5 Times Science Ruined Your Day
Science is a fickle friend. If it wasn't for science you'd be reading this on a cave wall, but the same field that's responsible for the miracles of the modern world is also dedicated to ruining all of life's best vices.
In the new truTV series Adam Ruins Everything (Tuesdays at 10/9c), host Adam Conover goes to great lengths to dispel widespread misconceptions about everything we take for granted, much the same way scientists won't rest until everything we once thought was good for us is revealed to unleash destruction. For example ...
Red Wine Isn't Good For Your Heart After All
As comedy writers, we're well aware of both the benefits and the dangers of alcohol consumption. There are only so many times we can shotgun Milwaukee's Best on a Tuesday afternoon before we can't look at ourselves in the mirror anymore, and that's where red wine comes in.
For years, the media has been telling us that red wine is basically a health food. Most of its supposed benefits come from a special sciency food thing called resveratrol, which sounds like an overseas Tylenol knockoff but supposedly helps prevent heart disease, mental decline, blood clots, and strokes. So not only will popping the cork on that cabernet sauvignon make you feel classy no matter how stained the ratty old Air Supply T-shirt you're wearing is -- it's practically the same as hitting the gym. Why would you ever drink anything but wine?
Because whiskey is delicious?
Well, in a shocking revelation about a product that frequently comes in boxes so hobos can get blackout drunk to forget their lives, resveratrol isn't quite what your alcoholic aunt hyped it up to be. In a 16-year study conducted in one of Italy's wine regions (because, to our surprise, Italy has non-wine regions) researchers found that resveratrol levels "do not show any apparent protective association with disease and markers of disease in humans and are not associated with lifespan." They also said a lot of big words and weird math things that we're too dumb to understand, but their conclusion is about as clear as you can get. You'd have as much luck trying to prevent heart disease with a nightly glass of red wine as you would with a nightly bowl of Bugles drenched in butterscotch.
Or just a Mason jar full of butterscotch.
Red wine in small quantities does still have some health benefits, but it's not a magical heart elixir that you can pair with your Kraft mac and cheese to eliminate the downsides of eating Kraft mac and cheese. And "small quantities" is the key phrase there. You can't substitute your nightly jog with two bottles of wine and a cheese plate and expect to live to a ripe old age. Although at a certain point you have to start questioning quantity versus quality.
Dark Chocolate Is Actually Pretty Terrible For You Too
Dark chocolate is a delicious junk food we've long tried to justify through scientific study. Obviously, eating it provides a smug sense of superiority over people who prefer milk chocolate like a bunch of damn children, but dark chocolate lovers want physical superiority as well. You probably saw your chubbier friends and colleagues share this New York Times article about chocolate's ability to improve your memory, and dark chocolate in particular has long been touted as a food that's good for your heart, thanks to the presence of another goofy food word, flavanols.
In addition to being the name of Flavor Flav's obscure experimental album, flavanols might be legitimately good for you -- the science is still up in the air. But whether or not they're good is irrelevant to your chocolate intake, because eating the screen you're reading this on would give you about as much flavanol as chocolate does.
Potentially less delicious, though.
Flavanols taste like bitter garbage, so they're pretty much entirely destroyed during the chocolate-making process and replaced with delicious fat and sugar.
So how did all these pro-dark-chocolate studies come about? Well, the memory study was performed on a batch of highly concentrated cocoa powder that was carefully selected for research ... by chocolatier Mars Inc., which funded the study in the hopes of drumming up some good chocolate press. That's like saying banana cream pie is good for you because you studied the health benefits of bananas. This is a problem with lots of studies involving chocolate, because while flavanols can be found in many foods, the funding for flavanol research tends to come from candy companies that Willy Wonka would loathe.
Answer the meme's question!
To be fair to the researchers, they were appalled that the media took their results to mean "Everyone should eat more chocolate, because it's a miracle food!" But at times science seems to have a blind spot for chocolate. Another oft-cited study, also funded by Mars, found that a tribe of indigenous peoples in Panama drink up to five cups of cocoa a day and have consistently low blood pressure. Except that's total nonsense, as another researcher found that their cocoa consumption was vastly overstated, like that guy in your college dorm who was obviously lying about his sexual exploits.
Like red wine, small amounts of dark chocolate can be healthy. But the only reason it's been declared awesome while other fatty and sugary junk foods are decried is that dark chocolate comes in fancy packaging that costs a couple extra bucks, which is then presumably turned around to fund dubious studies. Way to accept bribes and then debunk the resulting studies, science!
Related: 5 Bitter Truths About Chocolate
Sex Isn't The Workout Magazines Keep Telling You It Is
First off, don't panic: Sex is still awesome, and you should have it. If that's not an option for you, let us know and maybe we can swing by your place later. But while we've long stopped believing most of the sex myths we picked up in junior high school (size doesn't matter, guys don't think about sex every seven seconds, and no one's into surprise butt stuff), the idea that a good session of sex-making is just as much of a workout as hitting the gym is as long-lasting as we are. In bed.
Here's Fitness Magazine talking about what positions give you the best workout, here's the Daily Mail claiming that sex is almost as good for you as a 30-minute run and should be factored into your fitness regimen, and here's a "sexologist" in Woman's Day arguing that a little extra moaning can somehow burn an additional 30 calories per session.
Try moaning erotically during your next jog, too!
Damn, why would anyone in a relationship even bother going to the gym?
Well, unless your sexual activity involves significantly more floppy weightlifting and jumping jacks than ours, the reason you're all panty and sweaty afterward probably has more to do with the fact that you're out of shape because you keep taking your partner on romantic dates instead of exercising. The New England Journal Of Medicine found that while the oft-touted number is anywhere between 100 and 300 calories burned per session, the average sex-haver actually burns a measly 21 calories.
A few more if you routinely do this afterward.
For comparison's sake, you'd burn about seven by crashing in front of the TV and watching Knight Rider reruns, and maybe about 14 if you disinterestedly masturbated to them.
So either you need to start having sex five times more often (and good luck with that), or you need to stop using getting laid as an excuse to skip the gym. Of course, the average Cracked reader is so virile that we're sure the numbers skew upwards, but still. There's a reason they're called love handles and not love muscles.
Binge-Watching Could Be A Sign Of Bad Health
So your partner's losing interest in you because all that dark chocolate's making you fat, the sex wasn't burning any of it off, and those bottles of red wine just gave you heart palpitations when you tried any move more advanced than "stately humping." Depressed, you decide to forget your woes with one of modern life's great pleasures -- binge-watching a TV show. Eight straight hours of Deep Space Nine on a lazy Sunday is enough to cheer anyone up, right?
The Internet is full of testimonies to the joys of bingeing. You can go at your own pace and not have to wait weeks or months for a new episode to roll around, and you'll pick up on lots of little details you'd otherwise forget in between episodes. And, according to science, it's also the perfect time to craft your suicide note.
People who binge-watch are more likely to be depressed and lonely, and the worse those feelings are, the more likely you are to binge.
"You'll make me feel better, won't you, hours of solitary confinement?"
That's not to say that all people who binge-watch are depressed. But if you're feeling awful, an entire day of My Little Pony is a good way to repress your emotions.
The findings are similar to what's found in people who binge-eat or -drink, two activities that don't exactly have a great reputation (gee, it's almost like "binge" has negative connotations). The tipping point comes when you're feeling guilty about putting off responsibilities but keep trucking through the underappreciated later seasons of Everybody Loves Raymond anyway, a problem that's exacerbated by the fact that services like Netflix are designed to encourage this behavior. The next episode starts 15 seconds after the last one ends, and in those 15 seconds you're often still processing a plot twist or a witty zinger. The decision to continue is essentially taken out of your hands, absolving your guilt as you watch fictional families instead of tending to your own.
It's fine; your kids will make friends someday.
But don't worry: It's not all bad news for your mental health. It's also bad news for your physical health! Another study found a correlation between the number of hours spent watching TV per day and the risk of suddenly dying from a pulmonary embolism. That doesn't mean you need to put your affairs in order before the next season of House Of Cards, but if you binge on a regular basis you're putting your health at risk. This problem can be counteracted by getting up and walking around a little between episodes, but "spontaneous exercise" and "Golden Girls marathon" are two phrases that rarely go together.
Daydreaming Is Making You Miserable
So now that we've thoroughly ruined all of your vices, you probably want to go back to your earlier state of ignorant bliss with some nice, leisurely daydreaming. We've told you before that imagining future success actually makes you less likely to achieve your goals, but surely there are no downsides to taking a break from work to imagine that you're king of Dino Island, right?
If you nodded and agreed, then you clearly haven't been paying attention. Not that we blame you, because a study found that people spend nearly half their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing. And, more often than not, that thinking tends to be bad for our emotional state.
They're also dreaming of Dino Island.
Dino Island aside, we tend to daydream about either the past or the future. The former leads to regrets ("What a fool I was to not ask Steve out and to sell all my Pogs; they're due for a comeback any day now!") while the latter produces fear of the unknown ("What if I get cancer 20 years from now or get mauled by a grizzly bear this weekend?"). So while we've long thought of daydreaming as a powerful tool that helps us escape the soul-crushing tedium of our daily lives, science says that all you're doing is topping off that tedium sundae with a big ol' handful of regret sprinkles and fear flakes.
In fact, researchers found that the more our minds wander, the less happy we generally are with our current situation. They found that people tend to daydream the most when they're working or at home on the computer, although we assume the latter is skewed by thoughts of, "I wish I was reading Cracked instead of doing my banking."
Or, like us, maybe you just daydream about having enough money to need to do banking.
Conversely, sex, exercise, and conversation prompted the most focus on the task at hand (or mouth).
The trick to happiness, at least in the short term, is to focus intently on what you're supposed to be doing in that moment, whether that's doing the dishes or doing your partner. The constant wandering that you thought was proof that you're a creative, thoughtful person was actually just evidence that your current situation is making you feel lousy, and your daydreaming is only making it worse. On the plus side, you can avoid this little minefield of negative emotions if you focus exclusively on whatever you're currently doing ... although you'll also have to ignore the researchers' conclusion that humanity is predisposed to think about things that aren't happening and make ourselves miserable through doing so. Great. Thanks for that too, science!