"Medical research." When most of us hear those words, our imagination conjures up bored graduates with white jackets in a sterile porcelain laboratory, knowing no more about their subjects than ID number and blood type. This depersonalization of modern science is a myth, of course, but a powerful one that guides the way science is perceived and performed. This myth neglects or marginalizes the work of those men and women who take the human aspects of their research so seriously that they feel compelled to experiment on themselves. Who Goes First? tells their stories and thus gives us a view of medical research that diverges from the alienation of the nameless number heads.
Lawrence K. Altman has pursued research on the subject of medical self-experimentation since his days as a medical student, and this personal interest shines throughout the book. His writing is smart and enthusiastic, shedding light on a little-discussed aspect of research that raises important questions of ethics and scientific validity. Can a researcher be as objective about his or her own reactions to a drug as to a stranger's reactions? Should a scientist subject others to risks that he or she wouldn't take personally? What, if anything, do we have to gain from self-experimentation?
As you might imagine, this book is not for the squeamish. Even if you're not put off by the ocean of body fluids, you may find the terrors of curare-induced paralysis or life under quarantine a bit troubling. Still, for those willing or eager to confront such details, Who Goes First? provides an outstanding, highly readable introduction to the rehumanization of medical research. --Rob Lightner [via]