Forgive me for my pop culture mining: On an episode of the long running television show The Simpsons, the character of Dr. Marvin Monroe, in an attempt to seek funding for a misguided psychological experiment entitled “The Monroe Box,” pitches his idea as “a special isolation chamber wherein the subject pulls levers to receive food and water; the floor can become electrified, and showers of icy water randomly fall on the subject. All that is missing is an infant to raise in the box until the age of 30.” Obviously, this idea is a preposterous punch line used to illustrate the ethical lapses of human psychological testing, and thankfully it is not a reality.
I was reminded of this particular television moment when I came upon a recent New York Times article, “Test Subjects Who Call the Scientist Mom or Dad” by Pam Belluck. In the article, the writer talks to a number of scientists who are opting to utilize their children as research subjects, sometimes without the children’s consent. In addition, Belluck talks to ethicists who “raised questions about the effect on the child, on the relationship with the parent, and on the objectivity of the researcher or the data.” Needless to say, the prospect of using your children as scientific or psychological subjects exists in a distinct gray moral and ethical terrain.
But at a time when funding for these studies has all but dried up (at least if you are an independent researcher and not attached to some pharmacological behemoth) and interest in the sciences has fallen to dismal levels, is it ill-advised to pick up the slack and take a DIY approach to the sciences with your kids in tow?
Believe it or not, this practice is nothing new. Celebrated American biologist and developer of the polio vaccine, Jonas Salk admittedly injected his own children with his polio vaccine to test its effectiveness, and the noted child development theorist Jean Piaget routinely used his own children in many of his own studies.
But sometimes, what is good for science may not be so beneficial for human relations, and in this case, parent-child relations. When a child’s room is rigged with 16 cameras and every belch or outburst is being monitored and evaluated by the scientific method, how does it impact the parent-child dynamic? At what point does the child cease to be a child and become a subject? At what point does the parent loose objectivity or loose parental connection?
I would love to hear from concerned parents and/or those from the scientific community that hold opinions on this issue.