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Hmm.... - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Hmm....
There's a Globe article about a study about to be done to determine whether "one drink a day" helps prevent heart disease. It includes this bit:
Half of the study participants, who are 55 and older, will be randomly chosen to drink a concoction of grain alcohol mixed in Crystal Light - lemonade or raspberry-lemonade, their choice - while the others receive an unadulterated version. None of the participants will know who's getting a jug filled with the spiked drink, because grain alcohol is virtually tasteless.
I don't think this is a reporter error, since it does sound like the intent is to be double-blind. But... nobody's going to know whether what they're drinking has alcohol in it or not? Really?

We're doing a test on gun safety. Half the guns will be loaded with blanks, and half will use real bullets. But the participants won't be able to tell which people are being shot for real, because the guns will be loaded by third parties and shuffled together, before being handed to the shooters...
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Comments
From: csbermack Date: May 6th, 2009 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Depends on how much alcohol and how dilute... It'd be more interesting to see how many people who weren't given alcohol begin to act impaired because they think they got the spiked drink.

Some people are alcohol supertasters and can find even tiny amounts in a drink, but most people aren't. Maybe people who frequently drink crystal lite could tell the difference, but if it were a weak drink served cold, I'm not sure I'd notice. Maybe if I had a spiked and unspiked drink to compare next to each other.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: May 6th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, you're right, I was paying insufficient attention. I saw the bit about it being the equivalent of a glass of wine (which I think a lot of people are able to tell when they've had), but missed the inference that it wasn't all being drunk at the same time.
mjperson From: mjperson Date: May 6th, 2009 10:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
How not being drunk at the same time? They drink the giant jug of crystal light over the course of the day?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: May 6th, 2009 10:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
It is drunk "5 oz at a time" so I guess over the course of the day, yeah.
merastra From: merastra Date: May 6th, 2009 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I used to be super-sensitive to the taste of alcohol so I'm dubious as well. OTOH, there were lots of drinkers who couldn't tell so maybe the super-dilute work for most people.
mijven From: mijven Date: May 7th, 2009 02:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Um. Hey. Being gauche here in trying to ask the both of you a fonts question via LJ because I know I'll never get around to sending an email. Sigh. Anyway, where would you look for examples of those elaborate opening-letter of a manuscript, type fonts? I don't need a download - I just need pretty inspiration. (I already know how to burn paper edges after all, now I just want decoration!)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: May 7th, 2009 02:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I recently discovered dafont.com as a source for all things font - this is their "initials" category:

http://www.dafont.com/theme.php?cat=116

Also, these are pretty, and more like the illuminated initials Kate did:
http://www.illuminated-design.co.uk/Presentations/Celtic%20Store%20-%20Capitals.html
mijven From: mijven Date: May 7th, 2009 11:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, exactly. Thank you. THANK YOU!

Oh, happy frabjous day. So shiny.
mathhobbit From: mathhobbit Date: May 6th, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why are they mixing it in Crystal Light?

Next let's do a study on whether "one drink a day" of Crystal Light is harmful to your health...

(I bear a special grudge against Crystal Light because the smoothie place in South Station thinks they can substitute it in for OJ when necessary. At least twice I've paid $3 for a beverage that's all but undrinkable.)
tallou From: tallou Date: May 6th, 2009 11:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
The flavor of Crystal Light probably does particularly well at masking the flavor of the alcohol, and it's easy to get and very consistent.

(that said, it triggers migraines for me, so I'm not volunteering for the trial anyway)
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: May 7th, 2009 05:12 am (UTC) (Link)
I can't imagine not noticing the smell of alcohol if there's any substantial amount of it, but maybe Crystal Light is more strongly scented than I think.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: May 7th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Certainly sounds like it would behoove the researchers to include a test demonstrating that people really can't tell the difference.

Or you could just screen your subjects for whether they can tell the difference, and fire anyone who can. Then 25 years from now we discover that eight of the 174 genes that affect how sensitively you can detect alcohol are also among the 682 genes that influence how regular alcohol consumption affects cardiovascular health.

Or you could ask a grad student to taste each and see if they can tell, and assume that everyone else will be just like your grad student (who unknown to you is still slightly drunk from the night before).
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: May 7th, 2009 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
The way I can tell if I've had one drink is the vasodilation. I do also wonder, if you punt that by scattering the alcohol across the course of the day, if that's going to affect the cardiovascular effect.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: May 7th, 2009 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, it seems likely that vasodilation might have an effect on your cardiovascular system, given that that's exactly what it is.

I have a lot of work to do, so I'm ignoring it by looking up experimental methods for alcohol placebo. The best reference I've found so far validated their placebo on 25 college students, by testing a range of different concentrations of vodka in tonic water, and found that the students did no better than chance at identifying the beverage if it was diluted to one part Petrushka-brand 80-proof vodka and five parts Schweppes-brand tonic water, for an alcohol content of 6--7%. The students rinsed their mouths with commercial mouthwash before each drink, which can help control taste acuity, but it also could make it harder to discriminate between tonic vs. vodka and tonic. Dunno how Crystal Light compares to mouthwash and quinine for distracting your senses.
kirisutogomen From: kirisutogomen Date: May 7th, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Somebody stop me

I just found more than you could possibly want to know about placebo-controlled study design for alcohol experiments. They talk about all kinds of ways to make it work, including putting beverages into misleadingly labeled commercial containers, using rigged breathalyzers, distracting them by making them watch a short film (while drinking the beverage) that they'll be quizzed on later, etc.

Rohsenow DJ, Marlatt GA, "The balanced placebo design: methodological considerations." Addictive Behaviors 1981;6(2):107-22.

One of the things that really annoys me sometimes is that really thorough methodological work like this has been done, and then so-called "scientists" run their experiments in unbelievably sloppy ways. But I'm easily annoyed.
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