Oct 02

About My Lab Coat

You know, they’re just an amazing piece of tradecraft- put one on, drape a stethoscope around your neck, dangle a lanyard with any crap laminated badge on it and you can wander around a hospital for days and everyone will think you’re a doctor. The stethoscope costs around $200 so better if you can steal one, the lab coat is $25 at any uniform store or on the Intertubz.

Stanley Milgram showed in the early ’60s that people are enormously obedient to authority, even the trappings of it. In his experiment a “Teacher” (the actual subject) was ordered by an “Experimenter” (an authoritative role, put on your Lab Coat) and a “Learner” (a shill). While in fact measuring people’s conformity the “Teacher” was told that the test was to determine how pain acted as a motivating factor. The “Teacher” was given a low level (though still quite stunning) electrical shock so they understood clearly the amount of physical duress they would be inflicting and were instructed by the “Experimenter” to dial it up from there (at no point did the “Learner” receive an actual jolt).

If “Teachers” expressed any concern about the welfare of the “Learner”, “Experimenters” were instructed to give the following 4 responses, in order-

  1. Please continue.
  2. The experiment requires that you continue.
  3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  4. You have no other choice, you must go on.

The experiment ended if the “Teacher” refused to continue after all 4 responses were given or 3 maximum 450 volt shocks were “delivered” in succession (not necessarily fatal but twice as strong as French Kissing a light socket).

So how do you think United States citizens did a mere 15 years after the Holocaust?

65% were willing to deliver lethal doses.

Maybe that doesn’t surprise you after Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid made the United States a torturing country by refusing to prosecute the self-admitted perpetrators but at the time it was quite “shocking” to me.

Oh, my Lab Coat. For a time I had a gig at a research company and we were doing field work equipped with a pen, clipboard, and survey forms; a Lab Coat; a Highway Safety Vest; and a Breath-a-lyzer to test driver’s Blood Alcohol. We were deployed after a Police Sobriety Checkpoint and the actual test was to see how many drunk drivers were able to get past it. We didn’t tell the Police that though.

My job was to persuade people just after this harrowing experience (and any encounter with Cops is harrowing) to let me give them a Breath-a-lyzer.

The survey was designed to get them used to saying yes, and I was all dressed in my “official” uniform which inspired confidence. The key points I made were-

  1. We’re not affiliated with the Police
  2. This test is entirely anonymous

What stunned me was my compliance rate, because I would have told me to piss up a rope. Nope, 98%. I guess I have the kind of face people trust.

My employers may have sensed I was not completely ethically comfortable with their methodology (though it was also horrible scut work, standing 6 hours or more rain or shine at the side of a road) because I was not invited back for subsequent waves of the study. It certainly was not my technique as I was top of the class.

Anyway the larger point is that you can’t trust a clown wearing a costume. This goes to the point John Oliver made last night and I wrote about on March 3rd.