Christmas Research Papers Tackle Goofy Problems in Medicine

The British Medical Journal’s holiday issue includes an investigation of old magazines in waiting rooms and finds that men can be idiots

kids playing doctor

Doctors' waiting rooms sometimes seem like black holes for magazines. The stacks that sit with you while you wait for an appointment seem to be filled with anything but the latest issues. All the recent copies have mysteriously disappeared, leaving only year-old copies of the Economist.

Frustrated by his practice’s seeming inability to keep fresh magazines around, New Zealand professor Bruce Arroll and his colleagues set out to quantify the age of magazines in waiting rooms. 

Almost half of 87 magazines left in a waiting room were missing after 31 days, they report. This suggests that it's not that practices are failing to put out newer issues at the start. Patients are taking the magazines.

Based on the results of the study, the researchers advise practices to stock their waiting rooms with only old issues of "non-gossipy" magazines, as a cost-saving measure. ("Gossipy was defined as having five or more photographs of celebrities on the front cover and most gossipy as having up to 10 such images, the authors write.") The new, gossipy ones most certainly will vanish.

The findings, published in the Christmas issue of the British Journal of Medicine, may not seem like the normal fare for the journal, but they are part of a great tradition. Every year, researchers publish papers that use proper scientific methods to answer questions of dubious importance. Last year researchers explained that James Bond probably couldn’t down martinis at the rate depicted in Ian Fleming’s novels without sacrificing his spy and lady-wooing abilities. Other reports explored the effect of formal attire on patient’s confidence in their doctors and the genetics of magical abilities. 

This year, the holiday issue includes an analysis of the type of music your surgeon should listen to and these gems:

  • Men are idiots. Or rather, men are much more likely to engage in the kinds of idiotic risk taking behavior that earns the infamous Darwin Award—a cheeky honor bestowed upon people whose unfortunate choices remove them from the human gene pool through death or sterilization. The researchers write: "[T]here is a class of risk—the 'idiotic' risk—that is qualitatively different from those associated with, say, contact sports or adventure pursuits such as parachuting. Idiotic risks are defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final." Men make up to 87 percent of the Darwin Award winners, they found.

  • The phrases "armchair socialist" or "armchair revolutionary" are commonly lobbed at people who comment extensively on politics without actually taking action. But the phrase is misleading, say researchers. In fact, people at the extreme ends of the political spectrum tend to be more active than those in the middle. "Encouraging centrists to adopt stronger political views may be an innovative approach to increasing their physical activity, potentially benefiting population health," the researchers write. Other terms that miss the mark: "limousine liberal," "chardonnay socialist" and "champagne socialist."

  • A comparison between doctors and the story of a hubris-filled king inspired a solution to frustrated patients seeking doctor’s appointments. King Canute or Cnut the Great, ruled Denmark, England, Norway and parts of Sweden in the 11th century. A legend holds that he set his throne on the shore and commanded the tide not to wet him. But of course, the tide came in and the king was forced to leap back and exclaim that the power of kings was not as great as that of God. Likewise, the researchers comment on the futility of holding back the tide of patients seeking appointments. Instead, they invited patients to attend the daily appointment pool if they were seeking same-day care and cautioned that the wait might be longer. When the researchers tried the plan, they were surprised to find "appreciative patients, a calm reception atmosphere, and improved work patterns for nursing staff," according to a news release.

Ok, BMJ, looks like you slipped up on the jokes. This last study really seems like a worthy one, regardless of the silly premise. 

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