Research Sponsors and the Culture of Risk

Sydney A. Halpern

in Lesser Harms

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2004 | ISBN: 9780226314518
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226314532 | DOI:
Research Sponsors and the Culture of Risk

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In the field of vaccine testing, organizational support for human trials was quite common in the United States, even as early as the 1930s. A diverse array of agencies provided resources for the testing of new immunizing agents during the middle third of the twentieth century. By mid-century, sponsors were taking an increasingly active role in regulating the risks entailed in human experiments. Even before World War II, some research sponsors, though by no means all, imposed constraints on the conduct of hazardous vaccine trials. This chapter examines how sponsors addressed research hazards and the processes giving rise to their divergent stances. It argues that several organizational dynamics affected a sponsor's oversight policies, looks at incentives that motivated sponsors to proceed with human experiments, and risk management as organizational policy. It shows that the factors influencing research conduct extend well beyond the moral inclinations of individual scientists and the constructions negotiated within professional networks. It suggests that sponsors' stances toward hazards can be understood as falling into three general patterns: risk avoidance, risk containment, and risk delegation.

Keywords: vaccine trials; research sponsors; research hazards; risk management; human experiments; organizational dynamics; scientists; risk avoidance; risk containment; risk delegation

Chapter.  8853 words. 

Subjects: Health, Illness, and Medicine

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