At the same time as they do studies on the human genome, researchers also work on whether cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, or whether Alzheimer's disease makes older people worse drivers, says the Los Angeles Times' Eryn Brown. Such "duh science" — like whether women who get epidurals experience less pain during childbirth than women who don't — at the very least causes the public to roll its eyes and serves as a convenient target for politicians looking to cut funding for what they consider "wasteful projects," Brown says. But experts say that proving the obvious over and over isn't a waste of time because the studies influence perceptions and policy, such as emphasizing to successive generations that smoking is bad for you, or that doctors who don't get enough sleep make mistakes when they're treating patients. Others say the trend is indicative of a larger problem in science — the need to publish as many papers as possible and to generate positive results, Brown says. Because researchers need to win grants to pay their bills, and must publish a large volume of papers to win grants, the easy way out is to publish papers that prove something that has already been proven, she adds.
The Adventures of Dr. Obvious
May 31, 2011