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Science Idle

Why We Have So Much "Duh" Science 299

Hugh Pickens writes "Eryn Brown writes in the LA Times that accounts of 'duh' research abound as studies show that driving ability worsens in people with early Alzheimer's disease, that women who get epidurals experience less pain during childbirth than women who don't, that young men who are obese have lower odds of getting married than thinner peers, and that making exercise more fun might improve fitness among teens. But there's more to duh research than meets the eye writes Brown as experts say they have to prove the obvious again and again to influence perceptions and policy. 'Think about the number of studies that had to be published for people to realize smoking is bad for you,' says Ronald J. Iannotti, a psychologist at the National Institutes of Health. 'There are some subjects where it seems you can never publish enough.' Kyle Stanford, a professor of the philosophy of science at UC Irvine, thinks the professionalization of science has led researchers — who must win grants to pay their bills — to ask timid questions and research that hews to established theories is more likely to be funded, even if it contributes little to knowledge. Perhaps most important, sometimes a study that seems poised to affirm the conventional wisdom produces a surprise. 'Many have taken the value of popular programs like DARE — in which police warn kids about the dangers of drug use — as an article of faith,' writes Brown. 'But Dennis Rosenbaum of the University of Illinois at Chicago and other researchers have shown that the program has been ineffective and may even increase drug use in some cases.'"
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Why We Have So Much "Duh" Science

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  • by ChromeAeonium ( 1026952 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @05:38PM (#36312976)

    Sometimes that can be useful to have a huge mass of data to fall back on. When some study comes out that says something unexpected, then you have a bunch of data to act as a buffer so that people have some context, because most people think the truth is the whatever study the media misrepresented last, not the body of evidence as a whole. The more info you've got, the harder it is to deny something when its convenient. It might be a waste of time if people were rational creatures, but if something is being done to add to a body of evidence that people are still questioning, then maybe it isn't such a waste after all. And I suppose having some study to back your case if you want to make a policy change or legal claim too, rather than just rely on what should be common sense, for example, saying that studies show tired people preform poorly is better than just saying that you're tired and have a hard time working when you're tired.

  • D.A.R.E. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Eponymous Hero ( 2090636 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @05:38PM (#36312982)
    i had no idea about drugs until an officer came to my class, opened up a couple briefcases, and showed me every drug imaginable so i could recognize it. then he told me all kinds of cool ways that the drugs would make me feel like and act like. most important lesson from D.A.R.E. is:

    D. rugs
    A. re
    R. eally
    E. xpensive
  • It's Duh either way. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @05:41PM (#36313026)

    I took Psychology at University, where it seems they were particularly sensitive to the accusation. My instructor read a series of twenty-five research results that should have been obvious before experimenting. Many of them did seem obvious. Then she stated that she had just lied to us. All twenty-five experiments actually found the opposite. Then she read them with the true results, and, surely enough, they did sound obvious that way as well.

    In fact, about six to eight did sound dodgy the first way, but that still left far too many.


  • Re:Wait... what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Mindcontrolled ( 1388007 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @06:15PM (#36313402)
    Probably by too many posts here lately that stated that scientist would fake anything just to keep the funding up - see the climate discussions. The "they do it all for the funding" - meme is an insult to every scientist in my opinion. Not sure about the OP - my sarcasm detector might need recalibration, I grant you that.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @07:56PM (#36314446)

    Don't eat things harder than your teeth, they aren't good for you.

    Do you allow your children to eat hard candy?

    People in the larger vehicle of a 2 vehicle crash, tend to have longer lifespans post-incident.

    Who will you say will have a longer lifespan: the hillbillies in the pickup truck that lightly bumped into the sports car or the occupants of the sports car?

    People who have lost 1 of 2 matching organs, tend to follow physician advice more closely.

    Do people who lost only one tonsil tend to follow physician advice more closely?

    Don't eat plants that a young animal ate, after which it immediately died.

    Do you drink coffee?

    Don't shit where you eat.

    Are you saying that using human feces as fertilizer is always harmful?

    Don't hit people you don't know.

    Will you make your children always obey that if they join the military?

    Wash your hands after handling garbage cans.

    Do you always wash your hands after handling clean garbage cans?

  • by starfishsystems ( 834319 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @08:41PM (#36314834) Homepage
    Well said!

    And often something interesting emerges when we move from sweeping observation to detailed study. Before Galileo and Newton, it was obvious that things fell down if you dropped them. They just did. It was already obvious centuries before when Aristotle looked at the matter, so obvious that he didn't look at the process very closely and therefore missed a very critical detail.

    But even in his day, you couldn't draw a big crowd if all you did was proclaim that "PHILOSOPHER POINTS OUT THAT THINGS FALL WHEN DROPPED." You have to offer insight into how and why the process occurs, and then you can hope to attract, at least, those people within the population who are interested in questions of how and why. When Newton could predict the rate at which things fall, he also had a working equation for planetary motion.
  • Re:"Duh" Studies (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Wednesday June 01, 2011 @11:46PM (#36315986) Homepage Journal

    Hindsight is wonderful.

    But 50 years ago, people didn't know how dangerous cigarettes were. They "sort of" knew that cigarettes were bad for your health, but they didn't appreciate *how dangerous* they were. For example, they didn't know that lung cancer is almost always fatal (John Wayne unusually had lung cancer and survived). People had the idea that if they did get lung cancer, they would get it cured. They didn't know about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which kills off a *lot* of smokers, more than lung cancer itself. The increase in heart disease and stroke also kills more smokers than lung cancer.

    Probably the first definitive study was the Surgeon General's 1964 report, and in response, the cigarette industry went into overdrive to convince their customers -- particularly young teenagers who were just starting out -- that the Surgeon General's report was wrong, that cigarettes really weren't that harmful, that doctors smoked cigarettes and recommended different brands (Camels, Chesterfields, whatever) to their patients.

    Since cigarettes were one of the major advertisers for most newspapers and magazines (with a few notable exceptions like Good Housekeeping and the Readers Digest), you could read articles about every cancer except lung cancer. Some magazines commissioned stories "debunking" the Surgeon General's report, to suck up to their cigarette company advertisers.

    The cigarette industry kept coming up with new lies, and each lie required a well-designed study to refute it.

    One of the big debates was about whether nicotine was addicting, or whether smokers could stop whenever they felt like it. Teenagers thought they could start smoking for a while to be cool, and then stop later on when they felt like it. The tobacco executives literally swore under oath that nicotine wasn't addictive. It took a couple of "duh" studies to prove they were lying.

    Only recently we've had studies of personal networks that showed *why* people start smoking. Basically they follow the lead of certain friends. That may sound like a "duh" study but the details weren't obvious.

    Watch out who you're calling jackass, unless you want to demonstrate the Dunning-Kruger effect []

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears