribe, send
an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line
UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message.

SOCNET is a service of INSNA, the professional association for social
network researchers ( To unsubscribe, send
an email message to [log in to unmask] containing the line
UNSUBSCRIBE SOCNET in the body of the message.