We're a little crazy, about science!

The fourth OR experiment

It’s official! We have experiment number four coming in two days. I’m excited about another attempt to collect data and to answer about a dozen interesting questions since we just keep tacking on stuff to look at when we go in. I’m not even joking, the experiment list keeps growing because the opportunity is unique and they don’t add significant amounts of time to the main experiment we’re doing.

Three attempts. Three. It’s been a learning experience. You would think after three attempts we would have some data and in the most technical sense we do, it’s just useless. So for all intents and purposes we’ve spent months working on this project with zero data collected. That’s just how it goes sometimes. For those interested, you can find the other posts here: first attempt, second attempt, third attempt.

Recapping quickly, we’ve had the worst luck. The first attempt the person wasn’t in the right mindset to be consented for the experiment because they had been given anti-anxiety medications that caused them to not be able to stay awake long enough to consent. So that was a bust.

The second attempt caused a huge (and understandable) freakout from the clinical team because they were under the impression that we were taking their job. I can only imagine how many people heard about that attempt, but it would be the people that run the hospital, people who don’t and really shouldn’t know we exist (at least not in that context!).

Lastly, we had attempt number three. This was our smoothest attempt to date and everything would’ve been great if it weren’t for the fact that the procedure got scrapped. All that work and preparation for the surgery to get cancelled. Needless to say, it was a bit of a let down. Which bring us up to speed for attempt number four!

Lucky number four? Maybe, I am not going to hold my breath. The person who is having the procedure isn’t the best candidate for what we want to attempt so depending on what the clinical staff tell us we may not be able to do all the experiments we have planned. However, the person agreed to help us and that alone is a surprisingly high bar to clear.

The issue is people don’t understand what we’re trying to do, so they don’t feel comfortable agreeing to it. Which is why I do a lot of outreach, blog, etc. To come up with better and easier ways to understand the science I do. Being able to understand what we do or why we do it makes people feel more comfortable and makes them more likely to agree to help us. So I practice explaining things in ways that help a layperson understand.

A quick example. ICA or independent component analysis is a technique that gives us independent components to a signal. In EEG recordings, which are just non-invasive recordings of electrical activity from the brain using sensors placed on the scalp, we use ICA to find something closer to the true signal. Imagine you’re at a restaurant with a bunch of people. If the building was your head and I surrounded it with microphones, you would be a group of neurons in the brain. We would be interested in what you’re doing specifically, but the problem is that the microphones would capture (poorly) everyone talking in the room. What ICA does is separate individual voices out from that mash of noise. It’s not perfect, but it works well and gives us something closer to what’s really going on in the room.

Now that’s just an example and there’s a lot of math and what not that goes into it, but it’s an easy way to help others understand the step. Side note, if you want to learn more about EEG, I’ve written several guides like this one and this one is on ICA and why it’s so useful. Finding ways to explain stuff that is really complex is an important tool because not everyone has the same background you do.

More importantly, people get scared easy when they don’t understand, especially when they’re vulnerable like right before going into surgery. Part of my job is to make sure they are understanding what we are doing and are comfortable with it. It’s more than just getting them to sign the paper, it’s about making sure they understand that they will be helping others in the future (possibly the near future). I’ve found once people understand that, most are willing to help.

Tomorrow I’ll probably talk more about prepping for the big day, but I thought it was important to highlight that none of this would be possible without the people volunteering to help us. While I have a bleak outlook on humanity as a whole. Frankly I hate people as a general rule, but individual people can and often do, surprise me. I’m thankful for the people who agree to work with us, even if they don’t fully understand or maybe even are scared, but want to help anyway.


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