July 26, 2005

informed consent

in the course of putting together my syllabus for the 'human experimentation: history, politics and contemporary issues' module i'm running next year at the uw-madison, i have come across any number of bizarre pieces of research that have been done on people without their knowing.

for example, the 'tearoom' studies of 1972, in which a psychologist hung out in gay cruising areas, specifically public lavatories, found out where the guys lived by noting down their car number plates, then, a year or so later, went to their houses posing as a market researcher and asked them about their lives.

or the 'urinal periscope' experiments. under the premise that standing next to another guy makes you pee less quickly because you are aroused (no, really) a group of american psychologists rigged up a camera in a public bathroom's urinals in such a manner that it could register how mich pee was being peed. i shit you not. they then put up 'out of use' signs on some of the urinals, thereby forcing men to pee next to one another. then they measured the volume of their 'stream' (ahem) via the secret periscope camera.

beyond wondering just what it is with psychologists and public bathrooms, and putting aside the obvious violations of respect for personhood, i have to say i'm kind of pleased i get to teach a course with so much intrinsic comedy.

of course, there's also a lot about the nazi doctors, which is less with the funny.

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