Lasagna’s Law, Buses and Photography

In 1970, American physician and clinical pharmacologist, Louis Lasagna, described the phenomenon that is well known to those of us who work in the field of clinical research: “The incidence of patient availability sharply decreases when a clinical trial begins and returns to its original level as soon as the trial is completed.”  In other words, when discussing with physicians to see if a clinical study with a new drug or device is feasible, it’s amazing how many suitable patients “disappear” from the face of the earth as soon a study starts, thus making the study slower, more expensive, and overall more difficult than had been “promised.”  Over the years, this became known as “Lasagna’s Law (of patient recruitment)

Similar phenomena, however, are not isolated to research.  For example, users of public transport (at least in Britain) are familiar with the oft-quoted idiom:  “you wait for a bus for a longer than you should have to and then three come along at once.” *

So what is going on here?

My conjecture is that much like the phenomenon of pareidolia, this is linked as much to human  perception as to anything based in reality: the physicians probably think they see more suitable patients than they do as they are concentrating on a particular set of criteria, but probably in a too generalized manner (if that makes sense).

I bring this up because in order to complete my week 12 photography challenge I finally settled upon the idea of photographing a yellow school bus, as I blogged yesterday. How many of these do we see every day? How often do I wait for the flashing red lights and pop out stop signs? I would have estimated at least a dozen a day for the first question and at least once a day for the second. But when I want to see them, what happens? I start to question my reasoning, that’s what!

This seemingly easy, self-inflicted assignment suddenly became a challenge. A man with camera pitted against fate. The buses all seemed to me to have left the streets or only appeared briefly when my camera wasn’t handy, sneaking behind other vehicles, billboards, road signs and nature. I decided that I don’t want to appear as some weird stalker, so I wasn’t prepared to hang around the school yard with a camera, so that left me with no option but to treat this like a pseudo-wildlife shoot.

I managed to snatch some shots from the parking lot at the local Wawa store, but for some reason I felt a bit like a private investigator digging up dirt – not a nice feeling. And I got glared at by one car driver as she drove into the lot.


In the end, I changed the scope of my assignment. When driving to work that final morning (I like to keep to the weekly timing) I decided to visit the equivalent of the wildlife “watering hole” in the savanna, namely, the local bus lot, to capture these elusive beasts.  So,  at lunchtime I snatched 20 minutes to drive out to one which is nearby and to sheepishly ask the guy in charge if I could photograph some buses.  As it happens, there was no-one in what appeared to be the gate house so I just stood outside and clicked away.

Job done, at last!

So, what, if anything, is the lesson here? Well, although it ended well enough, albeit under pressure, I should probably think more about setting a realistic goal in the future. And to that end, I think I will finish with the old British Army adage of the 7Ps, which always holds true, in my experience, and should be well heeded by us all.

l leave you to look up, dear reader 😉

~ Richard

* As an aside, there does appear to be a totally different rationale for this one, though – it’s called “platooning” apparently.

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