Doing Science in TV Format

With the rise of ethical regulations for research involving ‘human subjects’, the tradition of social scientific inquiry that relied on deception and the ‘psychologically exploitive’ manipulation of participants came to an end. Or, rather, it was transplated into reality television. Stanley Milgram would have a hard time today getting his experimental protocols past his university’s ethics committee, but he could be making a fortune writing ideas and scripts for TV.

Now finally the format of reality TV shows is being integrated back into real science. UK scientists have announced a study that will use the setting and social dynamics of ‘Big Brother’ to study the impact of co-habitation on flu transmission (“Scientists plan ‘Big Brother’ flu experiment”):

“British researchers plan to recruit 200 volunteers to be infected with flu while living together during week-long experiments, in order to deepen understanding of how to tackle a pandemic. In a groundbreaking Big Brother -style trial, recruits will be divided into groups of half a dozen. They will spend their time sleeping, eating and socialising in specially adapted hotels under constant camera observation and medical supervision.”

Hmmm, “socialising”… it sounds like fun. Hopefully the tapes of the experiment will find their way to general public. Science is too interesting to be watched only by scientists.


  1. Bah, “socializing” is not scary enough to constitute a robust social-scientific experimentalist-expressionist research topic.

  2. foamsociety

    “Socializing” with virus-infected people willing to spend a week locked up in a hotel room for money doesn’t seem scary enough to you? Have you seen the films ’28 Days’ and ’28 Weeks Later’? In any case, even if it isn’t scary I’d like to watch those tapes.

  3. All right. We need a preview.

  4. In addition to monitoring their social behaviours with hidden cameras, they might also want to supply the capitive population with laptops. That way they could collect some data on the accuracy of google’s attempt to model flu trends. How likely are you to wiki-your symptoms?

  5. foamsociety

    They definitely need a sociologist watching over that experiment. The question of whether particular forms of socialization affect contagion is interesting, but not as exciting as the opposite one: how will people modify their social habits & forms of interaction when they know that their interlocutors carry a virus?

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