A celebration (and mocking) of ridiculously useless research

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Breaking News! Fat People Use More Gas!

Ah, Gentle Readers, one should never start a new blog just before taking a vacation. You take a long ride in a car, enjoy the beautiful scenery, get back in time for school to start and deal with all those transitions and, pow!, months go by without a blog post. Our apologies.

Of course, taking long car trips isn't just bad for blogging. Due to the ever-expanding waistline of the average American (caused, no doubt, by all those deep-fried Snickers), it's bad for the planet as well. According to Sheldon H. Jacobson, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, all that extra fat we're carrying (curse you, Mars Incorporated!) is causing us to burn one billion more gallons of gasoline each year than we did in 1960.

Here's Sheldon:

"The bottom line is that our hunger for food and our hunger for oil are not independent. There is a relationship between the two," said University of Illinois researcher Sheldon Jacobson, a study co-author.

"If a person reduces the weight in their car, either by removing excess baggage, carrying around less weight in their trunk, or yes, even losing weight, they will indeed see a drop in their fuel consumption."

Now, we here at Duh!scoveries are as concerned about the environment as most Americans (OK, that might sound like hardly at all, but no, really - we care), so we thank Sheldon for performing the necessary math and sounding the alarm. But, on the other hand... can somebody give us a "Duh"?

Like anyone who has taken a high school physics class, or who has noticed the disturbing pattern of 5000 pound SUVs getting worse gas mileage than 700 pound motorcycles, most of us are well aware that it takes more energy to move more mass. It doesn't require lengthy, peer-reviewed research to figure that out.

One imagines being the peer-reviewer on this paper. After having a grad student check the basic math, you can just haul out the old "Approved" rubber stamp and take the rest of the day off. Thank god for the gimmes - some of those other articles can take months to review!

We here at Duh!scoveries don't merely want to mock these studies - we long to contribute too. So, we're suggesting a follow-up study. Gasoline in cars and trucks isn't the only excess fuel being burned here - the same physics indicate that fat people themselves require more fuel (in the form of tasty fried foods and soft drinks filled with high-fructose corn syrup) to move their own excess weight. And now that more and more vehicles are being fueled with biodiesel from soybean oil and ethanol from corn, there is now a competition for those resources between the fat people needing cheap calories to be able to move their enormous bodies and the SUVs they need to buy in order to haul their enormous bodies to the local fried-food emporium.

All of which raises the question: what is the optimum number of huge biodiesel or ethanol SUVs? Build too many and fat people will start slimming down due to lack of caloric input diverted to biofuel production, which leads to fewer SUVs needed to haul their now-slender bodies, which allows those fuel stocks to be retargeted to food. A vicious cycle, so we need to figure out just how many Hummers are needed to keep Americans optimally fat (or, we suppose, fit).

Grad students of America, don't let this research opportunity pass you by! You may thank us when you, too, are the subject of glowing press coverage.