Dr. Alice Faye and her graduate students proposed to do research in the area of public transportation utilization. Immediately, the group determined that research on only the present ridership on the local mass transit system would not produce the whole picture, yet there seemed to be insurmountable problems with addressing their questions to non-utilizing groups. One such problem was the expense of blanket surveys over the wide geographical areas covered by public transportation systems. Another problem was that prior research seemed to indicate a "class bias" in public transportation toward lower socio-economic groups, suggesting the most "fertile" ground for the research.
The perplexed group addressed the problem to the IRB prior to submission of their protocol application, asking whether an ethical standard of Justice actually applied in such circumstances. The IRB responded only after receiving basic information about the history of scholarship and governmental research in this area, because the principle of Justice applies both instances of research and longitudinally across all similar research. Among other issues, the IRB had to consider whether research limited to the existing ridership could provide any reliable information about the needs of non-riders? Were the rights of non-riders being ignored? Were they being singled out of the data based on constructive hypotheses or researcher convenience?
Ultimately the IRB permitted the research on existing ridership to go forward, but commented as follows: "The research in this area includes analysis of public voting patterns on mass transit issues, research on automobile use, research on cities where socio-economic class plays a lesser role than in others. ... There is no compelling evidence that any group is being systematically excluded. Nevertheless, the approved research project must be understood to have its limitations. Students are to be commended for their perceptive analysis of the intrisic ethical problem."