Interns Are Introduced to The Scientific Method

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Dr. Cutler briefs her summer interns on The Scientific Method. These science majors will be seniors in the fall at Ursinus College and/or area universities in Pennsylvania.

“I want to welcome you to Athena Institute and thank you for agreeing to work with us this summer. You share our Mission of working to improve the quality of healthcare for women and I appreciate that very much.

I want to take some time this morning to explain how I work, who I am, and what Athena stands for. Before Athena embarks upon a new possibility for testing----for example, whether pheromones increase sexual attractiveness---I spend years studying the scientific literature. Then begins the iterative process of designing an experimental study. It can take me a year or more to complete the components of the design…checking out every document we will use, every interface with the “naïve” volunteer. I must think about the privacy and the dignity of the individuals who will consider enrolling and how to protect their dignity and the integrity of their data as we probe very private and intimate details about their lives.

I know that when a research volunteer can see for herself that the data she has sent cannot be decoded to reveal her identity, she has less reason to be disingenuous. I know that when the researcher conducting the study is not dependent on the results that come out of the study, the researcher has less reason to be even inadvertently biased. Funding for research tends to be awarded to those who get positive results. And a careful study of the literature reveals that researchers sometimes claim---incorrectly---that there is no other research preceding theirs, perhaps in order to obtain such funding.

So I am careful to work with scholars who know that they and we each get the data (one in person, one by fax transmission) the day that the data arrive…long before the code is broken, for example, to learn who got the placebo and who get the test product.

In designing the collection of data prospectively (that is, as it is happening, recorded on a calendar, rather than retrospectively by mental recall after a week or a month has passed) and making sure the data are distributed both to Athena and to the researcher as they are arriving….we preempt backfilling, altering data to conform to hopes and expectations and ambitions. We measure behaviors not perceptions. (Do you remember reading in our pamphlet that Athena’s focus is behavioral endocrinology?) Because Athena does not seek funding from drug companies or from the federal government, we are free to pursue the studies we choose. And for this reason, we recognize the need to have independent confirmation of our conclusions…so that we will not be judged as having succumbed to these temptations that we try so hard to preempt.

In the last 18 years, I have designed studies on pheromones for those who want to test a product that might help to increase the romance in their lives. We spend inordinate time and take great care to work with intelligent, trained, sensitive research scholars who recognize how complicated a great experimental design is to develop, to execute and to maintain for assuring the necessary rigor in the investigation. Much of my research work in the 70’s and 80’s that was radical and controversial at the time has subsequently been replicated by others. Stern and McClintock in 1998 replicated and extended my own coauthored 1986 work on menstrual synchrony. They used an almost identical research design and got equivalent results confirming that underarm essences could be applied in particular frequencies to obtain particular changes in the timing of the fertile reproductive cycle.

It is important for you to realize that, in a free society, work that is published—especially in peer-reviewed journals—really is indelible and available to future scholars. A goal we have at Athena is to perform the kind of rigorous research and write the sort of well-modulated papers that can withstand the scrutiny of future scholars and medical practitioners. This is very hard work. But we know it will help improve the quality of healthcare to women.”

Winnifred Cutler, Ph.D.
President and Founder
Athena Institute for Women's Wellness, Inc.