Best. Scientific. Study. Ever.
From the 24 Dec 2005 issue of the British Medical Journal comes a study of such breath-taking scope and profound implications that it may well change the course of Western scientific thought: The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute. Their methodology is particularly impressive:
The Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health (Burnet Institute) based in Melbourne, employs about 140 people. The institute has eight tearooms; four are "programme linked"—that is, predominantly used by the staff of a single programme—and four are communal: two are attached to formal meeting rooms, one is a large multipurpose staff room, and one is a rather barren corridor with kitchen facilities.
Between 5 February 2004 and 18 June 2004 we carried out a pilot study to gain an initial impression of the manner of teaspoon loss at the institute and to refine our methods for the full study. We purchased 32 plain stainless steel teaspoons, discreetly numbered with red nail polish on the undersides of the handles, and distributed into a subset of the eight tearooms: 16 in the programme linked tearooms and 16 in the communal tearooms. We carried out a weekly audit over five months to assess any changes in the distribution of the teaspoons throughout the institute.
At the completion of the pilot study we carried out a longitudinal cohort study. We purchased and numbered a further 54 stainless steel teaspoons. In addition we purchased and discreetly numbered 16 teaspoons of higher quality. The teaspoons were distributed (stratified by spoon type) throughout the eight tearooms, with a higher proportion allocated to those tearooms with the highest teaspoon losses in the pilot study.
We carried out counts of the teaspoons weekly for two months then fortnightly for a further three months. Desktops and other immediately visible surfaces were scanned for errant spoons.
After five months we revealed our previously covert research project to the institute's staff. They were asked to return or anonymously report any marked teaspoons that had made their way into desk drawers or homes. Two days after the revelation, staff were asked to complete a brief anonymous questionnaire, which dealt with their attitudes towards and knowledge of teaspoons and teaspoon theft.
Most important are the researcher's theories as to the cause of the disappearance of the teaspoons:
We propose a somewhat more speculative theory (with apologies to Douglas Adams and Veet Voojagig). Somewhere in the cosmos, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, walking treeoids, and superintelligent shades of the colour blue, a planet is entirely given over to spoon life-forms. Unattended spoons make their way to this planet, slipping away through space to a world where they enjoy a uniquely spoonoid lifestyle, responding to highly spoon oriented stimuli, and generally leading the spoon equivalent of the good life.
Our data might also be contemplated through the prism of counterphenomenological resistentialism, which holds that les choses sont contre nous (things are against us). Resistentialism is the belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy towards humans, and therefore it is not people who control things but things that increasingly control people. Although it seems unreasonable to say that the teaspoons are exerting any influence over the Burnet Institute's employees (with the exception of the authors), their demonstrated ability to migrate and disappear shows that we have little or no control over them.
These speculations are interesting, but lack the scientific rigor of my own theory of why socks disappear in the dryer: the sock-to-lint converter.
(Of interest, it appears that the whole 24 Dec issue of BMJ is given over to more "whimsical" topics; I like that concept.)
[Intel Source: Rontini's BBS]