1999: Selection Effect
- "1999", this comic's number, redirects here. For the comic named "1999", see 855: 1999.
Title text: fMRI testing showed that subjects who don't agree to participate are much more likely to escape from the machine mid-scan.
The title refers to the effect in scientific fields where instead of investigating the whole population (i.e. all cancer patients or all trees) only a subset is analysed. This is common practice as the analysis of all specimens is often impractical. However, special care needs to be taken when selecting the sample to ensure that it accurately represents the general population. Otherwise the results are misleading and do not reflect reality. For example if 1000 people are asked about the numbers of cars they own but all live in a city the results cannot be generalised to the whole country. This is called the selection bias. If non-human subjects are studied this can be avoided by randomising the selection process, but this is not possible with humans as they cannot be forced to participate in a study against their will. For example, if people are asked to participate in a study about their political views it is likely that the responders care about politics while people with no clear opinion do not bother to respond. This is called the self-selection bias.
Ponytail says that people who agree to be in a study at their lab are less likely to attempt to escape. The only way Ponytail could have come to this conclusion is if she compared those people to people who did not agree to be in the study. This implies that Ponytail has recently kidnapped people for a study, and that most of the people she kidnapped called the police, as one should do when being kidnapped. This makes sense, since if you agreed to the study, you know why you are there, while if you didn't, you may have been kidnapped. As Ponytail presents this as a finding, it appears that she was attempting to establish a protocol for randomised selection of human subjects and comparing it to the normal selection process.
The comic shows Ponytail being allowed to present the results of this study at a conference; reputable scientific journals and conferences should not legitimize studies that clearly violate their ethical norms, such as by failing to obtain informed consent from human subjects before experimenting on them. Unfortunately, involuntary studies are published and presented, like this 2014 Facebook's emotional contagion study. It is not clear how many people who did agree to participate may have attempted to call the police for assistance regardless; compare the Stanford Prison Experiment. This is similar to previous comics where obvious things are presented in obfuscated, scientific ways (e.g. 1990: Driving Cars). Of course, any study of the way people behave when being kidnapped for scientific experiments would inherently involve kidnapping them. Therefore there is no way this kind of research could be done in an ethical fashion.
The title text refers to a technique that measures brain activity, called Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The willingness to participate is here probably detected by a machine. And of course it's much more likely that those people will resist and escape before the scan is complete.
- [Ponytail stands on a podium giving a presentation in front of a chart with some box plots.]
- Ponytail: Our research shows that compared to the overall population, people who agree to participate in scientific studies are significantly less likely to call the police to rescue them from our lab.
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