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J Med Ethics. 2013 Feb;39(2):115-8. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2012-100798. Epub 2012 Nov 30.

Internet-based crowdsourcing and research ethics: the case for IRB review.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa 52242, USA.


The recent success of Foldit in determining the structure of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus (M-PMV) retroviral protease is suggestive of the power-solving potential of internet-facilitated game-like crowdsourcing. This research model is highly novel, however, and thus, deserves careful consideration of potential ethical issues. In this paper, we will demonstrate that the crowdsourcing model of research has the potential to cause harm to participants, manipulates the participant into continued participation, and uses participants as experimental subjects. We conclude that protocols relying on this model require institutional review board (IRB) scrutiny.

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