The People’s Trial: your chance to be a scientist in a fun online trial

A blog about the The People’s Trial, a bold new project from The Health Research Board  Trials Methodology Research Network (HRB-TMRN) at the National University of Ireland, Galway, which invites members of the public to create and run a fun online clinical trial.

Page updated 12 January 2022.

This trial has finished. You can read about it in this open access publication: Does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep in comparison to not reading a book in bed? The People’s Trial – an online, pragmatic, randomised trial and below is a infographic summarising the results. (You can also view, and enlarge, the summary results in a pdf).

The question chosen by the public for the people's trial was: does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep in comparison to not reading a book in bed? 991 people agreed to take part. 496 (50%) in the intervention group (reading a book in bed) and 495 (50%) in the control group (not reading a book in bed). Who got what was decided by chance (called randomisation) which meant that everyone had an equal chance of being in the intervention group or in the control group. People in the 2 groups were, on average, similar in their age and gender and their understanding of randomised trials. Overall, we found reading a book before bed improved sleep. 42% of people who read a book felt their sleep improved compared to 28% of those not reading a book. But not everyone completed the trial and not everyone's sleep improved. We can now make a reliable claim that, in people similar to those who took part in the trial, reading before sleeping has a positive effect on sleep quality compared with not reading a book.

For information, below is the original blog which was written at the time the trial was launched.

The People’s Trial

The People’s Trial is a fun online trial, run for and by the public – we hope you might want to join in!

The People’s Trial is an online project that invites members of the public to create and run a type of clinical trial – a randomised trial – alongside researchers, but also to take charge of it. A trial for the public and, crucially, by the public. This is YOUR trial.

The People’s Trial is a perfect excuse to go on the internet in the name of science. No smelly laboratories involved. Just an opportunity to be part of something new that should be fun, interesting and useful.

In place of the usual treatments in clinical trials, you might be investigating bananas, or sunhats, or singing in the shower. After all, a treatment (or ‘intervention’) is anything that is done to improve health, so if you, say, cuddle the dog to help you get to sleep or to lift your mood, that’s a treatment!

If you have a burning question you want answered, this could be your chance. But first things first.

What is a randomised trial?

Clinical trials are used to test new treatments to find out whether they are safe and how they compare with other treatments, in terms of both benefits and harms. The best way to make a fair comparison is in a randomised trial, where people taking part are put into treatment groups by the computer equivalent of flipping a coin.

Why do a People’s Trial and what’s involved?

This is a great opportunity for people to learn about randomised trials, how they can answer a clinical question, and why they matter, by being involved in one in a unique way. In an age of misinformation, spin and ‘Dr Google’, it is really important that people are able to think critically about the health claims that confront us daily. Taking part in The People’s Trial will help people gain the knowledge and skills to do that.

It will also help researchers understand more about how best to involve people in future trials at all stages, from prioritizing research questions to sharing the results in ways that are useful.

Members of the public, supported by researchers, will design and run The People’s Trial, using different types of online participation and interaction that will include live video events and online decision making.

The first thing will be to come up with a question for the trial. “Does eating cheese give you nightmares compared with not eating cheese?” for example. You can find out how to submit a question here.

You can join in right now by submitting a question for The People’s Trial!

What’s new?  

‘Citizen science’ is far from a new thing, even if we coined the phrase as recently as the 1990s. Chinese citizens have been helping to track outbreaks of harvest-destroying locust migrations for around 2000 years, and anyone that’s taken part in projects like the BBC’s Gardenwatch has already experienced being a citizen scientist.

The People’s Trial is doing something new in giving members of the public control of a randomised trial, from deciding on a question to answer onwards.

Who is behind The People’s Trial?

The People’s Trial is funded by Ireland’s Health Research Board through the Health Research Board-Trials Methodology Research Network HRB-TMRN and has a global team of research experts involved, waiting to engage with members of the public joining in from all over the world.

Ready to find out more and be part of it?

 Taking part at the start doesn’t commit you to continuing, but hopefully you’ll want to!

Check out The People’s Trial website and follow on social:

Twitter @thepeoplestrial, Facebook, Instagram to keep up to date with opportunities to participate and live events. You can also email if you have any questions.

Go on, give it a go!

Declaration of interest: Sarah Chapman is a member of The People’s Trial team.


Finucane E, O’Brien A, Treweek S, Newell J, Das K, Chapman S, Wicks P, Galvin S, Healy P, Biesty L, Gillies K, Noel-Storr A, Gardner H, O’Reilly MF, Devane D. Does reading a book in bed make a difference to sleep in comparison to not reading a book in bed? The People’s Trial – an online, pragmatic, randomised trial. Trials 2021;22:873. DOI: 10.1186/s13063-021-05831-3. Available from:

The People’s Trial: your chance to be a scientist in a fun online trial by Sarah Chapman

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

1 Comments on this post

  1. Interested in seeing where this leads us

    Irene Toomey / Reply

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