William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Science Officially Runs Out Of Things To Study

Belly up to the pasta bar.

Belly up to the pasta bar.

The headline in the peer-reviewed Physiology & Behavior paper by Soojin Park and Weon-Sun Shin says it all: “Differences in eating behaviors and masticatory performances by gender and obesity status“.

If that doesn’t convince you, then the official Highlights from this work must:

  • Men have significantly different chewing performances compared with women.
  • Eating behaviors are significantly different by obesity status.
  • Eating behaviors were differently associated with chewing performances by gender.
  • Gender-based chewing modulation could be promising behavioral treatments against obesity.

No more proof is needed. Science has officially run out of legitimate things to study.

Now our authors, from the Department of Oriental Medical Food and Nutrition, Semyung University, South Korea, are undoubtedly fine people, kind to strangers and animals, and who call their mothers at least weekly. Both are surely possessed of keen intelligence and are hard workers. And while they are the authors of this curious paper, that they had to write it was not their fault.

That means our authors had to gather 48 folks together and gauge their “chewing performance while eating 152 g of boiled rice…using electromyography”. It’s why they had to write “Compared with non-obese participants, pre-obese participants had significantly higher levels of disinhibition”.

They were forced to tell us “Males had a greater bite size” and that “obesity on eating responses may be explained as chewing performance.” External forces insisted that all this—and much, much more—was “proved” by wee p-values.

This is what Science must be: it is designed to work this way. Park and Shin were only following the rules and deserve nothing but praise for their assiduous attention to form.

But—and there had to be a but—it’s absurd for all that. The problem is twofold: scientism and enforced optimism, a.k.a. progressivism, a.k.a. Whiggism.

Scientism insists that the only knowledge worth having, the only knowledge possible, even, is scientific; and for knowledge to be scientific it must be measurable, quantifiable. This is why saying, “Fat people eat more than skinny” isn’t scientific. It hasn’t been quantified; it’s intolerably unspecific. Scientism is responsible for headlines like, “Researchers Confirm Fat People Eat More Than Skinny.”

Confirm? How could such an ancient, commonplace truth that fat people weigh more than thin be confirmed? Because Official Science (™) has finally measured it. Turns out Science never put calipers to lips and counted the number of bites the “pre-obese” take. (Science had previously defined, quantitatively, pre-obese.)

Once the number of bites have been counted—using electromyography or by some other device which requires calibration and scientific supervision—it becomes real. Before that it is only unworthy “folk wisdom” and unreliable. Numbers are serious. They are found in courtrooms and lawsuits and news reports. And scientific papers.

But why count bites? Because of the dreadful enforced “originality” which starts with Masters degrees, and only grows worse with doctorates and the race for tenure.

Anybody who has even a passing familiarity with history knows how rare originality is (taken in its plain English and not educationist sense), how brutal a battle it is (with the world) to be truly innovative. It’s true that in some fields, when they’re new and like a young bride, produce great flurries of fecundity (you heard me: flurries of fecundity). But it’s just as true that maturity brings, well, a certain slowing down.

Or should. But Science demands offspring. It is inconceivable for a scientist, or his bosses hungry for child support payments (as it were), to admit that there is nothing much left worth studying in Chewingology. Grants must be submitted, papers must be written, and a fairly fast rate.

Because scientists are required to do research, even when there is nothing to research, they research. And they have to write papers about that research, and because of that, journals to hold the tepid creations of research proliferate faster than Congressional subcommittees. There are now thousands, hundreds per field.

There is no solution. We have nothing ahead of us but acres of print saying things like this:

A small portion of boiled rice (Oriza sativa L., 152 g), a staple food for participants, was prepared as the test food. The boiled rice (Cheiljedang, Seoul, Korea) was purchased from a supermarket in Jecheon, and was heated for 2 min in the microwave as per the manufacturer’s instructions. It was served with 200 ml of water. The cooked rice (152 g) had an available carbohydrate equivalent of 50 g.

And, as always, more research is needed.

—————————————————————-

Thanks to reader Gary Boden for alerting us to this study.

16 Comments

  1. Research and congressional committees do have a lot in common—we learn virtually nothing from either one.

    When I was in college (back with the dinosaurs….), there were studies on whether obese people’s eating was based on flavor and if so, were they obese because food that tastes good has more calories (take that, Michelle Obama!). Unfortunately, I don’t think there was wee pee value and there may not have been enough quantification, so I think I need a grant to study the difference in eating of ice cream, cake, bacon, etc, between obese and normal weight individuals. I will need volunteers too. It has to quantified and I’m the one to do it!

    The original study did say obese people eat more food if it tastes good than normal weight did—normal weight people just ate until they were no longer hungary. We must be sure though! New study!

  2. I’m surprised this study didn’t include a breakdown of eating habits by ethnic group. Ethnicity is so easy to measure. Too many studies break down some characteristic by ethnic group and thus achieve publishability.

  3. “Because scientists are required to do research, even when there is nothing to research, they research. And they have to write papers about that research, and because of that, journals to hold the tepid creations of research proliferate faster than Congressional subcommittees. There are now thousands, hundreds per field.

    “There is no solution. We have nothing ahead of us but acres of print saying things like this:”

    THAT could link to the opening word of this blog essay, which is no different really, and create an infinite loop to entertain some for extended periods….

    Seems to me that out of the hundreds of journals that address topics in the area of one’s specialty, it wouldn’t be too hard to find something worth while to comment about, something that would stimulate educated discussion & add to the body of knowledge.

    Finding a trivial work by, perhaps, an individual(s) with limited capacity (or sponsors with a peculiar agenda) and extrapolating from that to an entire discipline (“Science has officially run out of legitimate things to study.”) says as much or more about one’s “issues” as anything else.

  4. “Science has officially run out of legitimate things to study.”

    No, the problem is not that there is nothing legitimate left to study. The problem is three fold.

    1. Too many academic scientists.

    2. All of those scientists are expected to produce publish papers on a regular basis.

    3. Replication studies (attempts to verify the work of others by replicating their experiments) are no longer considered publishable.

    The combination of these three things leave the majority (but not all) of academic scientists chasing minutiae, irrelevancies and unicorns.

  5. Anybody who has even a passing familiarity with history knows how rare originality is (taken in its plain English and not educationist sense), how brutal a battle it is (with the world) to be truly innovative.

    I truly know it’s not easy to be innovative and to have original ideas (as I have repeatedly shown myself some of my ideas were wrong or not feasible after researching further.) However, why and how is it a brutal battle with the world to be truly innovative. Well, I guess by asking this question, I belong to the group of people who have no familiarity with history at all.

  6. Ecclesiastes 1:9
    What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.

  7. Sander van der Wal

    March 23, 2015 at 11:32 am

    They could try and find exoplanets instead. Not very original either, but still a lot of new discoveries to be made.

    Only problem is, it is expensive, compared to boiling rice.

  8. “Department of Oriental Medical Food and Nutrition”

    What a colorfully named group.

  9. MattS,

    I think you nailed it.

  10. umm? I don’t get it…

    With 200ML of water in the meal, those pee values should have been bigger. Did they just not wait long enough?

  11. I just want everyone to realize that using “electromyography” means they stuck needles (connected by wire to machines) in people’s jaw muscles and THEN they made them eat.
    Ewww.

  12. “Men have significantly different chewing performances compared with women.” Does the paper specify whether gender was biological or self nominated?

  13. “Scientism insists that the only knowledge worth having, the only knowledge possible, even, is scientific; and for knowledge to be scientific it must be measurable, quantifiable. ”

    Isn’t that somewhat akin to Sheri’s own position on science? Not the part where science is the only knowledge worth happening, but the part where only directly measurability of some quantity is direct evidence and all other lines of evidence are circumstantial?

    The most egregious problem with modern academic research: the need to publish as many papers as possible and the lack of need to replicate any of that work.

    And of course, modern computers make it possible to search the data for patterns until you find some p value that you can build a hypothesis around. Not that it’s supposed to happen that way…

  14. I want to start a study on that study. The Institute of the Study of the Study of Differences in Eating Behaviors and Masticatory Performances by Gender and Obesity Status. But I’m going to the DoD. And throwing in some mercenaries. That’s where the money is.

    JMJ

  15. I’ve watched CSI so I know that forensic scientists can distinguish between male and female skeletons by the size of the jaw. Men have bigger jaws. So they have bigger bites. Simples!

  16. ILoveMeSomeSpaghettiEatinMamas

    March 24, 2015 at 11:49 am

    The photo of the ladies eating spaghetti is HOT.

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