What did you say you are researching?

May 1, 2008

***EDIT: After posting about silly research this morning, Mr. Dan Meyer, one of the authors of the “Sword Swallowing” study was kind enough to comment on the post (see “comments”). After reading over his response, I have to agree that any research that helps save lives is well worthwhile, and for that I sincerely commend him (although I must admit, any study titled “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects” is good for a laugh). No offense intended, Mr. Meyer, and keep up the good work! … BTW, isn’t a sure-fire way to prevent sword swallowing related injuries simply to not swallow swords?

While browsing the news headlines today I came across a pretty funny one…

The headline read: “Alcohol linked to aggression”.

Really? What a surprise…

After reading the article (found here: http://health.msn.com/health-topics/addiction/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100202148&GT1=31033) I discovered that someone ( a group of people, actually) took a sample of 12 people, got them hammered, and scanned their brains to find the effects of alcohol. The research was time consuming and relatively expensive. What was the result, you ask?

The result showed exactly what anyone who has ever been drunk could tell you from experience… alcohol makes you think about sex and violence.

Why do I care, you ask?

As a grad student, I am always interested by the research that ends up getting published… It seems that some “academicians” like to research things just for the sake of researching things.

As a matter of fact, there is now an award dedicated to stupid research. Known as the Ig Nobel Prize, the award is given to academicians engaged in the most idiotic research in their area for the year. I recommend you visit http://www.improbable.com and take a look at some of the winners.

Last year, the winners included such time wasting research efforts as “Sword Swallowing and its Side Effects” in the area of Medicine, “Wrinkling of an Elastic Sheet Under Tension” in Physics (this was a study on why sheets wrinkle), and my personal favorite, “Effects of Backward Speech and Speaker Variability in Language Discrimination by Rats” in the area of Linguistics, which showed that rats cannot tell the difference between someone speaking Japanese backwards and Dutch backwards.

So the next time you start to think that a friend in grad school or the PhD down the street might be really intelligent, ask them what they are researching… the results may surprise you.