Scientific studies result in a variety of fascinating discoveries that help humankind understand our world, even making the Earth a better place to live every now and then. Advances in medicine, agriculture, energy, transportation and communications, among other innovations, have transformed the planet, extended life expectancy, increased the quality of life and caused a boom in human populations around the globe.
Put simply, the tireless efforts of researchers to discover new and interesting information and apply these findings are the backbone of modern civilization.
However, not all studies are created equal. As evidenced by lighthearted awards like the Ig Nobel prize and articles about wasting taxpayer money on silly and bizarre experiments, scientists and researchers occasionally lose sight of what makes their research vital and important.
Many of the most pointless experiments that have ever received funding appear to answer questions nobody asked or attempt to prove hypothesis that seem to be self-evident truths. In these cases, one can’t help but sympathize with citizens who see their hard-earned money wasted on scientific research that, for all intensive purposes, appears to be esoteric at best and at worse completely idiotic and insane – especially when animals are subjected to pain and suffering in the name of these pointless endeavors.
10. Studying the Gambling Habits of Monkeys
More than $171,000 was spent studying the gambling habits of monkeys to see if they align with the habits and patterns of human gambling. Researchers wanted to discover if learning about degenerate monkey gamblers would result in greater understanding of free will and provide insight into treatments for gambling addiction in humans.
One of the researchers at the University of Rochester happily stated that “monkeys love to gamble” with the only challenge of the study being the creation of a computer game that would hold the attention of these subjects for hours at a time.
9. The Daffy World of Duck Genitalia
Researchers performed an in-depth study focusing on the shape of duck penises compared to duck vaginas, discovering that waterfowl phalluses are shaped in a counterclockwise corkscrew while duck vaginas have evolved into a clockwise shape. The study also used high speed cameras to capture male ducks copulating with different shapes of glass tubes while measuring the speed and acceleration of an erect duck penis.
They conclude that due to the overwhelming occurrences of male ducks forcing themselves sexually upon females, duck vaginas have evolved to make it difficult for male coercion to result in fertilization. This study appears to prove that female ducks have evolved a preference to choose their reproductive mating partner, rather than having a mate being forced upon them.
One of the researchers defended the study by stating her work has the potential to “move science forward” while asserting that most of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on this project paid their salaries, which in turn puts money back into the economy. A followup study proposes to discover the cause of the inability of science researchers to appreciate irony in all its glorious forms.
8. Penguin Fecal Cannons
Perhaps the winner for the best title of a research paper, “Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh – Calculations on Avian Defecation”, researchers discovered that chinstrap penguins are able to expel crap from their anus at distances of up to 40 centimeters.
This study ended up winning the Ig Nobel prize for Fluid Dynamics in 2005, a highly-coveted and slightly facetious award presented by Nobel prize winners at Harvard University. The researchers didn’t specify whether this fecal achievement was wind-aided or specifically aimed at targets, suggesting further study is necessary.
7. Study Tells Wives to Calm Down
The National Institute for Health funded a study that followed the lives of 82 married couples, focusing on the conflicts that arose between the two parties in the relationship.
This government study of a limited sample of married folk discovered that the happiest married couples were the ones in which the wives were able to calm down quickly.
A researcher stated that when “negative emotional events” occur, couples “fall into primitive, survival-oriented mode of interaction” and “in these interactions, spouses repeatedly attempt to justify their own behavior; criticize the other spouse in a harsh, contemptuous ways; make broad, negative attributions; and engage in non-productive cycles of demand-withdraw behaviors.”
In other words, approximately $335,500 was spent on a study that appears to heap the onus of marital happiness on women while disregarding the source of the marital conflict and the fact that it takes two to tango.
6. Extracting Vanilla from Cow Poo
The twelfth Japanese winner of the Ig Nobel prize is Mayu Yamamoto, who utilized a one-hour process of heat and pressure to extract vanillin from cow dung. Animals that eat grass end up creating feces that contains plenty of lignin, which is a chemical that helps produce vanilla and is typically found in plants or trees.
Making vanillin from vanilla beans costs twice the amount of making vanillin from poo, and there are undeniable environmental benefits of recycling cow dung into something other than fertilizer. Still, the inconvenience of revealing the source of ingredients means that people will likely be very reluctant to accept this new source of vanilla flavor.
5. Animals on Treadmills
A variety of studies have taken place that feature various types of animals on treadmills to study how they move. “Shrimp On A Treadmill” was a movie produced by the National Science Foundation. Since that movie, animals such as rats, cows, goats and monkeys have been subjected to the uncomfortable feeling of walking without actually going anywhere. The original tiny shrimp treadmill and experiment cost $560,000.
One of the latest studies spent $856,000 dollars on observing mountain lions walking on treadmills. It required around eight months to get the majestic cats accustomed to using the device. One researcher spent three years trying to convince various facilities to allow the experiment to take place.
4. Swedish Massage for Rabbits
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine spent around two years and about $387,000 dollars creating and running a series of experiments to witness the effects of giving New Zealand white rabbits Swedish massages. They wanted to monitor how the massages helped the rabbits recover from injury.
In order to measure the impact of Swedish massage, the researchers created a mechanical device that simulated the stimulation of relaxing strokes typical of Swedish massage. These rabbits were also anesthetized, had a foot attached to a pedal and outfitted with nerve cuffs that helped stimulate hind leg muscles.
3. Robotic Squirrels Test Rattlesnakes
In order to study the behavior of rattlesnakes, the University of California at Davis and the San Diego State University spent part of a $325,000 grant on the construction of a robot squirrel.
This robosquirrel consisted of a taxidermied squirrel that spent time among not-dead peers in order to smell like a living squirrel. The tail was heated through wires and outfitted with machinery that simulated the same behavior that a real squirrel engages in to ward off potential rattlesnake attacks.
Researchers determined that, just like in the wild, rattlesnakes attack squirrels with hot, wagging tails less often, confirming one of the cutest defense mechanisms in nature through the creepy manipulation of dead animals.
2. Male Fruit Flies Attracted to Younger Female Fruit Flies
Another in a bizarre series of experiments that involve relationship dynamics between male and female members of the same species, researchers spent almost a million dollars discovering long-held beliefs of male bias towards younger females over older females.
In this study, scientists measured how attracted male flies were to female flies, figuring out that men tend to go after the younger female flies rather than the older ones.
In this case, the culprit is a hormone that diminishes as female fruit flies become older. Despite tireless efforts of the study to get males more attracted to the older set of female fruit flies, the men went for the young ones even when the study was conducted in the dark.
1. Rats Like Miles Davis Better on Cocaine
In a study published during 2011 titled, “Music-induced context preference following cocaine conditioning in rats”, researchers subjected rats to doses of cocaine while playing the rats two different types of music: Fur Elise by Beethoven and Four by Miles Davis.
The goal of the study, other than wasting money, was to test music stimulus and the musical preference of rats with cocaine acting as a method of conditioning a response from the rodents.
The finding revealed that rats prefer silence, followed by Beethoven and then the music of Miles Davis. After cocaine was administered, the rats eventually started to love jazz more than Beethoven, proving that narcotics alter the mind.
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