The New York Times has an interesting article on overzealous Institutional Review Boards in the US (registration required).
For those not familiar with academic processes: These boards approve or reject all research done on human subjects at US universities (including, of course, software development experiments); other countries have an equivalent counterpart, such as Canada’s Ethics Review Boards. Put simply, their mission is to protect these subjects from dangerous or careless research. They are overall a great thing –for example, as much as I loved reading Milgram’s obedience experiment, I would have hated to participate in it, and it’s good to know there is now people performing a sanity check on all human-subjects research. However, as the article shows, these boards sometimes border on the ridiculous:
Among the incidents cited in recent report by the American Association of University Professors are a review board asking a linguist studying a preliterate tribe to “have the subjects read and sign a consent form,” and a board forbidding a white student studying ethnicity to interview African-American Ph.D. students “because it might be traumatic for them.”