Tuesday 24 December 2019

Science for the People!

Now hear this, it is important. Pray silence for the science people. This is your last chance to participate in a crowd-sourced science experiment. Sign up before 31st December or you can't be a contender contributor. The People's Trial is a cunning plan from the Health Research Board-Trials Methodology Research Network (HRB-TMRN) based in NUI Galway. Like a lot of science education, it's not so much about the answer as The Process. My final year research project students at The Institute are disappointed if they don't get a [statistically significant] positive result. I have a big speech about how much they have learned, how much more extensive and effective is their toolkit, that it is okay if they haven't achieved enough for a Nobel Prize in 20 weeks at the frontiers of science.

Ireland Inc., especially its medical research wing, is really concerned to get The Plain People of Ireland to do sensible things so that they are happier, healthier and less of a drain on the public purse. It's not smart to be blocking an acute hospital bed because
  • binge drinking has precipitated cirrhosis of the liver: 
    • on the transplant list if you're lucky
  • a life-time of cream-cakes has made you pre-diabetic
  • all those rashers led to fatty degeneration of the heart 
    • and the waiting list for a triple by-pass
  • 20-fags-a-day? 
    • COPD, small-cell lung carcinoma, emphysema
  • lack of exercise has made ya too fat to walk
Someone up there in Galway believes that ordinary folk need to know what Evidence is, so that they can be better informed about their life-style choices. Listening to anecdotes, opinion and youtube might make them refuse vaccination for their children. The Evidence, and the numbers, currently indicates that HPV vaccines are A Good Thing for youngsters, especially young women, before they get sexually active. Cancer of the cervix is much less fun than romping with their feller and swapping herpes viruses. The Gold Standard for evidence-based research is the randomised control trial. Here researchers recruit A Lot of people (as many as they can afford to process) and assign them randomly as Cases or Controls. The former get the experimental treatment, the latter get nothing-at-all or a placebo. If your sample is two people, and one gets well but the other doesn't - that's an anecdote and useless for our understanding of how the world ticks. If you can find 2 thousand participants, you might be on to something. If the effect is really strong then 2 hundred people might be enough.

Well the TMRN are recruiting people to be assigned to one of two groups and then direct 3½ hours of their time in bed over the following week to pushing the frontier of science . . . rather than pushing themselves on their partner. And <drum roll> the question is:
Does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep 
in comparison to not reading a book in bed?
Now that's not a Nobel Prize question, but it's something that Joe and Josie Normal can get their heads around and will generate an answer. Even if that answer is: it doesn't matter a row of sticks one way of the other. As I say you've got a week to throw your name into the hat. Should be fun. Dau.I, early adopter, has just finished her week. So far they only have 950 punters: if all the Blobbistas sign up then the TMRN can get it over N=1000 which will l👁👁k better.

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