Experimenting on the Lambs

News from Alabama is that researchers obscured risks of blindness, brain damage, and death in order to convince parents of 1,300 premature infants to participate in a medical study. In my last essay I argued the seemingly esoteric point that disciplines like philosophy are essential to good science. Here is a practical example: science run amok, facilitated by well-meaning people who have been steeped in an inhumane and unscientific mode of thinking that masquerades as “how science is done.”

Drastically premature babies need oxygen, and this is inherently dangerous. Too little oxygen can cause brain damage or death. Too much can damage the eyes, sometimes to the point of blindness. Medical practitioners exercise judgment about how much oxygen to give any particular infant. But some scientists have asked—quite reasonably—whether they might sometimes be giving too much oxygen, inducing unnecessary eye damage. Researchers attempted to study this in the 1950s, but there were problems, not the least of which—in their view—were nurses surreptitiously increasing oxygen levels whenever they thought babies slated to receive lower amounts were suffering as a consequence.

A research team centered at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, however, came up with a clever way to elide this complication. They manipulated oxygen meters in the pediatric intensive care units where they were running their experiments, so that nurses were misled about the actual oxygen babies were receiving. Now, you see, we can get a clean test. Clean tests are essential when you do science.

[Read more...]

Letting It All Hang Out

I was zoning out at a red light when a shiny object—or, shall I say, two shiny objects—caught my eye. Dangling from the back of a pickup truck a pair of large metal testicles sparkled in the subzero sun.

I shot a picture before the light turned green and posted it to Facebook when I got home: “Please, Lord,” I wrote, “don’t let my daughter grow up to date a guy with testes on his truck.”

The responses came fast and furiously:

“Maybe he felt a need to buy a set since he didn’t have his own.”

“This kind of truck decor provides a public service.  Everyone knows if you see balls at the back, there’s a dick up front.”

“Someone envisioned that product—someone designed it, someone sold it, someone purchased and installed it. Isn’t this world amazing?”

What a world, indeed. Something drove this man to drop the scrotum in his cart or press “confirm” on an online order. Whether predmediated over months or cinched in a moment of inspiration, there was a moment of decision, followed, even more fantastically, by an installation process. Tools were deployed. Hands were busied. Nuts were given the final turn.

Did the man stand back, hands on his hips, and proclaim, “Yes! I can finally publicly acknowledge my douchebaggery on every street in Lake County?”

[Read more...]

Nebuchadnezzar, Nevermore

Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.
—Daniel 4:33

In the summer of 1999, I wore an anthropomorphic foam-rubber “Mr. Recycled Paint” costume in 104 degree heat in a parade that began at Chain of Rocks Bridge in St. Louis, Missouri. It was an exercise in instant humility for me, as it would be for anyone forced to don such an abominable outfit.

Allow me to clarify something upfront: I did not volunteer for the onerous honor of playing the part of Mr. Recycled Paint. As an intern at the largest independent public relations firm in St. Louis, my employer enlisted me for this exercise in embarrassment, and thereby satisfied some sadistic client contractual obligation. [Read more...]

Beautiful Loser: Poetry at the Mall

Guest Post

By Daniel Bowman Jr.

Pray for one good humiliation every day.

–Richard Rohr

I sit by the podium as an earnest arts administrator I just met gives me a long introduction. She must’ve pulled it from my website; it’s a full bio. She works through the names of magazines where my poems have “appeared,” and I wonder what that word conveys to the uninitiated. Some of the journals are obscure, what poets call “little magazines,” while others are better known. But in this space, all the titles are preposterous.

I was invited to read at the Artsgarden. What I don’t know until I get there is that, on weekdays, the Artsgarden is glorified overflow seating for the mall food court. This is fine, but requires a quick adjustment of my expectations. [Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X