The worth of obvious scientific conclusions

Whenever a scientific study confirms the supposedly obvious you find this kind of reaction, and I get fed up with it. It’s almost certainly just fun in Norm’s case, but I’ve met people who take it seriously and add it to the they-change-their-minds-all-the-time-anyway dismissal of science. In psychology particularly there’s plenty that’s counter-intuitive, and it’s only by this kind of ‘obvious’ investigation that progress can be made.

For example, today there’s a study suggesting that female ‘sexy’ walks do not correlate with times of peak fertility – there are subtle signs of this, but they’re only detectable at close range. It was expected that the study would go the other way, and the result isn’t particularly intuitive. A few weeks ago a study reported that lap dancers have increased earnings during their most fertile phases, as compared with those on the pill all month. Also unexpected.

Of course, the cynic’s reaction will be to instead deride the studies as pointless, but you never know where this kind of research is going to lead. These studies add to theories of evolutionary psychology, and invite us to ask how much of our choices are determined by subconscious signals – how much free will do we really have? Not every result is going to be new and exciting, but investigation always reveals something. A quick browse of snopes.com will show how many ‘obvious’ things widely thought to be true are completely wrong. Confirmation of ‘common sense’ is worth having.