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Direct from the Institute of the Obvious: why “'duh" science might actually be important

A bored woman.
A bored woman.
Jason Scragz/Flickr

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Do we really need new research to convince us that vacations reduce stress levels, that alcohol can increase errors in decision-making, or that women who receive epidurals have less painful childbirths? Studies whose findings seem to confirm conventional wisdom—known colloquially as “'duh" science—often support theories that have long been held by the public and the larger scientific community. Critics consistently question the value of such studies, their drain on our tax dollars and the power of their seemingly obvious conclusions to diminish researchers’ credibility. Proponents disagree, arguing that scientific progress and real change in social attitudes and public policy comes with the repeated observation. They cite the numerous and continued studies needed to convince a stubborn populace of smoking’s harmful effects. Why do researchers continue to pursue "'duh' science"? Are current, well-studied issues easier to tackle than new ground, or are grant prospects better for researchers whose studies add to established scientific conclusions?


Eryn Brown, science writer for the Los Angeles Times

Kyle Stanford, professor of logic and philosophy of science at the University of California, Irvine