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Mr. Know-It-All: Human Guinea Pigs, Cremains in Orbit, Surveillance Video

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Mr. Know-It-All: Human Guinea Pigs, Cremains in Orbit, Surveillance Video
Dear Mr. Know-It-All, I'm a college student who makes money volunteering for medical experiments. Do I have to accept whatever fee the researchers offer me, or can I negotiate for more?
In principle, you're entitled to the same economic rights as the researchers, who likely spent long hours pleading for more dough from whatever drug company is footing their bills. So don't let the doctors guilt you into thinking that it's somehow unethical to treat guinea pigging as a regular job rather than a selfless calling. If they were the ones getting poked and prodded and restricted to bland food, they'd be keen to secure a fair wage, too.
That said, your odds of receiving a raise are practically nil. The supply of willing test subjects far exceeds the demand, a situation that puts human guinea pigs at a serious negotiating disadvantage. And since budgets are usually set long before the call goes out for volunteers, the researchers may not have much wiggle room.
Bob Helms, a veteran participant in clinical trials who edited the now-defunct zine Guinea Pig Zero, says he has managed to negotiate a higher fee only once, for an experiment that was unusually agonizing. (It involved catheters and pooping in baskets.) Helms banded together with his fellow test subjects and threatened to break protocols or drop out altogether, eventually persuading the experiment's sponsor to offer an $800 bump.
If you feel strongly that a study's hassles merit extra pay, Helms recommends waiting until the experiment has commenced before making your case. Having borne witness to your distress, the researchers may turn sympathetic and cough up some cash. Just don't expect to be invited back—assertiveness is not a valued trait in your line of work.
Illustration: Christoph Niemann


I've heard that it's possible to have cremated remains launched into space. Sounds fantastic, but what happens if the rocket explodes before escaping the exosphere? Will my heirs get a full refund?
Your descendents won't receive any money back, but you will be granted a second shot at celestial interment free of charge. The company that runs these missions, Celestis, is a subsidiary of Houston-based aerospace company Space Services. Celestis arranges to stash remains-filled containers on commercial satellites or scientific probes. (The ashes of astronomer Eugene Shoemaker, for example, were placed in a NASA lunar explorer.)
But only a symbolic portion of each client's remains is blasted into space—1 to 7 grams, depending on which memorial package you buy. That thimbleful represents less than 0.1 percent of the total ashes created by cremation. "We do not launch the entire amount of cremated remains because such a service would be cost-prohibitive to the consumer," says Charles Chafer, CEO of Space Services. Indeed, getting a single gram of ashes into deep space costs a minimum of $12,500. (You get a price break if you want to make your final journey with a partner—the two-participant Gemini Capsule Option starts at $18,750.)
The upshot: If the rocket explodes short of orbit, there will be plenty of your cremains left on Earth to mount another mission. Celestis will give you top priority for the next launch, and your heirs won't be billed for the do-over. In any case, it may take a while for your remains to join those of Timothy Leary and Gene Roddenberry: Celestis has flown only seven missions since its founding in 1997, and two of those flights failed.
I was recently robbed while withdrawing money from an ATM. As the victim, do I have a right to see the bank's surveillance footage of the incident?
Whether or not to share the video—assuming it exists—is entirely up to the police. The video is now evidence, so even if you approach the bank directly, the request would likely have to be approved by the detective assigned to the case. And his top priority is catching the bad guy, not helping to heal your psychological wounds.
Still, cops are generally sympathetic to requests along these lines, so if you ask nicely—and don't come off as some Charles Bronson-style vigilante—you can probably sneak a peek. "The police usually work with a victim, unless they believe it is a false report," says Tom Lekan, a bank security expert at The Atlantis Company, a consulting firm in Cleveland. "Showing the victim the video is not unusual."
Be prepared for letdown, though. Given the typically shoddy quality of surveillance footage, even if the perp didn't wear a mask, he may look like nothing more than a grayish blob.
Need help navigating life in the 21st century? Email us at mrknowitall@wiredmag.com.



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