Institutional Review Boards

This entry defines institutional review boards (IRBs), discusses their history, and explains their structure and operation. An IRB is a committee formed and authorized by an organization to decide the ethical acceptability of research involving human subjects (participants) conducted by the organization’s employees or associates, including students. IRBs worldwide are based on ethical principles codified in a few influential documents authored since World War II by national and international agencies in reaction to abusive treatment of human research subjects by biomedical and behavioral researchers.

Government regulations firmly guide and in many circumstances mandate IRB activities, but most of the thousands of IRBs in the United States are local in scope and have somewhat individualized characteristics and procedures. In other countries, IRBs (usually called research ethics committees ...

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