Opinion | Off the Cuff

Stunning discoveries or exercises in futility?

When research tells you nothing new

  • By Suparna Dutt D’Cunha Copy Editor
  • Published: 20:00 August 12, 2012
  • Gulf News

Like many, I fear that cups of coffee, a part of our modern workplace condition, I’m slurping is doing me no good. But a recent study, just after I read Coffee Can Kill!, suggested that coffee in superhuman amounts is safe. As I’m pouring myself another cup, I’m already expecting a new study to imply coffee can make us even healthier than we already are.

Research studies, some logical, others contradicting what I read just last week, never cease to amaze me, compelling me to think intelligent minds working in laboratories are perched on a see-saw, bordering on nonsensical and absolute brilliance.

But then, can science advance without a few brave people jumping feet first into the glorious waters of investigation just out of sheer curiosity?

So while I marvelled at CERN physicists, who after decades of searching announced that they have found the Higgs boson, which helps explain how everything around us actually exists, I was stumped by a study carried out by a group of US and Dutch researchers suggesting that the real reason women pursue careers is because they fear they are too unattractive to get married. The research team, made up of three women and two men, said that when men are thin on the ground, “women are more likely to choose briefcase over baby”.

Am I missing the hidden principle underlying in this headline-grabbing study?

Considering the wealth of useful information we’re still lacking, should we really be wondering how lack of men forces women into careers?

The parent in me was psyched when scientists at the University of Michigan ‘discovered’ that teenagers who spend more time playing computer games spend less time doing their homework.

Ridiculous observations

Well, if I am not mistaken, teenagers may be capable of all sorts of things, but no one I know can expand time. Is it really surprising that, if children spend more time hooked into gaming world and smartphones, they have less time for homework?

Another ridiculously obvious study finding was ‘Spanking causes aggression’. This, of course, came as a surprise to all those parents who previously believed hitting children leads to good behaviour.

Earlier, lovelorn researchers raised a few laughs when they provided reasons to be head-over-heels in love. According to songwriters love hurts, but for the research team at Stanford University you probably won’t need a doctor or drugs to drive pain away as high-octane love will do it for you.

OK, did you know successful surgeons lock their eyes to a critical location while performing complex movements using surgical instruments? Granted, the study did discover key focal differences between novice and expert surgeons, but what was the take-home message?

Oddball findings

Another genius was a study done by Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York that found out that curbing free time at school may lead to unruly classrooms and rob youngsters of an important chance to socialise.

Did they really think they would get a different result?

‘Toddlers become irritable when prevented from napping’, ‘How to make the perfect cup of tea’, ‘Men are better than women at hammering in the dark’ are some of the oddball findings that are exercises in futility.

Loughborough University led a seemingly-obscure research on why does a cookie crumble? Well, I don’t know about the findings, but if you must know, it’s because humidity disrupts the biscuit’s internal forces which cause it to self-destruct.

Another new study says all red meat is bad for you. I say, studies are bad for you... red meat is fine.

I don’t like to know (not that you can’t guess) if you give monkeys time and typewriters, will they eventually produce Shakespeare?

Some researchers actually tried to test it.

Still to come: ‘Lying down in a darkened room late at night frequently leads to sleep’.

Gulf News