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Continuing our theme of medical issues—I am surprised that the use of leeches in the practice of medicine in Huntsville Texas has declined so precipitously with the advent of acupuncture and the discovery of new age crystals and the reduced practice of our beloved local physician, Dr. Hal Conwell. The recent scientific research in Europe may lead to a rethinking of this phenomenon. The research is reported in an article in The British Journal of Medicine entitled “Effect of Ale, Garlic, and Soured Cream on the Appetite of Leeches.”

The research, done by Anders Baerheim and Hogne Sandvik, went like this:

“Six leeches were dipped briefly in one of two different types of beer (Guinness stout or Hansa bock) or in water (control) before being placed on the forearm of one of us (HS). We measured the time from when the leech touched the skin until HS felt it bite. Each leech was exposed three times to each liquid in random order.

Although the authors did not report a marked preference, on the part of the leeches, for one liquid over another, the leeches themselves made a clear distinction.

First leech (superciliously): “I found the “Stout” a bit thin (you’ll forgive the pun) compared to the Hansa bock. It seemed to lack complexity and gave no hint of its cooperage. It was rather like the Calista Flockhart of beers.”
Second leech: “It was somewhat shallow and uninteresting on the first dip but it seemed to improve with subsequent dippings.”
Third leech: “Hic.”
Fourth leech: “For my part, they could have left off the water completely. I mean, please! Remember what W.C. Fields said about water—like what fish do in it?”
Fifth leech: “All that dunking. It was like they were administering the Christian rite of baptism.”
Sixth leech: “ Don’t remind them of initiation rites. Remember, I’m Jewish.”

Six other leeches were then placed on the same author’s forearms without being dipped in beer or water. The left forearm was either not prepared or was smeared with soured cream. The right forearm was smeared with garlic.

Other leech # 1: “What is this crap? Soured cream? Where’s the beer?
Other leech # 2: This is discriminatory. You can’t treat medical leeches this way. They get 6 dips of beer and all we get is soured cream. That sucks—so to speak.”
Other leeches # 4 and 5, who got the garlic arm: “Aaauurrggh.”

We analysed the median time from application to biting.

Some of the leeches that got no beer: “ I’ll bite that SOB.”

After exposure to beer some of the leeches changed behavior, swaying their forebodies, losing grip, or falling on their backs.

An observation by Don Ramon—This is not unlike the behavior of a number of university students who frequent such establishments, such as the 17th Street Bar and Grill or the Happy Wolf, and are exposed to beer. In addition to swaying their forebodies, losing their grip, and falling over on their backs, these students often suggest to members of the opposite gender the value of engaging in mating behavior as an alternative to biting a medical researcher on the arm.

"Two leeches placed on the forearm smeared with garlic started to wiggle and crawl without assuming the sucking position. They were placed in water, but their condition deteriorated.” (Actually, they died, which was taken as a sign of a deteriorated condition.)

These garlic leeches were heard to say; “Aaauurrggh.” And then “Blub, blub, blub” just before they died.

For ethical reasons the garlic arm was abandoned at this point. (We can only hope this arm was not used for surgery or some other therapeutic activity that would be diminished because of the arm’s abandonment.)

The final comment contained these words:

The exposure to beer tended to disrupt the leeches’ normal behavior and made them erratic.

Although their behavior was somewhat erratic, these leeches did express a certain amount of contentment and a willingness to participate in future experiments involving beer.

We want to thank Ole Helland, Hansa Brewery, Bergen for supplying sufficient amounts of their precious liquid to satisfy the needs of all the participants of the study.

Since I am a man of science myself (I taught biology at a community college in Parkersburg West Virginia to earn money to put myself through graduate school in communication at Ohio University) my critique and commentary of this study will be from a scientific point of view.

Sample selection. How were these particular leeches selected? Randomly? Matched samples based on their propensity to enjoy beer? One potato, two potato? The authors give us no information on this important matter.

Description of experimental conditions. What was the condition of the arm on which the leeches were placed? Hairy? Tattooed? A hairy arm could adversely influence the leeches’ tendency to bite. Tattoos are mostly just disgusting.

Beverage selection. Why just Guiness stout and Hansa bock? Why weren’t American beers and perhaps even microbreweries represented? A biased sampling of brews if ever I saw one.

There was no test for “goodness of fit” and no test/retest measure of reliability.

Finally, why did the researchers drink most of the beer intended for the poor leeches?

Although there were problems with the experimental design and the execution of the study, my personal commentary as a man of science is – Cool.