Goofy Research Projects?

scientist- inventor-dreamstime_4089679-smallerI remember sitting in my research class studying about how to do good research. We looked at several studies and tried to decide what was good and what was bad about each them. Then we looked at one in which all 7 hypotheses were disproved. Every single one was wrong! Our professor asked us if this was a good research project or not. We replied, “No.”

His response was surprising because he shared that this research was just as valid because the point of scientific research is to add to knowledge. Finding something that is NOT true adds just as much to knowledge as making a discovery that is true.

Just as valid is research that has no real-world application. If it adds to knowledge, then it is a good study. In that spirit, I share a 3 studies that you might find interesting and seem to be a little bit goofy.

Getting Old, Smoking, and Drinking

Here is one recent study: “Individuals Who Drink Heavily and Smoke May Show ‘Early Aging’ of the Brain.”

Really?! People had to spend time and research money to find this out? At least it must have been easy to find participants (read: free booze and cigs.)

The great breakthrough that was discovered in this study was that old age, heavy smoking, and heavy drinking all contributed to cognitive decline. Boy am I glad they cleared that up!

How Zebrafish Remember

In another study entitled, “Imaging of Neural Ensemble for the Retrieval of a Learned Behavioral Program,” scientists used calcium imaging to study the brain of the zebrafish to see how the fish stored and retrieved memories.

Groundbreaking, I must admit! But do I really care how a fish remembers? What would a fish have to remember anyway? It’s not like he has to remember the directions to the corner store to buy booze and cigarettes.

Let Sleeping Flies Lie

In another study that was just published, researchers were trying to better understand the sleeping rhythms of the fruit fly. They did this by messing up one of the genes in the fruit fly which made it very difficult for the flies to wake up on a regular schedule. I have a lot of friends with that same problem, but it might go back to the heavy smoking and drinking issue, I don’t know.

Not So Goofy

Fortunately, each of these three studies I mentioned earlier do actually have real-world applications to actual human beings.

The old age, smoking, and drinking study actually gave some clues as to why smoking and drinking cause cognitive decline and showed that even one month spent not smoking and not drinking helped learning, memory, processing speed, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. This is important to helping people see the need to stop smoking and drinking. Okay, not goofy.

The zebrafish memory experiment is important because the human brain is too complex to study with current technology and the fish brain help scientists understand the brain, even ours, better. So it really is helpful to people. Again, not goofy.

The sleeping fruit fly experiment is important because the same gene probably has an effect on the sleep habits of humans as well. In fact, one of my favorite quotes from this research is, “I like to say that flies sleep similarly to humans, except flies don’t use pillows.” This, too, has application to people in the real world. Not goofy.

The Bottom Line

I really have just two points today. 1.)  Modern research can be very interesting reading; and 2.) when we hear about goofy research, sometimes there really is something important behind it which will eventually help us as real live human beings. Right on, researchers!

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