Chemistry department chair clarifies research processes

Channels Opinion Page | Letter to the Editor

The article “Academic Senate to vote on new SBCC Institutional Review Board,” on Oct 18, 2017, caught my attention both as a scientific researcher and as an Academic Senator that was at the Sept 27 meeting.  I have published several scientific publications myself and continue active research in computational physical chemistry as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry here at SBCC. I think it is important that readers are aware of some nuances that weren’t offered by the proposal nor in the article about an IRB at SBCC.

The article states “Z Reisz, director of institutional assessment, research and planning, proposed on Sept. 27 that City College sets up the Institutional Review Board, abbreviated as IRB, after faculty expressed interest in conducting and publishing research.” Faculty  have been conducting research while employed at SBCC for some time. In fact, my own research efforts has employed a few SBCC students and allowed them to visit a university in Philadelphia and have their work presented at major international conferences. What Z Reisz meant is that faculty have expressed interest in conducting research that includes human subjects (such as their own students) and because of this, an IRB is needed. When scientific research is not conducted on humans nor animals, an IRB is not necessarily needed. Saying that we need one because faculty has expressed interest in conducting research isn’t accurate and is leaving out the efforts of engaged faculty members in their primary disciplines and the years of work they have put in thus far as members of the SBCC campus.

The article goes on  to say “’Any sort of reputable research goes through an IRB process,’ Reisz said, describing the standard peer-reviewed journals maintain for research being considered for publication.” This was offered at the Academic Senate meeting and I addressed this immediately, so I am disappointed the clarification wasn’t  included in the article. First “any sort of reputable research goes through an IRB process” isn’t  correct.  Any research that uses human or animal subjects goes through an IRB, but this ignores the rest of “scientific research” or “research” in general. Much of the work done in fields such as computer science to astronomy to geology to my own discipline of physical chemistry almost never requires an IRB . Second, any of the research in many, many fields is published in “standard peer- reviewed journals” needing no IRB review. So again, saying something like this ignores a large body of scientific research that contributes to human understanding of the world around us (and that’s pretty important stuff!).

I’m glad SBCC is looking at having an IRB. It allows for legitimacy in research on human subjects, as addressed in the article. I am involved in the work Elizabeth Imhof does with “non-cognitive learning.” I not only believe in it, but have been involved in the on-campus training for it. I am overwhelmingly in favor of data driven initiatives and moving forward in an ethical way, especially when it will include our own students. But as a scientific educator, and one that strives for accuracy in content and believes that students should be taught that applicable science in their lives, I can’t stress enough that we aren’t being authentic in our language surrounding why SBCC should move forward with creating an IRB. It’s why I brought it up at the Senate meeting and why I’m writing this Letter to the Editor.  I appreciate the reporting of this proposal, but it is important to note that research doesn’t require an IRB, but rather research on human and animal subjects requires an IRB.

Raeanne Napoleon
Chair, Department of Chemistry