Study This

There was a time in my life when I was in awe of “the study.” A news reporter or an article would tell me that” recent studies have shown” or “studies indicate” and I would give all deference to the study! They did a study, they must know something … right?

Then, I got older and jaded and less trusting of anyone who stood to gain from virtually anything. I started to question those studies. I discovered the people doing the studying stand to make quite a few bucks in grant-provided salaries just because they were able to come up with a study someone was willing to fund. The “someone” doing the funding was usually the Federal government so, indirectly, those studies were being funded by the 48 percent of us who still haven’t figured out how to avoid the IRS. I started to listen to what was being studied and how they were doing the studying.

This would be about the same time I started shaking newspapers in disgust and shouting at radios and televisions. This period in my life also coincided with serious discussions about IRAs and the realization that I could no longer name the number one song in the country that week. An AARP card comes with a huge dose of skepticism … it’s in a little packet that looks kind of like soy sauce. You can sprinkle it over your high fiber cereal. I recommend adding sugar … it can often be bitter.

I distinctly recall the study that really made me start to question studies. Researchers determined  prisoners, federal and state inmates, watched more daytime television than the general non-incarcerated population. This was a STUDY! Someone got a grant to do this work. They actually observed prisoners and recorded their viewing habit, then compared those findings against the daytime viewing habits of control groups comprised of people who worked and went to school and had actual lives they lived outside of a prison. The determination of the researchers who devoted many (well paid) months of their lives to this study was the exact same finding I could have provided them with about three seconds of reflection on the matter. The study concluded prisoners watch more daytime TV than people with jobs. Duh. Where, I ask you, is MY federal grant money?

Studies come in two basic flavors. The unnecessary and stupid studies, like our TV watching prisoners, would be the most prevalent and innocuous type. These studies usually get a news report and a knowing “uh-huh” nod from an astute anchor. They are then forgotten until someone decides to dredge one up in a mudslinging campaign illustrating the waste of federal dollars spent on studies.

Stupid and unnecessary studies are everywhere. Some are, admittedly, more stupid than others. In 2009, there was much hoopla about a stupid study that measured the flow rates of ketchup. I recall a lot of jokes about researchers spending those grant dollars on a few bottles of ketchup and a stopwatch. These researchers knew the trick to getting funding for a stupid study is to make it seem more important than it really is. The ketchup study was authorized and underwritten by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and was actually entitled “The Relationship Between In-line Viscosity and Bostwick Measurements During Ketchup Production.” Do you know what a Bostwick measurement is? Of course not. Neither do I … and neither, I would guess, do the people on the NIH committee who provided funding for this study.

Researchers conducted a study designed to determine favorite flavors preferred by horses. This one did produce a shocker – carrots are only number six on the list of all time horse faves. Was that information worth the cost of the study? If you produce horse feed or you are thinking about opening a restaurant that will cater to a horse-based clientele, then, yeah, you might find this one valuable. Outside of that tiny sliver of society, this strikes me as another example of wasted tax dollars and well-lined researcher pockets.

The second type of study is more nefarious and subtly dangerous. These are the industry sponsored “we didn’t do anything wrong” kinds of studies. The tobacco industry is notorious for creating, sponsoring and publishing studies that fall in this category. In the old days, they were up front and giddy about it. A friend who I used to work with had a Camel Cigarette ad from the 1950s on the wall of his workspace. Several well-known celebrities from the era were pictured and the copy said “Doctors recommend Camels for your “T-Zone.” That’s “T for Taste and T for Throat.” Each of the celebs had a “T” graphic overlaid on their picture with their mouth as the cross of the “T” and the upright covering their throat. The copy went on to say that Camel was the cigarette most widely smoked by doctors. An extensive study of more than 144,000 doctors coast-to-coast proved it! My friend liked to point out that each of the celebs in the ad had died of either throat or lung cancer.

Today, tobacco companies hire third-party research firms or create satellite corporations to conduct and publish studies that negate the health risks or the addictiveness of cigarettes. Anyone who might be putting your health at risk likes to get some studies on their side. Will eggs kill you? Who knows!!? Check out the official Egg Board website and they’ll tell you that British researchers have determined eating one egg per day is safe and the average cholesterol content of each egg is about 180mg. That doesn’t seem so bad … although it’s pretty easy to find studies in other medical journals claiming eating eggs is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes and each egg contains more than 275mg of cholesterol.

What’re ya gonna do?

Personally, I don’t light up, I’m limiting my egg consumption (just in case) and I’m watching so much TV that prisoners will envy me. If I ever get a horse, I won’t force him to eat carrots.

[Questions? Comments? Column ideas? I would LOVE to hear from you! Write me at: allen.stare@gmail.com]

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