How did they get that past the IRB?

There was this thing called Drunk Science on Boing Boing, where they got a scientist very very drunk and then asked them questions.

It was a very bad idea, as the drunk scientist, Charles Choi explains.

I ended up having five Irish car bombs, five doubles of Jameson’s, two beers and a good swig from my hip flask. Since Irish car bombs are essentially two drinks in one, made up as they are of a beer and a shot of liquor, and since a double is by definition two shots, I ultimately drank 23 drinks that night. In the span of an hour.

Um, yeah. Their subject just poured alcohol down his throat in a short period of time so that he’d talk funny in an interview. He blacked out, the others thought he might die, he was basically doing the stupid binge drinking that college students do every weekend, all in the service of a really pointless story.

I guess the world outside of science is a strange one. If I were to attempt that ‘experiment’, I’d have to justify it (“it will be funny” isn’t good enough), I’d have to lay out carefully what I was going to measure and what I expected to learn, and any protocol involving another human being is going to get inspected up the wazoo by an institutional review board. I guarantee you my proposal to get my subjects to talk funny for my amusement after drinking uncontrolled quantities of alcohol would not only get turned down flat, the ethics panel would probably recommend immediate remedial instruction in the ethical execution of science, and any pending protocols would be suspended pending re-review.

They’re not going to continue the series, by the way. Smart move.


  1. raven says

    Acute alcohol intoxication can and does kill.

    My old U. used to have 1 or 2 students a year die that way.

    These days they sort of have a program where people in danger of dying are taken to the ER for observation. It’s cut the fatality rate down.

    Friends don’t let friends puke and die on their couch.

    One of my not friend acquaintenances managed to kill himself by binge drinking. It took a few decades but he was dead shortly after 50. His cardiovascular system was just trashed. One of the people at the Celebration of Life service was…his mother.

  2. Anthony K says

    Fuck, I’ve had nights like that. But 23 standard drinks in the span of an hour? Yikes.

  3. raven says

    Presbyterian College football player from St. Augustine died from …
    jacksonville. com/…/presbyterian-college-football-player-st-augu…‎

    by Justin Barney – in 25 Google+ circlesFeb 6, 2012 – Kyle Allen, a 2009 graduate of Menendez High School and …
    Nichols ruled Allen’s death was caused by accidental acute alcohol intoxication …

    Lafayette College student’s death attributed to acute ethanol …
    www. lehighvalleylive. com/easton/…/everett_glenns_death_attribute.html‎

    Sep 7, 2012 – The death of Everett Glenn, a 19-year-old Lafayette College … at Lafayette College

    died of acute ethanol intoxication,

    Northampton County Coroner Zachary Lysek said today. … Plainfield Farmers’ Fair set up on July 22, 2013.

    I just grabbed a few Google captures from page 1.

    I’m guessing 50 to 100 people, mostly kids die this way every year.

    PSA If you see someone heading towards acute alcohol poisoning, do something. Try to stop them before they get to that point, and take them to the ER, if it is too late for that.

    And no (drunk and/or passed out) girl or woman gets left behind either.

  4. raven says

    Family of woman who died after water drinking contest on radio …
    www. telegraph. › News › World News › North America › USA‎

    Oct 30, 2009 – Family of woman who died after water drinking contest on radio awarded … The competition was held by the KDND-FM station in Sacramento, …

    Drinking too much water can kill as well, upsets the electrolyte balances. A caller to this radio station warned them of that during the contest. The hosts laughed. A few hours later, this woman was dead.

    If you are going to die, try not to do it early in some silly, pointless, and avoidable way. That Darwin award isn’t going to look so good on your grave marker.

  5. aluchko says

    I’m a little torn, I think the Drunk History series does a pretty good job of history education while being entertaining enough that they’ll draw in non-geeks. From the bit of Drunk Science I saw didn’t really manage the same level of entertainment.

    Of course they’re also making binge drinking seem cool which could kill a few viewers…

  6. jesse says

    Point of order: Charles Choi is a writer, not a scientist. Anyhow, as he said in his blog post he was likely adrenaline-high, so he drank a LOT more than he ordinarily would have.

    The Drunk Science idea wasn’t a bad one. But sometimes non-professionals, as it were, don’t always bring it off. A lot of shows like Drunk History or even junk like Jackass are actually better rehearsed and thought-out than they seem.

  7. Cliff Hendroval says

    As Anthony K said, for an evening that’s not a ridiculous amount. Hitchens probably did more between noon and 9:30 pm. However, it’s not for amateurs, particularly in a short timespan.

  8. says

    I don’t know about passed out or dead. One night I started at Outback, with friends, at happy hour. 2 dollar beers and steak, a winning combo. I had 6 beers there, then we went to the bowling alley where I drank a 20 0ounce mug beer every 15 minutes for 2 hours. We picked up some fun company and gather up our designated driver and headed home where upon I started on a half gallon of Jose Cuervo over ice in 12 ounce glasses (There was an inch left in the bottom the next morning). Hit bed about 3 am and woke up at 7:30 to go over to a friend’s sister’s house to yank the tranny out of her Honda to change the clutch. Spent 2 hours in a bar, next to the machine shop where we took the flywheel to get turned, drinking Jameson and Ginger ale and eating chicken wings. Got the flywheel back, went back to the car and reassembled it, went home and showered up so I could get down to some serious drinking with the fun girls from the night before. Copious beer and barbeque. I can say for certain that I spent not one nanosecond of that entire weekend with a Blood alcohol level less than 1.5 and quite a bit higher for the most part. It’s just how your body deals with the way you abuse it. I don’t miss those days at all though. While I never paid any kind of price for my sins I really got to the point where I resented a chemical having all my fun for me.

  9. ekwhite says

    If I drank as much as Charles Choi did in an hour, I would have dropped dead. I did drink and do drugs quite a bit in college, but not on that level.

  10. Francisco Bacopa says

    On rare occasions Texas passes quite reasonable new laws. The Lege recently passed a law that if underage drinkers call 911 out of concern for alcohol poisoning, they will not be charged with underage drinking or possession of alcohol.

    What’s that? Texas passed a sensible law focused on reducing harm? Some rich Republican’s kid must have died of alcohol poisoning.

  11. anuran says

    I don’t think I’ve ever had that much to drink in 24 hours. One hour? I’d be dead

  12. graham says

    A drink called ‘Irish car bomb’. How terribly amusing. Is there also one called Muslim suicide bomb? Or 9/11 Special perhaps? How about Boston marathon bomb to bring things right up-to-date?

    Apologies for my sense of humour by-pass. I lived near Warrington at the time of the Warrington bomb and worked in Birmingham just round the corner from the pub bombing. All ancient history now, but let us never forget eh?

  13. Sili says

    Point of order: Charles Choi is a writer, not a scientist.

    I was about to ask what kinda scientist didn’t know about alcohol metabolism.

    This does not improve my view of journalists, though.

  14. Sili says

    Is there also [a drink] called Muslim suicide bomb?

    It would have to be a virgin cocktail.

  15. lochaber says

    Unless Choi is an accomplished career alcoholic (or, like, 400lbs of muscle), I’ve gotta call bullshit on the 23 drinks in 1 hour bit…

    I’ve done (and continue to do…) an unhealthy amount of drinking, and I’m not certain I’ve taken in that amount of alcohol in any 24-hour period.

    I know everyone is different, but I’m not sure there is anyone who could survive that amount of alcohol intake in such a short period of time without a serious, dedicated tolerance ramp-up beforehand. even allowing for low alcohol content beers and partial shots, even 10-12 in an hour period is ridiculous.

  16. jesse says

    As to the number of drinks, he said he started with 5 and then moved to doubles. If he got through 5 that’s a total of 10-15 standard drinks or so because the mix is Bailey’s, Guinness and Jameson’s. If he did doubles… whoa. Even if we assume the Bailey’s and beer are smaller than a standard drink (not unreasonable since Guinness is filling) you still get a LOT of alcohol in each one. Puking was probably a good thing.

    @graham the drink was invented in the 70s. And one could argue that if you can’t laugh about stuff like that, what can you laugh about? After all, Mel Brooks did “Springtime for Hitler” in “The Producers” and it’s pretty damned funny — especially if you’re Jewish. (IIRC he did it as sort of an answer to a challenge: can you make Holocaust jokes? Yes, tho it takes an awfully talented comedian and Mel Brooks is that if nothing else).

  17. says

    Yeah, according to the Boingboing post on the same subject, it was over a few hours rather than one hour. Maybe the one hour was the filming?

  18. kieran says

    I’m with Graham on the Irish car bombs, I’m from Ireland, trust me when I say it isn’t something you’d order in a pub anywhere here and that goes double for a Black and tan.
    Silly named drink does not equal well executed, well written and well produced comedy.
    Dara O Briain laughing at the troubles

  19. ChasCPeterson says

    Mike, you are so cool. Please regale us with more stories about how cool you are with the drinking. Thanks!

  20. gillt says

    I ultimately drank 23 drinks that night. In the span of an hour.

    Hopefully his way with numbers doesn’t make it into his science writing.

  21. canonicalkoi says

    It sounds as if he was at the intersection of Incredibly Lucky and Incredibly Stupid. I’m glad his friends thought to tilt him over, but nobody stayed to make sure he was all right? They didn’t just say, “Screw this!” and take him to the E.R.? Nice, nice friends there.

  22. canonicalkoi says

    My apologies for the double-post. I signed in via Google instead of WordPress, so this is b.–Order of Lagomorphs. Didn’t mean to nym-swap, but couldn’t remember my WP password off-hand. :(

  23. timanthony says

    Bring on the Irish car bombs! I can’t believe that name, it’s so black it almost isn’t there. Really seems to me the most likely result of walking into an Irish bar and asking for an Irish car bomb, is that you get smashed a lot sooner than you bargained for.

  24. jesse says

    @kieron – Re: drink names: it should be said that the Irish Car Bomb was invented (I would guess) in the US, as was the black and tan, and the view of Irish diaspora of the Troubles is rather different from the people who were actually there. I am from the Boston area, and we still have “Bobby Sands Will Never Die” written in graffiti on one of the bridges around here, and it was not uncommon for people with mysteriously Irish accents and mismatches between their names and their passports to be working on local construction crews.

    So there was this odd combination of romanticizing the Troubles and trivializing it, if that makes any sense. So I could certainly see why the name would be completely awful to anyone who actually lived through the Troubles rather than getting everything second-hand from rather biased sources. I was just thinking that someone had a black sense of humor.

  25. kieran says

    I spell my name the full west brit way Kieran, seeing it with an “o”, brings back memories of a teacher who felt I didn’t know how to spell my own name and forced me to write it out 100 times the “right” way.
    There’s funny and there’s silly, I still remember going through check points and having mirrors put underneath to see if there was anything under the car.
    Everyone has a few things that just tick them off, me, things like Patty’s day, Irish car bombs and talking on stairs or in doorways blocking the way.

  26. sharkspeare says

    I used to read BoingBoing at least once a day. They were one of the few geek sites out there that was inclusive of women and didn’t constantly post sexy cosplay* women / otherwise objectifying content. (I mean objectifying in the sense that the only time women appeared on these blogs was in the context of their physical beauty.) Then they posted a porn Tumblr with a half-baked pun for a title, which the editors felt was worthy of sharing. For the record, I use porn. I have no problem with porn! But I don’t need to be haunted by it in online spaces where I want to engage as an equal and a peer. So, no more BoingBoing.

    It doesn’t surprise me that in their pursuit of interviewing drunk scientists, they unscientifically neglected to remember how much alcohol the human body can safely metabolize in an hour.

    *Of course, more power to those cosplayers! But there are plenty of non-sexy female cosplayers, too. And non-sexy women’s issues, etc.