Why does the US spend so much money on stupid studies?
"Does your child have the selfish gene?" ran the banner headline on the front of today's Wall Street Journal. Like every parent, I suspect, I immediately ignored the rest of the front page about the world's economic woes and headed, in a mild panic, straight for the really important stuff: are my kids helplessly biologically self-centered and, if so, can this be fixed?
But, I then read what the study the headline was based on: a group of Israeli 3- and 4-year-olds were divided into groups and each child was given six stickers; would they consider giving any away to a child who had none? I almost laughed. The answer was, as any parent could have told you, mixed, but mostly the kids gave a sticker away. (They still had five left). I read on. To my amazement 15-month-old babies had also been tested to see how altruistic they are and and so too had British 4-, 6- and 9-year-olds.
An "expert" was quoted as saying "if parents think that generosity isn't possible at age 2 they won't try to encourage it."
Maybe I am lucky because I have twin boys, aged 8, so they have known the concept of sharing right from age zero. They were born early and even shared an isolette in the hospital NICU. I am not saying they are perfect -- there have been many fights over a certain piece of Lego, or a computer game (sigh) -- but I have also seen tear-inducing moments of kindness by each of them to the other right from day one. Now I hear things like: "Bro, you have a go" or "bro, you take it." These are phrases that warm my heart -- despite the fact I don't quite get why two white kids are talking in "street" lingo.
But the thought that any parent -- especially a Wall Street Journal reader who is probably educated -- would encourage young children not to share is totally absurd, as I found the premise of the study to be. You don't need expensive studies to tell you what common sense does.
Donald Trump told Erin Burnett on last night's CNN show Erin Burnett OutFront that his young son Barron did not need his nine toy airplanes; he would happily give away two thirds... (the bigger notion being it would be better for the US economy and jobs for his son to have three US-manufactured planes than nine made in China). Does Barron, or his parents, need a study that cost, goodness knows how much, to learn this? No, they do not.
Burnett also told us about another study to do with mustaches -- which might negatively affect Herman Cain. He has a mustache. He is the only Republican Presidential candidate to have a mustache. Apparently, a study says people don't trust people with mustaches and this could affect Cain's credibility. As Burnett would -- and did -- say, "seriously?"
Over the weekend I read how one study told us that women prefer dating thin, hot, rich men to fat, ugly, poor ones. Wow. I really hope that wasn't a costly enterprise by whatever group of social scientists decided to investigate that one. And then the New York Times had a report on a study that would contradict the one reported in the New York Post. The study they wrote about said that we date according to our psyche. In other words, on account of our background and mentality, we can't help being drawn to a certain type. Nothing about fat, rich, hot, ugly, poor or thin in that. What's a single woman to make of all these conflicting "studies"? It's headache-inducing.
I had lunch last week with the head of "branding" at a major bank who told me that it was simply "extraordinary" how much money got spent in this country on "studies". This person's view was that while some were worthwhile most were not. Surely if you are running business you don't need "studies" to tell you if it's going well. Your margins tell you that. I doubt Steve Jobs needed too many "studies" to understand people liked his designs.
Still, despite my skepticism, it was a relief to read today of a study that actually seemed worthwhile! The BBC and The Canada Center for Global Security Studies has looked at internet censorship by authoritarian countries like China and Iran, to see how effectively it hampers news reaching those places. The answer, unfortunately, is very. Now, that, is a worthwhile study. Finally.