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Bombarded with pointless research?

The results of truly pointless research are all around us, in case you care to look. The following, for instance, is what a cursory search on the Internet revealed, when I typed ‘pointless research’.

entertainment Updated: Sep 18, 2010 17:46 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times

I’m sure you’ve noticed it as well – the sudden plethora of utterly useless information being thrown at us in the name of scientific research. Just over the last fortnight, the papers have carried reports of a study that proved that women are more attracted to men who move their torsos and heads on the dance floor (apparently, we don’t really care what you do with your arms and legs). Then came news of research that showed that fat men were better in bed because they could last longer (can this really be a good thing for the women labouring, er, under them?) because they had a female hormone, estradiol, which delayed climax.

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The results of truly pointless research are all around us, in case you care to look. The following, for instance, is what a cursory search on the Internet revealed, when I typed the magic words ‘pointless research’ into the Google search engine.

Lap dancers get higher tips from punters when they are ovulating. You can just imagine the rigours of research involved in that particular project. (And the queues of enthusiastic men willing to sacrifice themselves in the cause of scientific research)

Pointless research

You can cure hiccups by a ‘digital rectal massage’. Okay, I concede this wouldn’t seem like pointless research if you were the one suffering from hiccups but it does make one wonder how the researchers stumbled upon this particular cure. On second thoughts, let’s not go there.

Older men chasing younger women and having babies with them is good for the survival of the species and for our general longevity. That doesn’t mean, alas, that Rod Stewart and Rupert Murdoch will live longer as a consequence of fathering children well into their dotage but that in the long run, most of us will.

Women are aroused by the sight of monkeys having sex. Evidently, this was proved by a study which examined the responses of a group of men and women to pictures depicting both human and primate sex. Apparently, while the men were only aroused by depictions of heterosexual human sex, the women also responded to the monkey business. Go figure.

Fat kids are more likely to be targets of bullies than average-sized children. Yes, yes, I know, this is an undeniable fact of life in the school-yard but apparently someone found it necessary to carry out some scientific research to establish this.

And then, there’s my special favourite. More people are killed by donkeys every year than die in plane crashes. Needless to say, this isn’t true mostly because nobody has ever compiled figures for how many people are killed by donkeys (and why would they?) but this ‘fact’ is routinely thrown around in articles that try to establish how safe air travel really is.

And then, there’s this particular gem. In the Twitter world as many as 40.55 per cent of tweets are ‘pointless babble’ (i.e. as pointless as the research that established this). You may also be interested to know (or not) that dog fleas can jump higher than cat fleas; suicide rates are linked to the amount of country music played on the radio; washing your hands without using soap is pointless; and eating less calories will lead to weight loss. Honestly, do we really need research to establish these facts? Leave alone the fact that most of them are self-evident, we are really none the wiser for having such information at our finger-tips.

But what really intrigues me is this. Who are these people who spend many years of their professional lives working on such projects? And how do they decide on their increasingly surreal topics of research?

More to the point, who on earth is mad enough to pay for this kind of truly pointless research? Don’t universities and research institutes have better things to spend their money on? Can these resources not be deployed to search for a cure for cancer, AIDs or even the common cold?

If you think that these questions deserve an answer, perhaps you can set up your own research team to investigate these matters. But if it’s truly pointless research that motivates you, then there are some other enduring mysteries of life that you may like to enquire into.

Why is the traffic lane in which you are travelling always the slowest. Ditto, immigration queues, lines at the bank etc.
Why do you always encounter a series of red lights when you are running late? When you are not in a hurry, you get a green signal all through.
Why do you get invited to expensive restaurants only when you are on a diet?
Why do you always get caught in the rain on the day that you have had your hair washed and blow-dried professionally?
Why do taxis disappear off the road when it is pouring?
Why is your wife always right?

Going by the kind of pointless research that is published every day, it shouldn’t be too difficult to swing the funding. And it would certainly be more fun than seeing what a ‘digital rectal massage’ could achieve.

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First Published: Sep 17, 2010 19:49 IST