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'I Was a Human Crash-Test Dummy' 71

Posted by Roblimo
from the bizarre-research-tales dept.
kris writes " has a gross story titled I was a human crash test dummy about a professor who gave his body for human impact-survival research -- and lived to tell the tale. 'We needed some information on what the human body could stand." This is what retired Wayne State University biomechanics professor Lawrence M. Patrick will tell you if you ask him why he agreed to be slammed in the chest by a 22-pound metal pendulum, to hurl one knee repeatedly against a metal bar outfitted with a load cell and to undertake some 400 rides on a rapid-deceleration sled that mimics the effects of a car crashing head-on into a wall. From 1960 to 1975, Lawrence Patrick was a human crash-test dummy.'"
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'I Was a Human Crash-Test Dummy'

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  • by Uruk (4907) on Friday November 19, 1999 @05:07AM (#1519571)
    The funny part about this is that he probably won't have nearly as much long term negative health impact as the average NFL player. I've read in several places that NFL players shorten their lives by many years by punishing their bodies in the way that they do.

    Who knows? Some people are junkies for pain, and some people subscribe to the 80's skater creed; "Chicks dig scars, pain is temporary, glory is forever". :)

  • ...that this story was about Windows 2000 users!

    (sorry, couldn't resist...)
  • There is no doubt that some valuable information was gathered by this, but is it really that much more valuable than the data generated by a normal crash dummy?

    Although come to think of it, this professor's actions show that he is pretty much a dummy, after all.

    Mike Eckardt []
  • by rde (17364)
    He got to spend fifteen years playing on a rapid-decelerator smashing into a wall, and those Salon people make it sound like a bad thing.
    I'd pay money.
  • If so, I'll have to tell my girlfriend about her alma mater. I'm sure she'll be thrilled.


  • This sounds absolutly crazy? I hope these people that did this study are rich people. Because if they did it just in the name of science, then I would have to say even smart people are really dumb.
  • by schporto (20516) on Friday November 19, 1999 @05:22AM (#1519579) Homepage
    Look at the dates folks. 1960-1975. They were probaby deveoping data for crash dummies at the time. Now they use dead bodies, but stil need t d the same kind of thing. But they needed the live body for initial ideas of what a body could withstand. And wasn't there a guy who did the same thing for the AirForce. But with ejector seats.
  • I know a guy who had this scarred into his forearm. It's entirely untrue, women thought it was disgusting and his knees are totally shot.

    Then again so are mine, but I'm too old to ollie anymore, and the only grinding I do is with women who dig the scar on my chin.

  • Oh I guess hers was College. Hmm. OK, so where is WS University?


  • I like the quote "It takes an interesting combination of courage and uh, other things, to make you do that."

    Didn't he mean lack of other things?

  • Regarding the dead animals, I have to remind you that, at least anatomically, we are at the top of the evolutionary pyramid. There are no good substitutes. Among two-legged types even the chimpanzee's head is hung like a japanese lantern on his neck - whereas the human ape stood up and the skull is more centerally located. GM has used pigs and rabbits for such things, but the chest cavity is quite different in a pig, for example.
  • Am I the only one who just decided that my body is better off in a grave than as a donation to science? *grin*
  • You can't just look at a cadaver after a test and say "Hmmmm. Well, if he had been alive, he would have died." We just can't tell how much a live human can stand without using a live human. Of course if the cadaver's head is crushed or a bone is broken you know the equivalent results on a living, breathing human, but in some cases, I believe you could not be sure what effect it would have had on the subject.
  • ...much of the early impact survival work was carried out on animals. "We saw chimpanzees riding rocket sleds, a bear on an impact swing...

    Can you imagine the reports collected from this? Maybe something along the lines of...

    "After applying the collision test with various different animals, the following speeds much be achieved to severely maim or kill the following animals:

    Chimpanzee: 34 mph
    Pig: 41 mph
    Dog: 38 mph
    Horse: Could not fit in viechle
    --Note: Remember to warn passengers horse can't fit in viechle
    Cat: 47 mph
    Hampster: Could not keep strapped in seat belt
    --Note: Optional cage in viechle for hampster?
    Guinea Pig: Inconclusive
    --Seat belt strangled Bob's pet Guinea Pig, Chippy...may he rest in peace in the name of science
    --Note: Jack lost the bet and paid Bob $10 since the innards of a Guinea Pig were pink, not grey.

    Pigs were popular subjects because of their similarities to humans "in terms of their organ set-up," as one industry insider put it, and because they can be coaxed into a useful approximation of a human sitting in a car.

    "Here pig, pig, pig, Here piggy, piggy, piggy! There's a nice piece of corn right here for you inside this car! That's's good corn...yes, corn taste's good...(SPROING!) (SPLAT!)"

    Less adorable was the experiment's objective: "To produce injuries sufficiently severe to cause death and possibly decapitation of the test animals."

    Warning on side of car: "This viechle was designed for humans. We are not responsible for the injury, death, or brutal slaughter of any animals that might occur during an accident, including, but not excluded to, horses, sheep, pigs, cows, monkeys, chimpanzees, cats, dogs, guinea pigs (RIP, Chippy), rats, mice, and rabbits."

  • On a Related Note, Am I just imagining things, or did Dr. Stapp [] recently pass away?

    Depending on who is telling the story, He is either an inspiration or the inspiration for Murphy's Law []
  • Simple: dead bodies react differently. That is one of the side-effects of being dead, after all. If nothing else, the corpse would be prone to more damage than a living human, as it lacks any healing ability, and quite a bit of flexibility. I'm not sure, but I'd wager than cadavers aren't very accurate models of e.g., cartalige or muscle damage, bruising, etc (the former being exagerated, the latter lore or less absent).

    Plus, it would be a real pain in the ass to try to figure out just what happened to the cadaver. I don't relish spending six months running MRI's on a corpse to see what trauma it suffered when I can just have a volunteer tell me how he feels after the crash.
  • by semiriot (99245) on Friday November 19, 1999 @05:45AM (#1519590)
    This reminds me of a story that took place when the govt, (and I say govt cause I can't remember which agency did this, nasa, airforce, I don't know), was testing the first ejector seats. They didn't want to use a test pilot but they had to get the reactions of a living thing. They needed something that was approximate in size to a human. So they used a brown bear. Yep, they stuck a bear in the seat and chucked him out of the plane. He was a pretty pissed off bear when he hit the ground.
  • As a student of Wayne State University, I can assure you it's not in Nebraska. It's in Detroit, Michigan and you can learn more at [].

  • The article said that crash test dummies only measure the impact, but don't tell you how much damage a human can take. That's why these studies were needed.
  • by jht (5006) on Friday November 19, 1999 @05:51AM (#1519593) Homepage Journal
    I can see it now:

    Deceleration Coordinator

    Duties included managing stress and failure studies on body parts, studying healing process, and testing new procedures for bandage and splint application. Travelled frequently, though trips were short in duration. Operated machinery in an unsafe manner.

    - -Josh Turiel
  • Nope. He's still alive.

    Darwin awards require removing yourself, and all descendants (If applicable) from the gene pool.

  • The problem is that a crash test dummy can tell you how much force is being received, but how do you know if it's enough force to kill a human being? You have to calibrate the crash test dummy somehow to know whether a force is dangerous or not, and also to know if the way you're measuring the force with the crash test dummy is actually accurate.

    It's sort of like simulating nuclear explosions on supercomputers. Sure, today you can do it with reasonable accuracy -- but before all that nuclear testing was done, how could you have known that it was accurate?


  • Well, I'm rather using it...
  • Didn't you read the article? It said that they couldn't use crash test dummies because they didn't know how much punishment a human body can take before it breaks or what not.
  • In response to your mention of football, I once heard on TV (so it must be true) :) that the average lifespan of an ex-NFL pro football player was only 57. Can that be true?

  • Well, that's pretty much what I heard, but I was reluctant to name a figure when I posted that because I wasn't sure. It's something like that though.

    The main point is that they don't live very bloody long. What a crap job. Unless you have a psychopathic love of football, why give up your life for millions of dollars when you can do a different sport, earn just as much money, and live a normal life.

  • Don't talk about Human Crash Test Dummy Club.
  • Yes there was a guy that did very similar tests way before this and it was ejector seats. There is a documentary on him, and he went through hell. It was on TV about 4 months ago on Dsicovery or some such channel.
  • of a similar experiment I heard about a SCUBA diving physician.

    As most people know, when you SCUBA dive, it is very dangerous to make a rapid ascent to the surface. You can get the Bends, or blow a hole in your lung or other nasty things can happen to you.

    What this doctor was trying to figure out, was if you are performing an underwater rescue of a diver, and that diver is unconscious, do you take him up slowly (and risk not having enough time to revive him), or do you drop his weight belt and "Air Mail" him to the surface (where hopefully someone else can start to revive the person immediately).

    In order to test his theory, he used himself as the victim. He dove down to 40 ft, and had someone knock him unconscious (probably with a hypodermic needle or something), and they fired him up to the surface... They repeated this several times. As far as I know, he suffered no damage, and his tests were a success :)

    Now there is some dedication to your sport (and profession)...

    ps are there any SCUBA divers on SlashDot???

    - Cees
  • I can't remember what station did this. I think it was either PBS/NOVA or the Discovery Channel. It was primarily about the evolution of safety features in automobiles and how they were first invented. It showed several of these type tests being carried out both on the good doctor and on cadavers. Probably the most disturbing was the head impact tests where they put a body on a platform and dropped it about 3 feet so that the head would hit first. It was kind of neat to watch the first time but they kept going back to that footage again and again. It was enough to make you want to wear a helmet around the house all day long and never drive your car again.
  • Speaking of crash tests and the Airforce, near where I live there was once an Airforce facility that, among other things, did tests on plane windshields. They needed to find out whether the windshields could withstand hitting a bird in mid-air. So they built a gun. A rather large gun. It shot CHICKENS. The found that a dead chicken flies a lot different from a live one, and that in order to get accurate results, they had to shoot live chickens. Yes, the Airforce built and used a gun that shot live chickens at hundreds of miles per hour at airplane windshields.

    I would have hated to have been the one that had to clean up *that* lab.
  • But how many 320 pound linemen could really earn that much money in another sport? (I don't know how much Sumo pays, but 320 pounds is probably a little light for that.)
  • Funny thing was when they first ran those tests the windshields were being blasted away. Then they realized they were using frozen chickens. Whoops.
  • Yes, John Paul Stapp died last Saturday morning (11/13/99) in Alamogordo, NM.

    He was in San Diego two weeks ago for the eponymous Stapp Car Crash Conference.
    Favorite quote: "it's the third derivative that gets you!"

    -- Adam "scientists in the 50's had *all* the fun"
  • Pollux wrote:

    .much of the early impact survival work was carried out on animals. "We saw chimpanzees riding rocket sleds, a bear on an impact swing...

    Can you imagine the reports collected from this? Maybe something along the lines of...

    "After applying the collision test with various different animals, the following speeds much be achieved to severely maim or kill the following animals:

    Chimpanzee: 34 mph
    Pig: 41 mph
    Dog: 38 mph
    Horse: Could not fit in viechle

    For an illuminating view of animal testing (and it's worth / applicabilty to humans), I would recommend a book by (please don't laugh until you've skimmed it) G. Gordon Liddy, called The Monkey Handlers.

    It's a fun read if you like macho action-thrillers (2-bit summary: ex-SEAL prevents terrorists from using nerve gas on NYC, after discovering the nerve gas' development at a plant in New York which was doing some *interesting* animal tests) and can accept fiction for what it is, but I won't get into the literary merits of it. Whole other story.

    The part that's relevant to this professor is that there is simply no really good way to extrapolate results from (much) animal testing to human beans. There are anatomical, chemical and pyschological differences between / among species both obvious and subtle.

    I am unwilling to engage in a flame-war on this topic, so please don't flame me on this. I'm *not* necessarily against animal testing, only mentioning in passing that a) there are shortcomings to it which can render it less than useful and b) that people make a lot of money from doing studies with results like the (humorous, but frightening) hypothetical results above.

    And this is off-tpoic enough for several weeks ...

  • Yup, you can change anything you want, just tell me, and everyone else after you shove it back in. Together, we can build the perfect human!

    Just please, for the love of God, scoop out the fat...

  • On a slightly offtopic but related note, this kind of stuff reminds me of the pre-NASA balloon projects that took place. We had people volunteering to be sent up by balloons into the upper edges of the atmosphere in order to see what a person could withstand. The theory at the time (late 1950s?) was that a person could not survive a fall from near-space altitudes. Well, these lunatics proved that wrong as they survived parachuting from the edge of space. I wish I could remember their names, but I recall 2 or three individuals doing this. For some folks it seems there is no limit in their search for an answer.
  • Maybe what you are talking about was the series The Learning Channel had on car safety standards? I saw this about a year ago: simply facinating. There were examples shown of cars that would literally cut the heads off of children who were sitting in the front seat during an accident. The most disturbing part was learning how the major American car mfgs resisted safety measures. When airbags were first invented (early 1970s I believe) they flat out refused to incorporate them. It took the hard work and persistance of a few dedicated groups to get things like seatbelts and airbags as standard features.
  • According to the FOX obits [], he died Saturday. We've probably seen film of him on a rocket sled, but the above link at Edwards AFB points out that going fast was a side effect of these sudden-stop tests. FOX says that Dr. Stapp popularized Murphy's Law.
  • They refer to these issues in the article []. The 2nd to last paragraph of the article reads:

    "By now, of course, the tolerance limits of the human body have long ago been worked out, and dummies and computers stand in for corpses and lab animals."

    Speaking of Wayne State cadaver's (WSU is my alma mater) I remember a high school basketall game where my coach was ripping on some of my teammates during halftime. I believe his exact quote (minus the 4-letter words) was: "How many rebounds have you gotten? Zero? Son, I could of put a Wayne State cadaver out on the floor and he would of got as many rebounds as you did." I guess to update the insult he could say "Son, I could put a computer simulating a live person out on the floor and it would of got as many rebounds as you did".

    "Jo an of Arc was not stuck at the crossroads, either by rejecting all paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche...She beat them both at their antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other...It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of unity and utility that has been lost. And with that thought came a larger one, and the colossal figure of her Master had also crossed the theatre of my thoughts." G.K.Chesterton in "Orthodoxy"

  • That documentary was shown here in Sweden too (in "Vetenskapens Värld", a while ago). It was a lot of stuff on how the cars got safer over time - for a long time the attitude was along the lines of "if the driver is stupid enough to crash, of course he must be hurt". All the blame was put on the driver, even if it wasn't his fault at all.

    Nowadays, however, cars are designed in a much more sensible way, that is, "if you crash, the car will protect you as much as possible". It might not have been your fault that you crashed, after all...

  • I remember reading once that, in the early days of the space race, the USAF had performed tests to determine the limits of the human evaporative cooling system (also known as "sweating.") The experiment involved placing naked pilots in a heating chamber with completely dehumidified air. I think the subjects wore a special mask so that they breathed room temperature air during the test. If I recall correctly, they determined that they could turn the temperature up to a whopping 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 seconds or so without harming the subjects, although they would lose a couple of pounds of water weight in that short time. Does anyone else remember this, or was I duped by an urban legend? I always wondered what happened to the pilot that got tested at 410F...
  • Hmmmm.... how do you figure? I don't really care what's done with my body after I'm finished with it. I'll be dead. I hope someone else gets some use out of the leftovers.

  • ps are there any SCUBA divers on SlashDot???

    Yup. I think it's a good hobby for a hacker: you tend to take a different approach to testing when your life is literally on the line...

    What this doctor was trying to figure out, was if you are performing an underwater rescue of a diver, and that diver is unconscious, do you take him up slowly (and risk not having enough time to revive him), or do you drop his weight belt and "Air Mail" him to the surface (where hopefully someone else can start to revive the person immediately).

    Neither. You latch yourself tightly onto the victim, fill his BCD, lift his head up and tilt it backwards so his mouth is facing towards the surface, and then propel him to the surface at normal maximum speed (10 m/min), taking care to vent the BCD as you go up. The weight belt is only dropped once you reach the surface (or if the victim doesn't have a functional BCD).

    Basically, you can revive an unconscious person, but if they (or you) get an air embolism or rupture their lungs on the way up they are dead. DCS (the bends) and even plain old drowning act slowly compared to these two instant killers.

    In order to test his theory, he used himself as the victim. He dove down to 40 ft, and had someone knock him unconscious (probably with a hypodermic needle or something), and they fired him up to the surface... They repeated this several times. As far as I know, he suffered no damage, and his tests were a success :)

    And people have survived going over the Niagara Falls in a barrel, but that doesn't make it a smart thing to do...


  • by jdube (101986)
    That is extremely scary. I had debated donating my body to science after I died but no way in hall now, man... and the fact that people will beat the crap out of themselves... well, I was about to say it is stupid, but it isn't. Its actually very noble of them to take this sacrifice for the better of others. I am NOT about to do this myself, but I commend those who have.

    If you think you know what the hell is really going on you're probably full of shit.
  • A similar story about John Paul Stapp [] who died yesterday. He held the unofficial land speed record for a while. (How about decelerating so quickly your eyeballs almost pop out!)

    The article also tells you the origin of Murphy's law. Pretty funny.
  • the Torso Flexion Test ("a clamp-his-legs-down, bend him-over kinda thing").

    I think that happened to me at a wild party once.

  • I can understand the need to have real human test dummies, in a way. I once heard that the reason so many drunk drivers walk away from accidents unharmed is due to the use of crash test dummies. The dummies are not able to "tense up" at the moment of impact like a normal human would in a crash situation. Thus, they safety features built in to cars are most effective on people who remain relaxed throughout the entire crash. Since alcohol is a depressant, it actually helps you relax your muscles in a situation like this, and you're more likely to survive! NOTE: This is not an encouragement to drink & drive to increase your saftey. :) But it does lead to the conclusion that if we're going to make cars that are safe for real people, we need to test the safety features on real people to get accurate information.
  • Well, first of all, the joke goes that they gave the gun to some other organization to use it. Secondly, that is almost certainly a false anecdote, or a severe mangling of what actually happened.

    Don't believe everything you read, especially when it arrives on a humor mailinglist.
  • I don't know, but on yesterday's Simpsons rerun here in Atlanta (the one where Homer & gang go to the '99 Super Bowl), the NFL's oldest living player was briefly shown -- a decrepit old man who claimed to be 53.

  • Coincidence?

    No, it was a joke, that's why the Simpsons is so funny.

    Speaking as a football player of 10 years (6th-16th grade) the sport places a tremendous amount of stress on the human body. It takes a good two weeks (know what 2-a-days are?) of constant pounding to get into "shape" where your body adjusts to the constant pain it is in.

    That being said, I loved playing Football, a controlled brawl with armor and weapons (the armor). The feeling of a dead-on peelback block (they are running after the ball carrier and you come from the other direction, outside their focused field of vision, and "de-cleat" them i.e thier cleats are the LAST thing to land back on the ground) must be felt to be appreciated.

    Remember this discussion and its implications the next time you hear people discussing professional athlete salaries (most professional sports have high long term physical costs). They are making a gamble that takes years of dedication and a grasp at the "Good Life", those that make it and excel are much deserving of (most) of the praise they recieve (there are MANY exceptions to this). The recently departed Walter Payton is a grand example, for all reasons (he was 45)

    light burn twice bright, burn half long.
  • water boils at 212 F at 400 F for 30 seconds the sweat would boil off him causing steam burns all over his body.

    I am a Volunteer FireFighter. There is NO way any human can withstand that temp for 30 seconds with no damage.

    Heat stroke.. severe burns. no eyes... remember eyes are filled with fluid that boils...

    How would you like your eyes boiled out of their sockets?

  • Basically, you can revive an unconscious person, but if they (or you) get an air embolism or rupture their lungs on the way up they are dead. DCS (the bends) and even plain old drowning act slowly compared to these two instant killers.

    I didn't want to get into too much detail, but I guess the distinction here is between unconscious and non-breathing. If the diver is still breathing, then I agree controlling the ascent is by far the best choice. However, if you have a non-breathing diver there is very little risk of rupturing their lungs on a rapid ascent (unless there is a physical obstruction of their airway), and this is what this doctor was advocating. The idea is to get the person to the surface as fast as you can, so that someone at the surface can begin rescue breathing as soon as possible. The longer you wait before you begin AR and CPR, the less chance you will have of reviving them, and even if you do revive them, the chance of brain damage increases very quickly.

    I really should have used the term non-breathing in my post intstead of unconscious.

    Anyway, it is good to see that there is at least one other diver around here. And I'm glad to see that you have an interest that goes beyond basic sport diving...

    - Cees
  • Yeah, his name was (John?) Stapp. There's actually an annual conference named after him, where people go to present papers on high-impact/high-stress safety testing. I believe this is the conference where they first announced that air bags were dangerous to people under a certain height, and gave (detailed!) accounts of fatal accidents directly attributable to air bag usage. My wife usually goes (she's a mechanical engineer) and always comes back with...interesting...stories.
  • And of course this is all formally documented and somewhere there is a mil-spec describing what qualities a chicken must have for valid windshield testing. Mil-spec can be VERY frightening
  • In Ontario our donor card has two check boxes. 1 to donate organs and the other for donating your entire body. I will keep the organ box checked but this article reassures me that I was right in not checking the other box.

Real programmers don't write in BASIC. Actually, no programmers write in BASIC after reaching puberty.