Thursday, March 20, 2008

Beer and science

A recent New York Times article discussed a study from the Czech Republic showing an inverse correlation between the amount of beer scientists drink and their research publication success. At first I thought the article was going to show a one to one beer and science success correlation and was worried that my being completely dry was the cause of my short CV publication list. Then I got deeper into the article and saw that there's still hope for me yet to have an absurdly long publication record. So, thanks Dad. Giving me a sip of your beer when I was 5 so effectively turned me off to the idea of alcohol that I'm bound to have a huge upsurge in my publications... yes, it should start happening any day now...

Of course, the article does go on to state that correlation does not mean causation (and anyone that thinks otherwise is ripe for mental manipulation). It could very well be publication success that's driving the beer drinking habit: the poor sots who can't publish a thing might be drowning their sorrows with their good ole friend Al Key Hall.

The study reminded me of other amusing correlations I've read about in the past. I remember way back in the day, when I was a young whipper snapper in college, I heard about a study showing a correlation between coffee drinking and women's feeling of success in their lives. Granted, I never read the original paper, but the first thing that came to my mind was how in the world they published such a ridiculous paper. It seems quite clear that women who need to wake up in the morning (i.e. having work or other stuff to do) would likely be drinking coffee and working their way to success in life.

Another fun example is the correlation between cow populations and global warming. While there is some truth in cow farts being a source of greenhouse gas methane, cows are definitely not the underlying cause. The last funny example I came across is from the Pastafarians of Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) fame. They've noted a strong inverse correlation between the global average temperature and the number of pirates in the world. Who knew? Yargh... apparently, the old Pastafarian salts received some noodly strands of knowledge from the FSM.

No comments: