Saturday, June 21, 2014

Donate yourself to Research - Scientific Method Part 4 - Data Collection

First published on

"People’s belief that math ability can’t change becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy".

Playing board games can raise a child's IQ.

At age 2, girls start to prefer the color pink, while boys start to avoid it.

Have you ever wondered where those gems of insight into human learning and behavior come from? Well, or course, from scientific research, but where are these studies conducted and who are these children who's color preference had been tested, or who got to play board games? For a multi-year CDC study looking for risk factors for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities the answer is - my child and me. We donated ourselves to research.

When thinking about being a research test subject, most people probably think of clinical trials for new drugs, where you wager your health and maybe even life for a handsome payout. But not all research requires you to put yourself in harm's way in order to advance science. There are plenty of opportunities to be part of new research while only risking a paper cut from all the forms you need to fill out.

You do not have to part with body parts in order to participate in research.

We had a few reasons to participate. The first one is rather selfish. The CDC study collected genetic, health and developmental data on 10,000 children and their parents. The anonymized data set will be made available to other researchers as well to check for links or causes for diabetes, heart disease, asthma, allergies or other ailments. To have any hope that someone one day will figure out how to avoid some of the annoying health issues running in the family, we need to make sure our data is in that data set.

But it was also a great opportunity for my son to see science at work. A few months ago we designed our own experiment to find the best-tasting apple. I explained to him that this time the researchers designed the experiment - and we are the apples about which to collect data. Being a proper Golden Delicious he dressed in yellow, and was very excited to see that real scientists use the same type of clipboard he has at home. Finally some role models who are less controversial than Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

Mr Entropy completing a handwriting test for the SEED study.

If you are interested in supporting the advancement of science with a little bit of your own time, you can sign up with one of the volunteer databases listed below. If you know of other local programs looking for volunteers, please leave a link in the comments section.

In Philadelphia:

CDC SEED Study, conducted at CHoP

Online: Joint project of the University of Virginia, the University of California (Irvine), and the University of Southern California, conducting studies on morals, emotions and believes

New England
Harvard University / Boston Children's Hospital, MA:

Johns Hopkins University, MD:
University of Maryland, MD:
Penn State University, PA:
Georgetown University, DC:


Emory University, GA:
Vanderbilt University, TN:

Northwestern University, IL:

University of Chicago, IL:

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