Laud Humphreys was studying to be an Episcopal priest in the mid-1950s when he learned, shortly after his father's death, that his father, Oklahoma State Representative Ira D. Humphreys, took trips to New Orleans to have sex with other men. After being dismissed as an Episcopal priest in the 1960s, Laud Humphreys then enrolled as a sociology grad student where he completed a dissertation about men who had sex with other men in public bathrooms in St. Louis, which Humphreys researched by agreeing to serve as a "watch queen", looking out for the police. After writing down the license plate numbers of the men having sex, Humphreys traced the men's addresses and contacted them in disguise, claiming to be collecting data for a public health survey. The research, which was condemned as unethical for its use of covert methods, was published in 1970 as Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. [more inside]
Stanley Milgram invented the term "six degrees of separation" after discovering in an experiment how closely interconnected social networks can be. The "six degrees" concept also inspired a play, a film, and a party game. The original study has recently attracted criticism, but now sociologists at Columbia University are planning to re-do the study over the Internet, using e-mail forwarding. Volunteers can sign up here.