Well, THAT is a Silly Thing to Study!

Sometimes you hear about studies that seem pretty crazy. Like the one that determined (based on facial expressions monitored through ultrasound) that fetuses enjoy music played through a device in the vagina over music played through the belly.

While that one was tied to (shocker!) a patented device to help parents connect through music, many of the studies out there you might think are pointless can actually be really helpful in the body of research. Here are some of the reasons why a seemingly silly study might be helpful:

  1. As a foundation for future research. Lots of people made fun of researchers looking into how geckos are able to walk up walls. But that research led other researchers in developing super strong adhesives that have industrial uses. Basic research might seem to have little use, but applied researchers would be lost without it.
  2. To document and support “common sense” – or to disprove it! For example, researchers once “lost” over 17,000 wallets around the world, thinking they could prove that wallets with more money in them were more likely to be kept. They found the opposite to be true!
  3. To try out a new technique Researchers did a lot of research into breaking dried spaghetti noodles. Which sounds silly, but they learned a lot about how to use and measure forces creating tension on rod shapes. Those concepts have since been applied to measuring the strength of various rods used in construction, leading to advances in bridge design and earthquake resistant construction.
  4. To educate the public about research – one of my favorite studies is the one that shows that parachutes have no effect on the safety of jumping out of airplanes. This study was conducted to show how we make assumptions about research and it’s important to read the study methodology.