U.S. Senator Jeff Flake has appropriated and dismembered our basic goal and method, which is to make people LAUGH, and then THINK. The senator lopped off the “think” part, to produce his own basic goal and method: to make people Laugh, and NOT think. You can see this on display in Senator Flake’s recent colorful press release and booklet, which ridicules scientific research.
We invented the phrase “make people LAUGH, then THINK”. It’s the essence of our magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research. It’s the essence of the Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony, which we administer, and which is now in its 26th year. Each year ten Ig Nobel Prizes are awarded for achievements that make people LAUGH, then THINK. Much of the research ridiculed in Senator Flake’s booklet has won Ig Nobel Prizes.
Senator Flake’s booklet
Senator Flake’s Cartoon Book
Senator Flake’s press release says: “U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) today released Twenty Questions: Government Studies That Will Leave you Scratching Your Head, an oversight report highlighting 20 hard-to-justify, taxpayer-funded studies that diverted more than $35 million that could have been better spent researching treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and viral infections such as Zika and Ebola….”
Senator Flake’s booklet uses a cartoon style that’s usually meant to appeal to small children. You can download a copy of the the booklet by clicking on the image here.
Hard to Justify
The studies mentioned in Senator Flake’s booklet really are, as Senator Flake says, “hard-to-justify” — if, like Senator Flake, you insist on not justifying them.
Senator Flake and Einstein
Senator Flake’s booklet builds, it says, on the work of Einstein:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning,” urged Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of all time. That’s great advice for taxpayers.
Here’s what Senator Flake’s booklet does not mention: Einstein would ask lots of funny questions, and then Einstein would work to FIND THE ANSWERS to those questions.
Senator Flake’s funny booklet just asks a funny question, then laughs, then asks some other funny question, then laughs, then asks some other funny question, and so on, and so on.
Senator Flake’s booklet asks 20 questions. About one third of those questions concern research that was honored with Ig Nobel Prizes, or scientists who earned Ig Nobel Prizes for other research.
Senator Flake’s BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNTS
Senator Flake’s booklet uses a technique that makes things appear horribly expensive. The table of contents lists a BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT next to each research item. You might mistakenly think that that this BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT is what the research item cost. You would be wrong. The booklet diligently explains — on a different page, in small, dense text — that the BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT is just a BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT:
METHODOLOGY. Specific dollar amounts expended to support each study were not available for the projects profiled in this report. Most were conducted as parts of more extensive research funded with government grants or financial support. The costs provided, therefore, represent the total amount of the grant or grants from which the study was supported and not the precise amount spent on the individual studies. This is not intended to imply or suggest other research supported by these grants was wasteful, unnecessary or without merit.
Here are some of the first items in Senator Flake’s booklet. (Each of these was awarded an Ig Nobel Prize, by the way!):
1) WHERE DOES IT HURT THE MOST TO BE STUNG BY A BEE? ($1 MILLION)
2) WHY DOES WALKING WITH COFFEE CAUSE IT TO SPILL? ($172,000)
7) WHY DOES THE FACE OF JESUS APPEAR ON TOAST? ($3.5 MILLION)
If you apply this same BIG RED DOLLAR AMOUNT technique to Senator Flake’s own booklet, here’s what you get:
SEN. FLAKE’S “TWENTY QUESTIONS” BOOKLET ($8 MILLION)
What’s It All About?
Three of the items in Senator Flake’s booklet are research performed by Professor David Hu of Georgia Tech:
7) HOW MANY SHAKES DOES IT TAKE FOR A WET DOG TO DRY OFF? ($390,000)
17) WHICH HAS MORE HAIRS, A SQUIRREL OR A BUMBLEBEE? ($753,000)
18) HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PEE LIKE A RACE HORSE? ($331,000)
The logo of Improbable Research and of the Ig Nobel Prizes
Professor Hu and his team were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize for that pee research. Professor Hu wrote an essay about this, for Scientific American. What he wrote will probably make you laugh, then think. We suggest you read it:
Confessions of a Wasteful Scientist
Three of my projects appeared last week on a senator’s list of questionable research. Allow me to explain…
But, if you like to ridicule things because those things are unfamiliar, don’t read Professor Hu’s writing. And don’t look at the actual work of the other Ig Nobel Prize winners or any of the other people on Senator Flake’s list.
If you want to laugh, but not think, pay attention to Senator Flake.