Debbie Knight

Out for blood

In observation on April 26, 2012 at 9:00 am

I stumbled across this ad for research volunteers while waiting for the elevator in my building.  While the ad could use a little graphic design, this is a pretty standard posting for around the medical campus.

But I want to point out the way these vampiric researchers describe the volume of blood they will be drawing. Cups. Like measurements we would use in the kitchen. Kind of gross.

Maybe it’s just me, but I find it a bit distasteful to use “cups” and “teaspoons” when referring to bodily fluids.

These researchers don’t use those terms in the lab — we usually use liters and grams in the research setting.  In the lab setting “100 millilters”  has meaning, but outside of the lab? So it’s become standard practice to use kitchen terms so that everyone can understand, including people who don’t work in the lab.

It all goes back to the rules and regulations we have to follow when using humans in our research.

Most scientists don’t run around, jabbing random people with needles to collect blood without what is called an “approved human subjects protocol.” (I say most, because I’m not sure what some scientists do on in their free time, especially if they’re, say, a vampire)

This protocol can be a real pain in the assay to write up and get approved by the institution review board. The devil is in the details, as they say.

Everything has to be put in terms a high school student could understand. This is reasonable, but sometimes I think the review board members forget that today’s high school student may be more sophisticated than they think a high school student is. (Thank you, Internet)(oh, and teachers, too). 

And sometimes it’s quite a challenge to distill a scientific protocol in terms simple enough for that hypothetical high school student (I know, I attempt it here in this blog all the time)

And you need an approved protocol just to collect one tube (oops! I mean a tablespoon) of blood from a volunteer. Strike that. Make that a consenting volunteer (there’s a pile of paperwork to fill out, too!)

It may not sound like it, but I’m totally “for” having these rules and regulations, it protects the Henrietta Lacks of the world. Yes, there was a time, when medical researchers may have toed the ethical line (or even stepped over it — way, over it). And hopefully, with these rules and regulations in place, it really is a thing of the past.

The rules and regulations ensure that research with humans (and animals) is performed safely and ethically.  The term “ethically” covers a multitude of issues, including exploitation, discomfort, morality, etc.

I understand all this.

But do we have to use “teaspoons” and “cups” when describing bodily fluids?


  1. I’ve followed your blog with some curiosity but I have to say, your negative overtones and sarcastic ‘humor’ about.. pretty much all scientists (save those in your own lab) is quite off-putting.
    I feel badly for the many people who seem to have been unfortunate enough to get in your way at the moment you were searching for your next big reporting ‘breakthrough’ but I wonder if you think very many people care to hear your negative ramblings (… other than those assigned to select and follow an online blog, like myself.) Honestly, I chose your blog thinking it might help me understand life in the lab better, but it makes me fear that someday I would end up working for someone like you as my boss.

    since you live in the united states, it makes sense to me that the metric system isn’t something that the average person has a good working knowledge of…and I have a distinct feeling that had they used only mililitre measurements, you would have found that less-than-satisfactory as well.

    It seems like the whole reason you’re writing this blog is because you’re not an advanced enough scientist to ‘talk down’ to other scientists, so you’ve decided to ‘talk down’ to the general public instead, describing all the advanced techniques and complicated paperwork you do… but then lambasting other scientists for having the nerve to refer to mililitre measurements according to the common US measurement volumes.

    in an attempt to generate constructive feedback, I’ll say this; I thought the role of a writer conveying highly technical work in novice terms was to bridge the gap between the expert and the public. It seems to me that you have overlooked that role and used this, instead, as a platform upon which to mock peers while simultaneously self-aggrandizing… the overall effect, I must say, is rather repulsive. In short, it would be nice if you could tone down the negative a bit… but then, fortunately for me- the term is almost over.

    • Oh, and it’s Henrietta, not Helen… but why bother with minor details?

      • Eric: Thank you for the correction. The post has been updated.
        I’m sorry that you found this blog to be less than ideal. It is a work in progress and I will reflect upon your feedback. Thank you for your visit and I wish you success in your educational endeavors. Peace.

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