I am attempting to do my PhD "in the open", to treat the entire project of getting my degree (whose research is unrelatedly Computer Science), as a study. That is, I am going to collect my thought processes and outputs in an Open Notebook Science way. To legitimize this I am creating at Data Management Plan, and it asks if I need IRB approval?

On the one hand, it seems silly that I should need approval to study myself; but I am a human subject. Do people typically need approval to study themselves?

  • 3
    This could be readily answered with an email to your IRB. – Fomite Nov 2 '15 at 3:06
  • 1
    Would the data you put in the Open Notebook include your advisor's thought process? If so, I think you need his consent. – scaaahu Nov 2 '15 at 3:20
  • 7
    I don't understand. If you are recording your own thoughts and ideas as you carry out a CS PhD, this sounds like documenting your process of research, not as studying yourself. Certainly we don't need IRB approval to keep a careful lab notebook! What's the difference? If you intend to study the psychology of doing CS, I can at least see why you might ask the IRB. But if you're just doing open science, I personally cannot see what the IRB has to do with it. – Corvus Nov 2 '15 at 3:55
  • 1
    @Corvus the OP plans to "treat the entire project of getting my degree (whose research is unrelatedly Computer Science), as a study" which suggests something more than just open science. I have no idea what that means, though, just took it at face value. – ff524 Nov 2 '15 at 5:24
  • Very unclear. What sort of study do you anticipate "the entire project of getting your degree" will be? Ethnography? Project management? Pedagogy? Psychology? Psychiatry? – 410 gone Nov 2 '15 at 7:04

In general, single subject studies often do not require IRB review in the United States because they do not meet the federal definition of research (they are not "generalizable.")

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, a single subject oral history study or a single subject retrospective case study does not generally require IRB approval, but a single subject clinical study that involves collection of data that would not ordinarily be collected in the course of treatment does.

If you'd like to be sure, I suggest an email to your IRB.

| improve this answer | |
  • Researching using one "subject" is in principle generalizable to a larger population, thus is research by federal law. This happens all the time in linguistics and various ethnological fields. Ithaca simple made a different concrete decision, which they are allowed to do. The best solution is to focus on the fact that "subject" is not defined. A "subject" in the ordinary understanding of the term is not a professional colleague who is involved in designing and executing the research. Until the regulations are revised (setting aside medicine)... – user6726 Nov 2 '15 at 19:14
  • one should assume ordinary meanings of words. Medicine has to be set aside since it is a separately-regulated industry (unlike social sciences). A local IRB may, nevertheless, have rules that don't make sense from the perspective of federal law, but that's part of their power. – user6726 Nov 2 '15 at 19:16

What you describe in your question does not match your title, but let's assume you are interested in the question in the title. My field is related to medicine and in general to the question of whether ethics approval is necessary or not, experiments on oneself are not treated differently than experiments on any other human being. Which means, you do need ethics approval. According to this article from the Harvard Gazette

Some [institutional review boards] have categorically excluded investigators from their own experiments; others have considered the issue case by case.

Moreover, self-experimentation is very likely to give useless results (there are notable exceptions) because of the obvious bias present when subject and experimenter are the same. Think about all the efforts we put into designing double-blind studies, placebo control groups, etc. not to mention you'd end up with a N of 1, hardly enough to draw meaningful conclusions.

I can't find the exact document but I remember that the NIH formally disregard publications where the experiments were conducted on the authors themselves.

| improve this answer | |
  • Related to medicine, at least some experiments on yourself should be treated differently because of safety aspects. For some experiments, e.g. a drop of your own blood may be the safest possible drop of blood for you to play around with (infection risk). For other experiments, it may be a huge risk to use your own cells (no immune defense against your own cells). In addition, ethical approval for self experiments is meant to ensure that the self experiment is of your own free will (and not your supervisor putting pressure so you to donate samples). – cbeleites unhappy with SX Nov 3 '15 at 18:21
  • @cbeleites it's for whether it needs ethics approval that they do not differ. Ethics boards can then differentiate and approve, or not, using some of the arguments that you mention. – Cape Code Nov 5 '15 at 17:47

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.