5 Petty Arguments You Won't Believe Have Scientific Answers
A great many of the arguments humans have are over things that are a) inconsequential and b) impossible to resolve. A couple can argue for years about the default position of the toilet seat, and eventually the winner is whoever has the most stamina to keep arguing. But this is what we have science for, right? To answer the questions no one else can answer? Even the pointless ones?
Leave the Toilet Seat Up or Down?
It's an argument that has torn families apart since the invention of indoor plumbing -- should the toilet seat stay up or down after you've used it? Men usually need it up, women always need it down, and since it takes approximately zero effort to raise or lower the seat, it's clearly the principle of the thing that matters. So why not just have science give us an objective answer?
That turned out to be harder than it sounds, but researcher Jay Pil Choi did the work and came up with a complex equation to solve the issue:
See, that's what we've been saying all along, but nobody ever listens to us.
OK, that probably needs a little explanation for anyone who isn't Good Will Hunting. Choi's formula assumes first of all that the same toilet is being used by both males and females throughout the course of the day. If not, why the hell would you be having trouble with this?
Now, we're going to assume that if you're old enough to read this sentence, you know that both men and women need to sit to poop, but only women need to sit to do Number 1. That means that if you leave the seat up permanently, both men and women are inconvenienced, but if it's always down, only men are. So you might figure that it's best to just leave the seat down and the dudes can deal with it as needed, which is what the ladies have been saying all along.
Especially if they're so dumb that they regularly shit all over their white robe.
But Choi's conclusions are more complicated, even if he's already put more thought into this than anyone in history by two paragraphs ago. As it's estimated that we each defecate once per day and urinate seven times a day on average, what we need here are graphs. So many graphs.
There is no excuse for not using little poop icons on that graph.
Basically, if the number of ladies in the house is equal to or greater than the number of dudes, the seat stays down, period. To make keeping the seat up worthwhile, men have to outnumber women by a certain ratio. For example, in a house with four guys, they only get to keep the seat up when there are two or fewer girls; for five guys, three or fewer girls (if you start adding in variables such as multiple bathrooms and proximity of bathrooms to males and females, then you'd need some kind of supercomputer to figure it out).
So there you go. Now we just need them to tell us which way we should hang the toilet paper roll and our relationships will be smooth sailing.
What's the Difference Between a Geek and a Nerd?
Quick question: If you see a very skinny or very fat socially awkward dude who wears glasses and is in the middle of coding an automated program to farm World of Warcraft gold, is he a geek or a nerd? Don't scoff -- labels are important to people. Especially when the label represents a small group of enthusiasts who take pride in being outsiders. And apparently geeks and nerds both hate the fact that people use the terms interchangeably (and everyone else needs to know what to scream out the car window when passing them).
Fortunately, this is an issue very dear to the heart of computer scientist Burr Settles, because of course it is, and he's found a way to quantify exactly what "geek" and "nerd" mean in our culture. He developed an incredibly nerdy (or geeky?) algorithm to determine how commonly words were associated with each other on Twitter:
Conclusion: Geeks can't read that.
Unlocking that would probably take a much bigger nerd than any of us at Cracked, because we all qualify more as geeks. No, seriously -- Settles' results showed that the most significant differences between geeks and nerds are that geeks are more into pop culture references, tabletop RPGs, and picking out plot holes in Star Wars, while nerds are more interested in academic achievement, the pursuit of knowledge, and formulating complex algebraic equations to answer pointless questions. Here's the data, visualized:
"Gets rocks thrown at" is a major overlap.
If you'll excuse the eye-bleeding choices of font colors, the graph shows that people who spend a lot of time talking about hobbies, movies, TV shows, and comics tend to rate on the geeky side of the spectrum, while more sciency things and words that have something to do with reading (and, for some reason, cello playing) are regarded more as "nerd stuff." No word on the prevalence of neck beards.
Of course, there is a crossover, but it's still in keeping with the general rule. For example, science fiction seems to be equally popular among nerds and geeks. And the word that is both the most geeky and the most nerdy is "gamer." So when it comes to our hypothetical example in the opening, we guess you can just pick one.
We prefer the term "average, normal person" where games are concerned.
Which Is the Catchiest Song?
Nothing in the world is as subjective as music. Everyone reading this has, at some point in their life, shared a life-changing song with a friend who said, "Eh, I wish it had more drums." Besides, if record companies could rely on math to tell them what's going to be a hit, the music industry would be easy. Well, guys, we have good news ...
London researchers started by observing thousands of volunteers singing along to various songs and took careful note of which ones produced the most uncontrollable enthusiasm from the participants. Once they had their sample, they started breaking the tracks down into their core elements. So, you want a hit? You need detailed musical phrases, a lot of pitch changes, and a male voice with a high vocal range. If you have a good, shouty rock ballad with a simple, memorable hook, then you've got yourself a catchy song. For example, the top match in their experiment was Queen's "We Are the Champions":
With this simple power ballad, Freddie Mercury unleashed the perfect storm of elements that make it impossible not to sing along if you hear it playing. The simple hook embellished by Mercury's ability to switch from baritone to punch-in-the-nuts pitch and everywhere in between is the code to a complete brain hijacking.
The same can be said about "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi, which also scored high on the list of both catchy songs and big-haired '80s bands:
According to the researchers, a song is more addictive if the vocalist manages to spit out more words before needing to take a breath, like "She says we gotta hooooold ooooooonnnn to what we've got (breathe) 'cause it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not!" Combine that with Jon Bon Jovi's powerful, high-pitched yelling in the chorus, and you have crack for the ears.
Oddly, it was reported that a key requirement of catchiness is that the singer has to be male. The researchers speculate that we're tapping into some inherent psychological intuition to follow male tribal leaders into battle. Which of course is ridiculous, because who would follow Freddie Mercury into battle? Actually, scratch that. That would be goddamn amazing.
"They will never take our unitards!"
Is Golf a Sport?
Fans of activities that involve running and jumping with variously shaped balls are sometimes loath to classify golf as a sport. It's hard to compare a game like professional football or basketball to a game that involves driving around in a little cart in between swings. But once again, where most people are satisfied to argue the matter on bar stools, scientists break out the measuring equipment.
First, as nebulous a concept as "sports" is to begin with, most people seem to agree that a sport is something that you get better at the fitter you are, which would include football but not, say, Magic: The Gathering.
Where the most activity comes from digging the cards out of the closet.
So what about golf? Neil Wolkodoff, director of the Center for Health and Sport Science at Denver's Rose Medical Center, decided to hook a bunch of wires up to some golfers while they played to monitor their physiological changes. The results were surprising even to him: Playing nine holes can burn over 700 calories. The number was highest when players carried their golf bags or pushed a cart, but even if your lazy ass rides around the course on one of those sissy little motorized carts, you're still burning an average of about 400 calories.
But more important is the issue of how training affects the game. Wolkodoff determined that when players had reached their anaerobic threshold -- that is, tuckered themselves out -- their games began to suffer. In other words, being in shape (i.e., having a high anaerobic threshold) improved their golf game. Therefore, physical training can significantly impact your success on the green. According to Wolkodoff, these two conclusions put golf square in "sport" territory.
No amount of training will excuse the clothes you'll be wearing later on the course.
So there we go. Now somebody run the same test for NASCAR.
What Does It Mean to Be "Cool"?
Being "cool" doesn't seem like something you can put on a scale. If you have it, people just know. Han Solo is cool, right? But is he cooler than Batman? It's really hard to quantify it if you don't know exactly what "it" is.
It was exactly this mystery that led psychologists Ian Hansen and Ilan Dar-Nimrod to write an academic paper with the awesome title "Coolness: An Empirical Investigation." Their theory is that the measure of "coolness" is embedded within our language, which means that how cool you are is measured mostly by other descriptive features that come together to rate you on the cool scale. So they conducted a survey among a bunch of university students to submit single-word descriptions of what the word "cool" means and tabled the results.
This image broke the study.
According to the researchers, the project came about from an argument between the two of them about whether bug-eyed character actor Steve Buscemi was cool. Hansen insisted that he was, while Dar-Nimrod (whose name automatically calls his authority on the subject into question) was adamant that he's not. The objective answer? Yes ... and also no.
See, the surprising result is that when they compared the participants' notes, they discovered that we are using two different (and in some senses contradictory) opinions about what makes a person cool. The most common descriptions were things like "friendly," "confident," and "awesome" ("Brad's a cool guy, he loaned me his juicer!"), but then a bunch of others went for "ironic," "rebellious," and "hedonistic" ("Todd's a cool guy, he just smirked when that biker threatened him! Then he stabbed him in the neck!").
Be thankful he wasn't feeling suave. That's when he breaks out the morning star.
Their conclusion is that one kind of cool, which they called "cache cool," is all about being friendly, socially responsible, good-looking, and confident, while a different kind, "contrarian cool," was more about wearing leather, taking risks, and sticking it to "The Man," like the classic James Dean type.
This explains why we might disagree about whether Steve Buscemi, for example, is actually cool. He may not have the billion-dollar smile of Tom Cruise or Johnny Depp, but a lifetime of playing defiant bad guys might qualify him anyway. It confirms what many of us have long suspected -- if you don't have the looks or the charisma, you can always wear dark sunglasses and start being mean to people.
That's how many seconds you have before she unleashes a flurry of bitch slaps.
Related Reading: Some arguments just need to be retired- there's no science behind the bigoted belief that women can't be funny. And if you've ever bought the bullshit argument that the Internet has made it impossible for creative types to turn a profit, read this. Then, before you say anything, read our article about dismissive arguments you only make when you're wrong.
For more truth, check out Cracked's You Might Be a Zombie and Other Bad News: Shocking but Utterly True Facts!