Ethics Review of Survey Research: A Mandatory Requirement for Publication?

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Abstract

National regulations governing human subjects research differ with regard to whether they require survey research to be overseen by institutional ethics boards or committees. In cases where ethical review has been waived, or was provided by an individual or group other than an institutional ethics board, journals may question the appropriateness of the waiver or alternative review when making determinations about whether to accept the manuscript for publication. The purpose of this article is to provide guidance for journals to consider when making determinations about the necessity of ethical review for survey research projects. We review the functions of ethics oversight and consider the importance of those functions within the context of survey research. In survey research, no intervention is delivered to research participants. As a result, there is no risk of physical harm to individuals who participate. However, there can be a risk of informational or psychological harms. In situations where there is greater than minimal risk of informational or psychological harms, the survey research should have received institutional ethics oversight. Additionally, survey research projects that enroll vulnerable individuals with diminished autonomy should receive institutional ethics oversight. We hope that this article leads to further guidance on this subject by authoritative group such as the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.

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