Category Archives: Dubious research

The Creation Museum

Here’s a slideshow of the recently opened Creation Museum in Cincinnati. Some of the texts from the signs are absolute classics. Take these for example:

How did dinosaurs fit on Noah’s Ark?

Most dinosaurs were reasonably small – the size of a sheep or pony, on average. Even large sauropods, as young adults, were not overly large. So Noah’s Ark had plenty of room for all the land animal kinds, including every dinosaur “kind”.

Is there any other evidence of “dinosaurs” living after the flood?

Dragons may have been dinosaurs. Dragon legends exist all over the world, depicting creatures that lived with humans. The country of Wales has a dragon on its flag as its national emblem. Many of the dragon descriptions, carvings, and paintings fit with our understanding on dinosaurs.

What happened to the dinosaurs?

They died out, probably in very recent times. Like many other animals since the Flood, climate changes, diseases, humans and other factors probably caused the extinction of dinosaurs.

Are human bones found with dinosaur fossils?

None have been discovered yet. However, if human bones aren’t found with dinosaur bones, it simply means they weren’t buried together. Humans have come in contact with lots of animals, like crocodiles and coelacanths, but they aren’t buried with humans.

These guys should write comic books.

Don’t worry, be happy

According to this article, entitled “Sniffle-Busting Personalities: Positive mood guards against getting colds”, a test study indicated that people with positive moods are less likely to have colds than those with negative moods. Sounds plausible. Their explanation? Positive emotions stimulate symptom-fighting substances. Now call me a half-baked moron, but here’s a completely different interpretation for the observed correlations – people with colds are more likely to have negative emotions. In fact, looking back, I think I can say in all honesty that on 100% of the occasions I’ve had a cold, I felt negative emotions. It’s not the correlation that is doubtful in my mind, just the direction of causality. Am I being obtuse here?

This one definitely goes in the dubious research category.

The 2006 IgNobel Prize

As most will already know, the 2006 Nobel Prizes for Physics, Medicine and Chemistry have been announced, with the remaining prizes for Economics, Literature and Peace to be announces soon. However, I’m not going to go into the details of boring, stereotyped scientific crap like that. Instead I’ll draw your attention to the fact that, much more importantly, it that time of year again – the annual highlight of the dubious research category – the highly anticipated 2006 IgNobel Prizes. Here’s a summary of this year’s prizes.

  • ORNITHOLOGY: Ivan R. Schwab and Philip R.A. May, for exploring and explaining why woodpeckers don’t get headaches.
  • NUTRITION: Wasmia Al-Houty and Faten Al-Mussalam, for showing that dung beetles are finicky eaters.
  • PEACE: Howard Stapleton, for inventing an electromechanical teenager repellant — a device that makes annoying noise designed to be audible to teenagers but not to adults; and for later using that same technology to make telephone ringtones that are audible to teenagers but not to their teachers.
  • ACOUSTICS: D. Lynn Halpern, Randolph Blake and James Hillenbrand, for conducting experiments to learn why people dislike the sound of fingernails scraping on a blackboard.
  • MATHEMATICS: Nic Svenson and Piers Barnes, for calculating the number of photographs you must take to (almost) ensure that nobody in a group photo will have their eyes closed.
  • LITERATURE: Daniel Oppenheimer, for his report “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”
  • MEDICINE: Francis M. Fesmire, Majed Odeh, Harry Bassan, and Arie Oliven, for their report titled “Termination of Intractable Hiccups with Digital Rectal Massage.”
  • PHYSICS: Basile Audoly and Sebastien Neukirch, for their insights into why, when you bend dry spaghetti, it often breaks into more than two pieces.
  • CHEMISTRY: Antonio Mulet, José Javier Benedito, José Bon and Carmen Rosselló, for their study “Ultrasonic Velocity in Cheddar Cheese as Affected by Temperature.”
  • BIOLOGY:Bart Knols and Ruurd de Jong, for showing that the female malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae is attracted equally to the smell of limburger cheese and to the smell of human feet.

Snorers’ spouses losing sleep

It gives me great pleasure to announce the latest entry in the dubious research category, this time from my very own University of Queensland. According to this article from the SMH, researchers have discovered that snorers’ spouses are losing sleep. That’s right, as counterintuitive and surprising as this may sound, these brilliant scientists have finally confirmed that having someone lying next to you snorting like a pig all night long will cause you to loose sleep. Fantastic, my tax dollars are finally being put to good use.

What’s your fantasy?

I just read this interesting article from the SMH, where they performed a survey of people’s sexual fantasies. Here are the results:

What do women fantasise about?

  • Firefighters – 47%
  • Celebrities – 40%
  • Threesomes – 31%
  • Soldiers – 28%
  • Businessmen – 27%
  • Doctors – 26%
  • Same sex relationships – 23.5%
  • Footballers – 20%
  • Politicians – 1.7%
  • Milkmen – 0.8%

What do men fantasise about?

  • Threesomes – 55%
  • Nurses – 54%
  • Maids – 44%
  • Celebrities – 40%
  • Air hostesses – 40%
  • Traffic wardens – 6.5%
  • Same sex relationships – 5.3%

Does something strike you as a little bit odd with all of this? That’s right, theoretical quantum physicists don’t even make the list! I find this terribly disturbing. In fact, the omission of this group makes me seriously question the credibility of this ‘research’. For this reason you will notice that this post belong to the dubious research category.

Older people have longer average life expectancy

Via Lubos Motl, I today came across another wonderful piece of recent scientific research. From the Harvard University Gazette, after a detailed statistical analysis the National Center for Heath Statistics has concluded the following,

the older you are today, the greater the age you are likely to reach.

The reason for this?

Because they [older people] have already dodged the mortal dangers that do in younger people: infant mortality, violence, and auto wrecks.

What an insightful interpretation of a complete load of crap. Allow me to offer my own interpretation. Assume average life-expectancy is not changing with time. Then, for any age distribution of the population, the average life-expectancy of a subset of that population over a particular age, will necessarily be higher than the average life-expectancy of the entire population. Next, if average life-expectancy is increasing over time (which it is, as a result of improved nutrition, medicine etc.) then on average, people born later can expect to live longer than people born earlier. Thus, the only explanation for the observed trend, that the older you are, the longer you are likely to live, is that the statistics are dominated by the first effect, that of post-selection pushing up the average.

What a brilliant piece of research. Publish it in Nature.

The Happy Planet Index

Major international news sources (Reuters, BBC, SMH) have been running numerous stories about recent ‘research’ quantifying how happy people are in different countries. The result is the so-called Happy Planet Index (HPI), a vast load of crap if ever I’ve seen one. The index is allegedly designed to quantify peoples’ quality of life in such a way that accounts for life satisfaction, life expectancy and environmental footprint. In practise it is designed to give credence to the idea that the less environmental impact you have, the happier you will be. Based on their results they find that Vanuatu is top-of-the-list, trailed closely by a host of other South Pacific Islands. As one might expect from an index of this nature, most of the industrialized countries end up somewhere down the bottom of the list. Oh, what a surprise.

So, how is this ‘index’ calculated. According to their web-site,

Life satisfaction x Life expectancy

Ecological Footprint

where the ‘ecological footprint’ parameter is related to how much land it takes to sustain one person.

Let’s see now. As ‘ecological footprint’ becomes small, the HPI asymptotically approaches infinity, up to an overall multiplicative factor of ‘life satisfaction x life expectancy’. God I wish people would stop publishing crap like this.

Having said this, I do believe that measures of well-being do need to be fundamentally re-evaluated. Obviously economic indicators are insufficient for this purpose. However, designing essentially rigged indicators, which are intended to blatantly promote a political agenda, is not the sort of approach that should be receiving widespread attention by the press.

My favourite Nature paper

Some of my colleagues at work today drew my attention to what is now my all-time favourite Nature paper (and yes, I mean that in the most cynical possible way). In the article “Athletics: Momentous sprint at the 2156 Olympics?” [Nature 431, 525 (2004)], the authors plot both male and female 100m Olympic sprint times against year, claim that a linear interpolation represents the best possible fitting, and conclude by extrapolation that in the year 2156 females will overtake males. And no, that’s not a typo, this was published in the highly reputable journal Nature.

Today I am proud to present my follow up results to this significant finding, based on the same data and techniques. Based on an extrapolation of the linear regression, I calculate that by the year 3027 the men’s Olympic 100m record will be 0.0 seconds. Of course, by this time there will be no 100m women’s event, since they will all be finishing the race before it starts. It follows from this extrapolation that at some stage in the late 2900’s, we can expect Einstein’s special theory of relativity to break down, paving the way for exciting new research into fundamental physics. I wish I could be around for that. Then again, if Einstein’s special theory of relativity breaks down, maybe I can be.

In conclusion, don’t judge articles by the journal in which they’re published. Shame of you Nature for publishing this dribble.