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How Siri scores on sex advice and other oddball findings for the holiday season

A look at some of the quirkiest studies from the BMJ Christmas Issue.

columns Updated: Dec 16, 2017 17:27 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Why do men with the flu act like they’re dying? Canadian research suggests it may have been an evolutionary defence mechanism to buy them time away from hunting and encounters with predators!
Why do men with the flu act like they’re dying? Canadian research suggests it may have been an evolutionary defence mechanism to buy them time away from hunting and encounters with predators!

Having, in the past, famously solved ‘The case of the disappearing teaspoons’ by calculating that the half-life of teaspoons in communal tearooms is 81 days irrespective of value, and scientifically proving that not getting enough beauty sleep makes you “less healthy, less attractive, and more tired”, the BMJ Christmas Issue once again raises a toast to the holiday season with rigorously validated answers to quirky questions, with tongue firmly in cheek.

Do men feel sicker?

The Oxford dictionary defines Man Flu as “a cold or similar minor ailment as experienced by a man, who is regarded as exaggerating the severity of the symptoms”. So, are men wimps or immunologically inferior? Research from Canada shows that men have weaker immune responses to viral respiratory viruses, which makes them feel sicker and more likely to die from respiratory infections than women. The research, done by a woman, also observes that getting served on hand and foot in bed could also be an evolutionarily behaviour that protected against predators!

Does rain cause pain?

Does humidity increase backache and joint pain? Rain or shine has nothing to do with pain, found researchers from Harvard Medical School, after wading through medical records of more than 1.1 million Medicare beneficiaries in the US from 2008 to 2012. They matched insurance codes for joint or back pain with weather records and found that 6.35% people reported pain on rainy days, compared to 6.39% on dry days.

Pride and falls

The Bible says “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall,” but science begs to differ. Researchers asked people 50 and older how proud they’d felt in the previous 30 days, and then asked them two years later whether or not they had fallen over the past two years and found that pride actually protected against falls. The odds of a fall were significantly less for the very proud than those who had low pride, the study found, after adjusting for age, sex, household wealth, history of falls, mobility problems, eyesight, long-term illness, arthritis, osteoporosis, medication use, brain function, pain and depression.

More wine for all

Wine glass capacity in England has increased sevenfold in 300 years, going from 66 ml in the 1700s to 449 ml in 2017, researchers from the University of Cambridge have found. While the increase in size over time reflects changes in several factors including price, technology, societal wealth, and wine appreciation, it also indicates a rise in the amount of wine being poured and drunk.

The increase reflects “the unit bias heuristic,” in which people consume in units (a biscuit, a cup of tea, a glass of wine) if the portion is above a minimum amount. Since people perceive the same portion as less when presented in a relatively empty large glass than when presented in a fuller but smaller glass, downsizing glass size could help lower alcohol consumption.

In bed with Siri and Google Assistant

Can you rely on digital assistants for quality sexual health advice is the question researchers from New Zealand answered by jumping into bed (albeit independently) and pulling out their smartphones to ask Siri and Google Assistant for advice, including photos. They then compared their answers with a laptop-based net search.

Clearly not amused, Siri unhelpfully included images representing sex with aliens, men wrestling and people kissing, and often dismissed questions with, “I don’t have an opinion on that”. She replied to a request for information about “good sex” with, “I don’t know what you mean by good sex”.

Google Assistant was better than Siri in providing correct answers and useful references, including a magazine article on sex tips, but a simple online search outdid both digital assistants, who, researchers said, “trivialised some important general health inquiries or failed to provide appropriate information”.

Full moon and road accidents

Finally, do more people die in motorbike accidents on full moon nights? US researchers studied 13,029 fatal motorcycle crashes between 4 pm and 8 am during 1,482 full-moon nights. The study found 4,494 fatal crashes occurred on the 494 nights with a full moon (9.10 / night) and 8,535 on the 988 control nights without a full moon (8.64 / night), with the most accidents occurring on nights when there was a supermoon. The study, which replicated analyses from the UK, Canada, and Australia, led researchers to warn motorbike riders not to step out without helmets or drive over the speed limit on full-moon nights.