In math, a series of logical steps leads to a logically correct result. In life, not so much. To find examples of reasonable steps leading to crazy consequences, there’s no need to look further than the nearest bureaucracy. Let’s take an example from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) — a part of the University bureaucracy whose job it is to ensure that researchers like me conduct experiments without harming participants (or bystanders).
This researcher I know about was running some studies where the participants were given alcohol. To permit this experiment to proceed, the IRB stipulated that female participants had to first be given a pregnancy test, to avoid the possibility that a woman unaware of her pregnancy would expose the fetus to alcohol during the experiment. So far so good, but how would you like being on either side of a conversation that starts out like this?
I know you just signed up for this experiment for lab credits, and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but…
Another bit of low-grade IRB humor can be found at the University of Utah’s IRB web site, which specifically mentions which report to file if “incarceration of a participant” occurs. What kind of studies are people running? And how can I get involved?