The best that academia has to offer

Our news today comes from MIT, where this article (https://news.mit.edu/2021/travel-pattern-global-0526?) has uncovered some huge news. Published in Nature and titled “The Universal Visitation Law of Human Mobility”, the world of sociology and our understanding of human behavior have been changed forever. Here’s the epiphany:

People visit places close to their houses more often than they visit places far from their houses.

Hold on a second… I think I must have missed something. Let me check my notes.

Nope, it turns out that many researchers from all around the world have actually spent lots of time and money figuring out that people tend to travel close to home more than they travel further away from home. Personally, I visit the Target a couple of miles away from my house more often than the Safeway down the street, but I visit the Wal Mart four miles away less often than each. I guess science has succeeded again!

Fanta Orange 330ml x 4 | Approved Food
Why not pick up a Fanta while you’re at Target?

The problem with articles like this is not that they’re simply stupid. I mean, yes, they’re stupid and they tell us intuitively obvious things that aren’t really all that interesting anyway. The problem with these articles is that they give nonscientists the idea that this is what scientists actually do for a living. Instead of working on things that matter, the man on the street gets the idea that scientists are more interested in figuring out how often we visit 7-11 than in trying to find a way to keep grandma’s cancer from metastasizing.

Now, as science types ourselves, we know that the types of scientists who publish articles like these have a few characteristics which make this impression faulty. For instance, the “scientists” who publish these articles aren’t really what we might refer to as scientists at all (I don’t think “social scientist” is a thing) and even if they were, they wouldn’t be the right kind of scientists to do cancer research. Still, perception is everything and I think we can all agree that this is one perception we can do without.

So MIT, maybe save articles like this for the Ig Nobel prizes rather than publishing them as straight news. And don’t worry about grandma – the cancer researchers are still on the job!

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