Eva Bradley: Dubious research wastes time and money

By Eva Bradley

Eva Bradley
Eva Bradley

FINALLY, a breakthrough. Forget cures for cancer and solutions to world food shortages ... it seems scientists are making some major headway in the things that really matter.
Thanks to new research by some of the top brains at the University of California, scientists can now tell us what every dog owner has always known: dogs get jealous.
The conclusion was reached after a series of predictably mundane pseudo-scientific methods that included getting dog owners to shower affection on a bucket.
While those of us living off-campus without lab coats and big research budgets might have suggested simply patting the cat to come to the same conclusion, this seems to be yet another pointless misuse of intellect and money to tell us something we either already knew or didn't need to know in the first place.
Only the day before I read in the news that extensive research has now proved seven hours' sleep is the best average amount instead of eight - though, importantly, this depends entirely on the individual. Which really makes you wonder why they bothered.
While genuinely life-changing research struggles constantly to get adequate funding, who is signing the cheques for all the other questionable studies?
A while ago the British government decided to allocate research funding according to how much "impact" each project would have.
This brought to light more than a few "interesting" studies which can be of benefit only to those wanting some passing entertainment on the potential for stupidity in science.
Did you know, for instance, that digital rectal massage is a cure for hiccups? More importantly, did you really want to know? Especially when it's not even made clear whether this "treatment" relies on a certain level of surprise administration for maximum effect.

If you'll excuse the rather crude pun, try pulling that one out at the dinner table next time someone starts hiccupping. What a party trick.
Other impressive investigations in recent years have revealed that ducks have a propensity for homosexual necrophilia, penguins can poop to a maximum trajectory of 40cm, suicide rates are linked to the amount of country music played on the radio and - my personal favourite - strippers earn bigger tips when they are ovulating.
One can only imagine the many long and not-so-lonely late nights the presumably male research team applied to come to that particular conclusion. I have always thought the definition of career satisfaction must surely be walking away at the end of a long day feeling like you've made a difference - no matter how small.
That's what optimistically (some might say naively) propelled me into journalism as a first career, and then into family and wedding photography as a second when it became apparent that turning up on doorsteps to get quotes from grieving parents was not exactly changing the world for the better.
My main motivating career question has always been: could a machine do this job for me?
While it is unlikely a machine could conduct experiments on canine jealousy, one has to ask if you wouldn't be making better use of your time by sorting peas on the production line at Wattie's.
Of course all these weird and wonderful experiments always claim to have some vastly important relevance and/or benefit to humans. While I'm not sure about how this applies to shagging ducks, in the dog study they at least claim the value lies in better understanding jealousy, since it is a major motivating factor in homicides "across all cultures".
I must have missed the research that concluded dogs were a "culture" but hey, it's good to know not to get caught cuddling buckets any time soon, in case I come a cropper.
#Eva Bradley is an award-winning columnist

- Hawkes Bay Today

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