Every year the British Medical Journal publishes a Christmas edition—a delightful confection of whimsical articles that apply the rigor of the scientific method to such topics as “The survival time of chocolates on hospital wards” or “Dispelling the nice or naughty myth—A retrospective observational study of Santa Claus”. Much of the delight of these articles is in the details of the tongue-in-cheek tone, the accompanying figures, traditionally crafted methods sections and satisfyingly obvious conclusions. For example, did you know that “sleep deprived people appear less healthy, less attractive, and more tired compared with when they are well rested”, or that the “survival time of a chocolate on a hospital ward is short, at under an hour, and that the initial rate of chocolate consumption from a box is rapid but slows with time”? (It’s those hard ones no-one likes that are left at the end.)
Last week saw the publication of the 2016 BMJ Christmas edition featuring such topics as the effect of Pokémon GO on physical activity among young adults (short term value), and “Open toe Sandals Syndrome”—a study attempting to answer the question “Is fear of summer foot exposure contributing to the workload of mycology labs?”
One of my favorites from the current issue is a study asking whether the anecdotal evidence that unsolicited spam is annoying stands up to the rigors of a formal scientific analysis. The result is the article “We read spam a lot: prospective cohort study of unsolicited and unwanted academic invitations” by Grey et al., of the Departments of Medicine and Womens Health at the University of Auckland and Auckland District Health Board. In this study, careful attention to the methods section is rewarded with such gems as the “deftly ironic twist” whereby participants were recruited to the study by email invitation, and the hilarious criteria for inclusion in the study—personal acquaintance with the first author, desperation for a paper, and an inability to say no.
Here are a few other classic articles from past Christmas issues:
- An attempt to determine the anatomical location of the Christmas spirit: Evidence of a Christmas spirit network in the brain: functional MRI study
- A study determining the half-life of a teaspoon in a communal break room: The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute
- A “covert observational study” on the survival time of chocolates on hospital wards.
- And finally, this study extrapolating the speed at which the Grim Reaper can walk (apparently quite slowly) based on long-term observation of walking speeds and the relationship of average pace with risk of death.
If you have a moment over the holidays, take a look at the BMJ Christmas edition and archive. It will bring a smile to your day!