Human subject research

1946 military human subject research on the effects of wind on humans

Human subject research is systematic, scientific investigation that can be either interventional (a "trial") or observational (no "test article") and involves human beings as research subjects. Human subject research can be either medical (clinical) research or non-medical (e.g., social science) research.[1] Systematic investigation incorporates both the collection and analysis of data in order to answer a specific question. Medical human subject research often involves analysis of biological specimens, epidemiological and behavioral studies and medical chart review studies.[1] (A specific, and especially heavily regulated, type of medical human subject research is the "clinical trial", in which drugs, vaccines and medical devices are evaluated.) On the other hand, human subject research in the social sciences often involves surveys which consist of questions to a particular group of people. Survey methodology includes questionnaires, interviews, and focus groups.

Human subject research is used in various fields, including research into basic biology, clinical medicine, nursing, psychology, sociology, political science, and anthropology. As research has become formalized, the academic community has developed formal definitions of "human subject research", largely in response to abuses of human subjects.

Human subjects

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) defines a human research subject as a living individual about whom a research investigator (whether a professional or a student) obtains data through 1) intervention or interaction with the individual, or 2) identifiable private information (219.102(f)). (Lim, 1990)[2]

As defined by HHS regulations:

"Intervention"- physical procedures by which data is gathered and the manipulation of the subject and/or their environment for research purposes [46.102(f)][2]

"Interaction"- communication or interpersonal contact between investigator and subject [46.102(f)])[2]

"Private Information"- information about behavior that occurs in a context in which an individual can reasonably expect that no observation or recording is taking place, and information which has been provided for specific purposes by an individual and which the individual can reasonably expect will not be made public [46.102(f)] )][2]

"Identifiable information"- specific information that can be used to identify an individual.[2]

Human subject rights

In 2010, the National Institute of Justice in the United States published recommended rights of human subjects:

  • Voluntary, informed consent
  • Respect for persons: treated as autonomous agents
  • The right to end participation in research at any time[3]
  • Right to safeguard integrity[3]
  • Benefits should outweigh cost
  • Protection from physical, mental and emotional harm
  • Access to information regarding research[3]
  • Protection of privacy and well-being[4]