All great truths begin as blasphemies: In Defense of "Silly Research"

The Authorea Team

Research is intended to solve life's mysteries.

This statement may suggest that research is a serious business, and it generally is, but many discoveries researchers make are somewhat silly.  Research like "Pressures produced when penguins pooh—calculations on avian defaecation" (Meyer-Rochow 2003) or the "Shrimp Fight Club" actually entitled "Contests with deadly weapons: telson sparring in mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda)" (Green 2015).   Such research has come under attack from many in congress, calling it "wasteful."  Senator Jeff Flake assembled what he calls a "wastebook" mocking the work of researchers he deemed to be a waste of time and money.
Yes, this is the actual document...       

Does this mean we should fund everything?

No, it doesn't.

Research funding is a complex issue that is consistently a point of contention amongst scientists and the government.  Calls for more new methods of review (Ioannidis 2011) to campaigns humanizing scientists (#WeAreResearch) have sought to increase the funding pool and to improve how it is disbursed.  Since much of the work is taxpayer funded senators have demanded that work be in the interest of the nation.  Can "silly work" be in the interest of the nation?

Maybe not, but maybe so.  It is that chance that it could that we must defend.

Science is not something that is easy to predict.  The internet grew out of a scientists trying to share work amongst each other. Treatment for premature babies, termed "preemies," was fostered in to the United States through a sideshow on Coney Island. Washing your hands before surgery with a disinfectant was ridiculed, landing Ignaz Semmelweiss out of a job and in an insane asylum.

In hindsight it is easy to to say how foolish we were to reject these breakthrough ideas.  Arguably not all the ideas scoffed at by Lake and others will turn out to be revolutionary, but freedom to explore ideas with curiosity and imagination as the only constraint is necessary for science to progress.  

We welcome research from the outsiders, from students, from basic scientists, from political scientists, from citizen scientists. We're a writing platform and a mission and our guiding principle is transparency and access. Write your next manuscript on Authorea.