Walking with Poise to Nowhere on the Research Treadmill

Here’s the gist: “Professor Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford’s Experimental Psychology department, said: ‘This study showed that frequenting a local pub can directly affect peoples’ social network size and how engaged they are with their local community, which in turn can affect how satisfied they feel in life.’”* What in the world have we come to? Now we need someone to tell us what people have known since the discovery of brewing. Someone in England needs to “get a life.” And someone in America, too: The government spent $450,000 to discover whether or not dinosaurs could sing and $150,000 to see fish walk on a treadmill (one might guess the earlier study to watch shrimp walk on a treadmill warranted further study on how aquatic life takes to a moving belt)**.

Can you imagine the after-work conversation?
“I’m home, dear.”
“Darling, how was your day?”
“The treadmill was down again, so the fish didn’t walk. This is going to set us back to square one on the project, and the report is due by the end of the month.”
“Have a glass of wine. I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Did you ever put one of those mudskippers on the ground between ponds to see what it might do? I think I squashed one on the highway once.”

Again, what have we come to?

We seem to have time on our hands and an insatiable desire to research any topic that pops into our heads. Okay, if that’s our desire, then I’m up for some studies that will teach us nothing: 1) If we put a junior high school student on the International Space Station, will he still stick gum to the underside of a work station? 2) Is there a universal definition of “business casual”? 3) Do angry Buddhists curse by saying “Siddhārtha Gautama”?

The reality is that folly proliferates rather easily in non-farm and non-subsistence societies. And both technology and specialization aid the proliferation. Don’t take my word for it. Go back to the 1972 publication of Stanislav Andreski’s Social Sciences as Sorcery, a book in which the author takes researchers to task, for example, for giving us pages of data to prove something our grandmothers knew: That humans are gregarious.

So, here we are decades later doing a study to find out that people like going to pubs to drink socially. Don’t we already have a cliché to describe this: “Birds of a feather flock together.” We even have individual words that do the same: Gaggle, gang, and party. And don’t we all already know that most people aren’t hermits, that coffee houses attract clientele, and that people take a bottle of wine when they are invited to someone’s house for dinner?

Though I’m not given to rummaging through the comment sections, I was struck by a review of Andreski’s work published by “andre” from Brazil in 2011: “here in Brazil, [in] the most prestigious universities, we saw the teachers saying the … obvious …with the utmost poise. It’s … respected nonsense with a doctorate.”***

I think we all need an Andreski Check (or even an “andre” check) at times. Neither poise nor credential guarantees profundity. That we keep spending money on what we already know isn’t much different from the mudskipper on the treadmill: We’re not really going anywhere, and we’re probably not quite sure why we have to do all this walking to get there.

* http://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2017-01-06-your-health-benefits-social-drinking

** http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=fish+walking+on+treadmill&view=detail&mid=A143296CD23C71368CCFA143296CD23C71368CCF&FORM=VIRE

*** https://www.amazon.com/Social-Sciences-Sorcery-Stanislav-Andreski/dp/0233962263/ref=la_B001HCZQRM_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1484141949&sr=1-1