Sunday, October 03, 2004

Country Music, Suicide, and Pancakes in Kansas

I don't know how I forgot to mention this precious piece of research, the winner of the IgNoble for medicine: "The Effect of Country Music on Suicide." Apparently it's hypothesized that country music's focus on alcohol leads to an association with country music. However, it appears the research may be flawed. Chris Brooke discovered a paper, titled "An Achy Breaky Heart' May Not Kill You," critiquing the methods, model, and reasoning of the IgNoble-winning effort. Here is my favorite point from the critique:

Further, while Stack and Gundlach found a relationship between amount of country music airtime and suicide rates... they have not accounted adequately for directionality... Likewise, one cannot determine ... whether listening to country music tends to cause their noncountry music fan spouses to divorce them.

I'm know for a fact that this is an important issue, because I'm almost certain that the main reason I am not married is that I am a Hank Williams fan. "There's a tear in my beer, 'cause I'm cryin' for you dear."

And while we're on the topic of amusing research, who can forget the geographers who tested the theory that Kansas is as flat as a pancake? The results? Kansas is, in fact, flatter than a pancake! Though one potential methodological flaw was their use of IHOP pancakes. It's well known among cheap chain-diner denizens that Denny's has flatter pancakes. I only wish Waffle House had pancakes. I'm sure they'd be flat, and I could listen to Hank on the jukebox while I ate them.


Blar said...

My complaint with the methodology of Fonstad, Pugatch, & Vogt (2003) ("Kansas Is Flatter Than a Pancake") has always been that they measured the "flatness" of Kansas based on its elevation above sea level. This means that they neglected the curvature of the Earth, and thus were really only measuring Kansas's smoothness. Being smoother than a pancake is different from (and less interesting than) being flatter than a pancake, since we would not want to claim that a region on the surface of a perfectly smooth sphere was perfectly flat.

Chris said...

Hah! I guess that's true, though I've heard mathematicians use the word "flat" to refer to curved surfaces. Of course, we shouldn't be too harsh on the geographers. They only did the pancake test to play with their new instruments. It got published, but in a journal that's not really about cutting-edge and methodologically rigorous science.

Lindsay Beyerstein said...

So, the question becomes: "Is Kansas smoother than a pancake on the ground in Kansas?"

HiPath 3000 said...

Mmmmm pancakes!

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