All scientific projects are not boring and now we have studies to prove it. My favourite researchers are the ones with no practical application other than making for interesting dinnertime anecdotes.
Take Dr William Bains path breaking work on the human inability to generate random number. For his thesis, he first asked volunteers to call out numbers for 60 seconds and found the digits were not truly random. To rule out that mental concentration was not sabotaging his volunteer’s attempts at randomness, he next asked them to repeat the process after more than a few pegs of alcohol.
Bains still didn’t get random numbers and concluded that when generating numbers, people use “a mechanism that is not easily distracted”. The study was published in the journal Medical Hypothesis. Now he wants to repeat the process on people really drunk and is looking for volunteers who enjoy statistics responsibly.
Peter Backus of the University of Warwick, UK was more innovative. He decided to use math to calculate his odds of finding an appropriate girlfriend on any given night out.
In a tongue-in-cheek paper called “Why I don’t have a girlfriend: an application of the Drake Equation to love,” he used Drake’s Equation to calculate his odds, which were a depressing 1: 285,000. Frank Drake is one of the founders of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, that’s been trying to find life and alien civilisations in the universe.
You can find your odds to find a date by multiplying the following numbers together... India’s population growth, fraction of people in India who are women/men, fraction of women who live in your city, fraction women in Delhi who are age-appropriate, fraction of age-appropriate women in Delhi with a university education, the fraction of university educated age-appropriate women you find physically attractive, your age.
The hiccups, said Drake, were only 1 in 20 women he liked found him attractive, only half were single (and this proportion falls with increasing age), he only got along with 1 in 10... Hence the final odds: one in 285,000. It’s time he considered blind dates or arranged marriage.
Another study in the year-end issue of the British Medical journal concluded that Santa Claus should lose weight to set a ‘good example’ for children. The study asked him to do as his reindeers did (eat carrots and run around some more).
One of my favourites is another BMJ study that says surgeons are taller and far better looking than physicians. The study, done by an all-woman team of doctors from the University of Barcelona Hospital, also reported that actors who play doctors on screen are better looking than real ones. Well, that theory works if you’re thinking George Clooney in ER, but definitely not if it’s Munnabhai MBBS. Maybe the researchers need a dose of Bollywood.