Sunday’s New York Times has a fascinating story about high-level scientists — including researchers from the University of California, San Diego — who use their own children as subjects in their research.

The story gives examples from across the country, and explores some of the controversial aspects of the practice. Researchers say it is harmless, while at the same time valuable because of the scarce money available for test subjects. Ethicists seem to largely agree, but worry about the affect it may have on the relationship between parent and child.

The UCSD scientists chronicled in the story were Gedeon Deàk, a cognitive science associate professor, and Karen Dobkins, a psychology professor. Both sounded more like involved parents than dispassionate researchers when recounting their experiences.

This from Dobkins, who enlisted her infant twins in a study:

“[I]t was kind of painful, because one of my twin boys basically played the game really well, but my other son, we couldn’t even use his data.” She said that “made me worry that he had autism.”

Her worries proved unfounded. Still, she said, “I took only the good data and copied it and put it in both of their baby books.”

Deàk too ended up acting like a typical parent:

Dr. Deàk, who sometimes observes while students test his children, finds his investigator role “fighting with the natural thing of wanting your kid to get the answers right.”

When one son, 4, answered questions about color and shape wearing an electrode-studded cap to measure brain waves, “I wasn’t sure whether he’d be willing to put the cap on, whether he’d be willing to do the task,” Dr. Deàk said. He did, although “he needed more breaks than other kids. He wanted snacks.”


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