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Study finds jack shit (which is to be expected)

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Good satire comes as close to the truth as it can, hitting that funny-because-it's-true sweet spot. The Onion really nails it with this article making fun of the way science never seems to actually get anywhere these days: Study Finds Jack Shit.

A team of scientists at Johns Hopkins University announced Monday that a five-year study examining the link between polyphenols and lower cholesterol rates has found jack shit.

“I can’t explain what happened,” head researcher Dr. Jeremy Ingels said. “We meticulously followed correct scientific procedure. Our methods were sufficiently rigorous that they should have produced some sort of result. Instead, we found out nothing.”

Added Ingels: “Nothing!”

As Ingels stepped aside to compose himself, fellow researcher Dr. Thomas Chen took the podium to discuss the $7 million jack-shit-yielding study.

“We are all very upset,” Chen said. “When we began, this looked so promising, I would have bankrolled it myself. Now, after five years, I couldn’t tell you if polyphenols even exist.”

Science really is getting bogged down these days. There are unhealthy reasons for that: red tape, corruption, funding dysfunction, screwy incentives, and so on (as with any industry, there are lots of problems). But there are healthy reasons, too. Most of the low-hanging fruit in science is long gone, especially in medicine; almost everything in science has gotten harder, and harder problems have more wrong answers, and science is actually supposed to embrace wrongness in a way that non-scientists have trouble relating to. Being wrong in detail is what science is all about, and this comic by Nathan W. Pyle does a lovely job of expressing that:

“A detailed tribute to my wrongness.” Exactly right!