Soundbite Science

One of my pet gripes is something I call soundbite science: so-called scientific studies whose sole purpose is to generate a bit of cheap publicity for someone. Soundbite science is easy to spot, as it typically displays a number of the following characteristics:

  • the studies appear as 'fun' news items towards the end of news broadcasts
  • they are carried out by people described with the generic word 'scientists' (as opposed to physicists, biochemists, etc.)
  • the 'scientists' are usually from a famous university
  • the study is sponsored by a company or organisation that has something vaguely to do with the subject of the study
  • …but the study is really "just a bit of fun"
  • the subject of the study is one of perpetual fascination to the public (men v women, beer v wine, Britain v the rest of the world, tea, biscuits, sex, genes, television, music, food, sport, etc.)
  • the studies are often published at the start of a special national 'week' invented by the sponsors (National Sausage Week, National Biscuit Week, etc.)
  • the study has no real scientific merit whatsoever

Here's the latest little gem:

BBC: Formula found for film chemistry
Scientists say they have discovered a formula for creating sexual chemistry on the movie screen. The experts, from King's College in London, watched romantic films to come up with the right formula. They said voice, eye contact, body language and excitement could be used to measure sexual chemistry…

Chemistry couples
  • 10/10 - When Harry Met Sally
    (Meg Ryan/Billy Crystal)
  • 9.5/10 - Casablanca
    (Ingrid Bergman/Humphrey Bogart)
  • 9/10 - Breakfast at Tiffany's
    (Audrey Hepburn/George Peppard)
  • 9/10 - Lost in Translation
    (Scarlett Johansson/Bill Murray)
  • 7/10 - Pretty Woman
    (Julia Roberts/Richard Gere)

…The research was carried for Sky Movies.

Yes, that's right: the 'formula' for sexual chemistry on screen is… eye contact, body language and excitement.

Wow!

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