$haring in the excitement of $cience

Oh god, the aliens. The probe. Not the probe! Ayeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I’m not supposed to tell you everything about The Experiment.

But I can tell you some scientists in white lab coats put electro-conductive jelly in my hair, hooked my head up to electrodes, then had me sit in front of a computer screen and respond to stimuli. And, oh, how I responded. They told me after The Experiment what they were looking for in long streams of squiggly black lines representing stuff happening in my captured cranium. But I can’t tell you what the scientists were seeking, because knowing could change your responses, and what if you become part of The Experiment?

This all happened when I answered an innocent little classified ad right here in the Daily. It was early last semester, but all these months later I still wonder what secrets the scientists are pulling from their data about my brain and the brains of the other test subjects. I don’t know who they are, unless I see fresh red electrode marks on somebody’s forehead.

The scientists paid me, of course. It’s not like I get seriously electro-jellied for the sake of being a trendsetter. But then again Ö hmmmm Ö there could be some kind of product marketing idea here. (Note to self: electrode hair jel? Sell the kicky metallic tubes in punk-rock clothing stores?)

Again, and to emphasize, they paid me for using my body. Some years ago I needed money worse than usual, so I read a book called “Sell Yourself To Science,” and sought out various opportunities to be a human guinea pig. I can’t tell you about all the research studies; not because I promised the nice scientists in Seattle, but rather because this is a family newspaper, kind of.

One study involved a disease called tuberous sclerosis, which is horrible and debilitating. It also involves a distinctive skin mark called an “ash-leaf spot.” A researcher was trying to determine how many people who don’t have the disease have ash-leaf spots. It might be a very low percentage, or it might be zero percent. I assured her I didn’t have any such mark on my skin, but she needed to take hundreds of individuals into a dark room and examine every inch of our bodies with a blue light. It was worth something like $12 to me. It was a bit like being kidnapped by aliens, I guess, but the aliens were quite friendly.

The aliens in the next study were not so friendly. This was the “chronic idiopathic nonbacterial prostatitis normal control study.” I shudder at the very name. Oh god, the aliens. The probe! Not the probe! Ayeeeeeeeeee!

Seriously, some men have a condition called nonbacterial prostitis, and the cause is something of a mystery. The way to help crack the mystery, apparently, is to round up scores of healthy men to give them full prostate work-ups and exams. There’s lots of, ah, dreadful dodgy details I won’t disclose, but let me just say that I have no fear of crossing borders. The way I see it, even if a body cavity search goes drastically wrong, it’s not like I’m going to end up whizzing a stream of bright red blood. I got $200 out of the deal and thought, “This must be how a male prostitute feels Ö when he gets hired by serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.”

I recently looked up information about that study, which was described as “a landmark in urology.” This almost made me feel it was worth getting probed. I wonder why research subjects are only paid money and not also given copies of the completed research papers.

It is wonderful to play a vital role in advancing science. The scientists are, without exception, intensely interested in the mystery they’re trying to solve. Sometimes it’s hard to even understand the intricacies of what they’re trying to accomplish. But I’m there. I’m selling my body. Once I sold the marrow right out of my bones to a company called Cellpro. Oh, good heavens, that weird vacuum aspirator thing shoved into a hole in my pelvic bone.

Shhhhhhhuuuuushhhhkkkk. I shudder at the thought. But it was $400 cash money for two hourlong dates with the aliens.

I think students who sell their bodies to science deserve to be included in the excitement of the final results, even if this consists of nothing more than a thick, difficult-to-comprehend medical-journal article mailed to a last known address. For the advancement of science, we put our bodies on the line. We bleed, we secrete, we pulse out the waves of our very brains. This is not a criticism directed at scientists here at the University, but a kind of plea to scientists everywhere.

Include us in the excitement of your discovery. Don’t tell us to go and look it up in a few months or years, but rather go out of your way to forward your research articles to the subjects in your studies.

You never know Ö we might get excited enough to volunteer for free.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]