Christmas: absurd scientific research to discover under the Christmas tree

Christmas: absurd scientific research to discover under the Christmas tree


There are Christmas traditions that are also respected in scientific publishing. Thus, alongside the top ten of the year's most incisive personalities and the most important discoveries, the British Medical Journal holiday special also arrives at Christmas, a mix of articles, research but not only, curious let's say. In fact, the main character, as the magazine itself reminds us, is the originality of the research or of the article, which are in any case called upon to respect the criteria of truthfulness and rigor. And some researches definitely are original. We have selected a few with which to honor tradition again this year.

Christmas biscuits

Let's start with the biscuits, because it is still Christmas and tea. When is it best to drink it, in order not to risk burning yourself and appreciate all its flavour, and which biscuit is the best to pair with? Trivial you will say, but cookies are not all the same; some break down shortly after being soaked, some lose their crunch too quickly, some are more nutritious than others. Well, test in hand the English researchers (a case?), who conducted the study in the personal room of a surgical department, claim that the optimal time to drink tea safely and with pleasure is around 6-7 minutes after having poured the water, a few seconds less if we put more milk, and that the best of the biscuits is the one with oats. If you have time, take a look at the tests carried out: they are delicious.

The theme of biscuits is quite heartfelt these days. So again from the United Kingdom comes the study that tried to establish a limit on the amount of drinks and biscuits that should be consumed when they are offered for free. The idea came from a notice (you can find it here) from a hospital library which invited people to contain themselves, to give everyone the opportunity to enjoy the refreshments. Well: the limit for drinks settles just above three, for packets of biscuits just above two.

No more coal

This is the appeal that comes from two students and a pediatrician in an opinion piece: Let's Ban Coal for Naughty Kids. Theme more from the Epiphany than from Christmas, but the meaning, the authors argue is clear: coal is bad for the environment, it's an outdated "punishment", and it's also bad for the well-being of children. And if we really want to be honest, bad children, like those who skip school for Fridays for Future to be clear, are actually doing good for the planet (the authors' conflict of interest, having personally participated in the climate march in 2019, it is stated in the notes).

Alternatives to the gym

A time of depravity, as we know, and maybe even repentance. So maybe you could be more tempted than ever to look for a way to fix it, away from the tables. A suggestion of how to do it comes from a US team who were inspired by a Monty Python sketch, "The Ministry of Weird Walks". Scholars have in fact calculated how much these wacky walks cost, in terms of energy expenditure, discovering that walking like Mr Teabag – instead of as usual – could help burn more calories: 8 more per minute for men, 5 for women.

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Staying on the subject of physical activity, a study worthy of note is the one on the sports-themed advent calendar . During the previous Christmas, in fact, a team of researchers involved a hundred adults in a curious experiment: every day some received via email advice for a healthy lifestyle (control group) or others (experimental group) exercises, classic like squats and burpees but also with weird and Christmas-themed names (like dancing Christmas carols) to perform. With lots of options on the levels of intensity with which to perform: low, medium and high were respectively Easy Elf, Moderate Mrs Claus and Strenuous Santa. There are (alas) no significant results but the promise that an advent calendar like this can work, assure the authors: in fact, the recipients of the calendar tended to move more than the others. If you want to try it for next year, here it is.

(Credits: Biddle G J H et al.BMJ 2022; 379:e072807 doi:10.1136/bmj-2022-072807

Artificial intelligence and conspiracy theorists

Of the researches that end up in the Christmas special of the Bmj, however, there is also room for some with a decidedly less light-hearted tone, even if in any case original in honor of the spirit. This is the case, for example, of the one that has compared the capabilities of artificial intelligence systems and human radiologists to examine x-rays While promising, the tested systems fell short of their human counterparts, confirming that there is still work to be done in the field.

We close this Christmas review on a sore, or rather not very comforting, note relating to the perception of risk factors when it comes to cancer and the diffusion of pseudoscientific ideas.One of the studies included in the Bmj Christmas special, in fact, investigated s u approximately 1500 people the awareness of risk factors for cancer, whether true or false, and at the same time the diffusion of conspiracy and pseudoscientific ideas (such as the evergreen flat earth theory) among this population. The main result highlighted by the Spanish team is that the idea that "everything seems to cause cancer" is still widespread (in about half of the sample), underlining the difficulty of discriminating between established causes and myths. The latter are more common among those who have rejected Covid vaccines, conspiracy theorists or supporters of alternative medicine.

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