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Book Review

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In the late 1700s, English physician Edward Jenner intentionally exposed his infant son to swinepox and an eight-year-old boy to cowpox in order to observe whether they would become immune to related smallpox, a disease. While modern history of human experimentation can be traced back to the eighteenth century, the topic did not engage significant public attention until 1946, when the Nuremberg trials disclosed horrific medical experiments carried out by Nazi scientists. Now, almost all research involving human subjects is subject to prior review and ongoing monitoring by institutional review boards, or IRBs. Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research, a new book from Wesleyan University sociologist Laura Stark, seeks to shed light on the closed-door decision-making processes employed by IRBs and to describe the historical developments that made the IRB and the group-review model the primary mechanisms governing research involving human subjects.