Australia Did A Research Study To See Where All The Teaspoons Go
Research studies, even officially published ones, can be inaccurate, misleading, or just plain dumb. We've talked a lot before about the harm posed by seemingly legit studies spreading misinformation. But sometimes, the study doesn't even seem legit, and there's no harm at all, because the researchers are just having a laugh.
In 2005, there was a problem at the Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health in Melbourne. The teaspoons kept vanishing. The institute had a series of breakrooms ("tearooms") stocked with spoons made of stainless steel, for preparing hot drinks. They had to buy new spoons regularly, which is something you should only need to do when using disposable utensils.
And so director Margaret Hellard ran a study to monitor the teaspoons, and published it in the British Medical Journal. The study started with teaspoons discreetly labeled and planted in various breakrooms. Over time, the spoons disappeared, with the more public rooms losing spoons faster than tearooms dedicated to specific programs. The researchers calculated the rate of spoon erasure: Spoons have a half-life of 81 days, which is to say 360 spoons vanish every 100 teaspoon-years.
They extended this to calculate the number of spoons that must vanish citywide (which is fallacious), and described these 18 million teaspoons in terms of their length in coastline miles and weight in blue whales (which is unhelpful).
As for the actual question of what happens to the missing teaspoons, you might assume that colleagues steal them. But the researchers surveyed employees and gave them a chance to return ill-gotten spoons, and the number that came back fell short of the number missing. The researchers were therefore forced to propose an alternate explanation: When left alone, spoons will spontaneously travel to their home world, where sentient spoons are the dominant form of life.
The researchers suggested that Australia should make spoon security a national priority, and perhaps they could monitor spoons more effectively with microchips and satellites—but conceded that this is all futile if inanimate objects truly vacate Earth altogether.
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For more wacky studies, check out:
A Scientist Exposed A Publishing Scam With A Paper On Midi-Chlorians
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Top image: Max Pixel