Studies Show…

. . . that maybe you should, um, eat more chocolate ?

Illustration by John Hendrix

A new study shows that people shouldn’t believe everything they read about what studies show. The study, called the “Studies Show” Study, was conducted with hundreds of friends, relatives, acquaintances, and absolute strangers over the entire lifetime of the research team. Actually, “research team” might be more accurately described as one main researcher, i.e., me, and it must also be said that the data was not collected in a systematic or “scientific” way, but mostly via an unconscious, random methodology, with a certain percentage of the information recorded in a diary, and a higher percentage recorded as “mental notes.”

My study has pointed inexorably to three main truths:

1)A study with encouraging results will always be followed by a study with contradictory results.
For example, a study showing that aspirin prevents heart disease will be followed by a study that says this may not be true, depending on the individual heart. Likewise, a study that says drinking two glasses of wine daily increases longevity will be followed by a study that says women who drink two or more glasses of wine a day are twice as likely to develop breast cancer as non-drinking women. Acrylamides in deep-fried French fries definitely cause cancer. Oops, maybe they don’t. As for chocolate, studies show that its magnesium content appeals to magnesium deficient pms sufferers, but it can also cause migraines, although babies should drink chocolate milk because cocoa may inhibit tooth decay, while another study says white sugar in chocolate goes straight to the waist, while yet another study recommends chocolate for its flavonoid content, which improves blood circulation, but watch out for the study that says chocolate’s caffeine content can raise blood pressure. Incidentally, I once heard that orgasms can cure migraines, even chocolate-induced migraines presumably, which reminds me of the study claiming chocolate produces the same brain chemicals (dopamines, phenylethylamine, and so forth) that occur when you’re in love, and since being in love can lead to orgasms, this means . . . . I ‘m not sure what exactly, but it’s certainly an area that warrants more study.

2) Despite the fact that many studies are stupid, people believe that sentences beginning with “Studies show” are more credible than their own first-hand experience. For example, one of my test subjects, a middle-aged male obsessed with “regularity,” read some years ago in the Berkeley Wellness Letter (a.k.a., “the hypochondriac’s bible” ) that roughage promotes regularity. The subject subsequently ingested a nightly bowl of shard-like All-Bran with religious devotion for years, regardless of where he was or whom he was with. By God, he had to have his All-Bran. Then, a couple of years ago, he read somewhere that roughage has no effect on regularity whatsoever and might even be bad for you—so he stopped eating the bran, cold turkey, and guess what? It made no difference. With instinctive scientific curiosity, I asked the subject, “Didn’t you notice when you first started taking the bran, or later on, on the rare occasion you missed taking it, whether it made a difference to your regularity, or not? ” He simply waved his hand and changed the subject. I was tempted to tell him of a study (which may well exist; you never know) showing that dismissive hand waving can cause terminal carpal tunnel syndrome. In fact, I may still do that.

3) Very few studies show anything useful
. As any Google web search will prove, nothing is too obvious or predictable for today’s researchers. Overeating causes obesity. Low self-esteem leads to excessive television watching. Binge drinking in rats causes memory loss. Everything may — or may not — cause cancer. Which is not to say some studies aren’t fascinating. An extensive study of the sex life of the prairie vole (only 3 percent of mammals are monogamous, and the prairie vole is one of them) shows that oxytocin and vasopressin appear in the female voles’ tiny rodent brains during intercourse, which makes them think they are in love. This goes a long way to explaining odd pairings in our own species (not least of which, some of my own choices). But what are we to do about it? I say: eat more chocolate.

More useful is the study showing how quite a few married women who love their husbands, and don’t really want to get divorced, nevertheless fantasize about the death of their mates so they can collect the insurance and change their lives for the better. This study is of direct benefit to humankind because it shows that such feelings are normal, healthy, and acceptable. I can’t remember where I read about this study. I hope I’m not sounding like Fyodor in Brothers Karamazov: “I made up that last bit as I was telling the story … I don’t really know myself why I do it!”

In any case, too many studies are focused on relationships, diets, and death, with zero advice on what to do about any of it. What’s really needed is research into why so many people are so annoying in their day-to-day behaviours — so that we could change them and make the world a better, safer place for all. Like: why do people stop at the top of escalators and look around, while the rest of us pile up behind them? More importantly, why do women hover above public toilet seats, leaving pee droplets for the rest of us to contend with? My own observation of this relatively recent phenomenon shows that even university-educated women, who should know better, spray public toilet seats with wild abandon, apparently in the belief they are avoiding aids, sars, VD, or other ttds (toilet-transmitted diseases), when studies show : a) you don’t catch things from toilet seats; and b) fridge-door handles are far filthier than the average toilet seat, while shopping-cart handles carry up to five different kinds of bodily fluids. The social blight of public – toilet pee droplets urgently requires further study (e.g., were these women, in fact, raised in a barn? ). Major drug companies who wish to fund such a study are urged to contact the magazine directly. Thank you.

Ellen Vanstone