[random attribute] + [subjective, complex phenomenon] → BAD STUDY

You’d think reviewers and journals would figure this formula out. It’s practically a guaranteed recipe for a bad paper. Pick some random feature, like, say, carrying a guitar case. Then correlate it with some messy, subjective and almost impossible to measure property, like sexual attractiveness. Bingo! You are guaranteed to generate statistics, whether positive or negative, and can find an undiscriminating journal somewhere that will publish it. Then, even better, some tabloid will pick up the story and give you publicity with headlines like, “CARRY A GUITAR TO ATTRACT THE LADIES!”

I didn’t pick my examples at random. There actually was a paper titled “Men’s music ability and attractiveness to women in a real-life courtship context”, now retracted, that tried to make that claim with crappy (and probably faked) statistics.

The same author, Nicholas Guéguen, also had a paper retracted previously that claimed that high heels make women sexier. Oh, I should have mentioned — another important element of the recipe is to make sure one of the elements has something to do with sexual stereotypes.

Apparently, Nicholas Guéguen has published about 340 papers using the magic formula. Publishers still haven’t caught on. Or they have, and they don’t care, they just want more garbage to churn.

It’s depressing.


  1. PaulBC says

    Men carrying violin cases are assumed to be concealing a tommy gun. A sharp pinstripe suit and a fedora with a prominent hat band can accentuate the fact that you’re the big boss and not just some hired gunsel.

    Waving your hands as if practicing a difficult theremin piece is also very attractive, but to a different type.

  2. brucej says

    Nicholas Guéguen has published about 340 papers using the magic formula.

    Why, it’s almost as if there’s a vast sea of garbage science published out there all in the name of collecting publishing fees.

    After all not a week goes by when I don’t get offers to publish my research on (checks spam folder) cancer, physiology, drug design, dermatology medicinal chemistry and that one journal that wanted me to be an editor for biomechanics. I’m sure they all charge only modest fees for publishing.

    I am an IT person in real life…weirdly ACM is NOT pounding my door down to get me to contribute :-)

  3. whheydt says

    How about a paper trying to prove that seeking to publish crap papers makes the author sexually UNattractive?

  4. nomdeplume says

    Not just tabloids. As soon as one media outlet reports the “breakthrough” that “rewrites the science of [topic x]” then all the other outlets up to and including the “serious mainstream” ones, because “news”. This process has badly damaged the image and role of science in society, and damaged society with bullshit claims.

  5. says

    First Google hit for “Nicholas Guéguen”: link, which says that “Nicolas Guéguen” (no ‘h’, the ‘s’ is silent) already had a bad reputation as of 2015, but he’s still publishing.

  6. mailliw says

    PaulBC @1

    Men carrying violin cases are assumed to be concealing a tommy gun

    A beginner on the violin can be just as threatening.

    “I’m warning you, this violin case isn’t empty, it’s got a violin in it.”

  7. komarov says

    Ah, so that’s why grand pianos sometimes have wheels. I thought it was just a matter of convenience but I guess there’s more to it. It’s still a bit problematic though – how, for example, do you get them down the stairs and through the doors on the subway? Even your every-day, poorly maintained sidewalk (not to mention crowded) makes a casual stroll difficult.

    “Excuse me, pardon me, excuse… oh, hello, attractive individual, I see you smiling or possibly laughing at me. Oh, as a matter of fact I do play but mostly I’m too exhausted because it goes wherever I do.”

    Re: Violins and Tommy guns

    Other instrument cases typically contain disassembled sniper rifles. If you see someone carrying a “clarinette” entering a tall building with an accessible roof you may want to leave the general vicinity. It’s not always clear-cut, however. If you’re at the opera, one with a lot of balconies, it can be difficult to decide wether the individual is part of the orchestra or you ought to skip today’s perfomance in favour of a later one – at the risk that the famous tenor with shady connections will have been assassinated by the time you come back.

  8. chrislawson says

    More seriously, I don’t want to criticise the journal for doing the right thing, but it is important that the retraction process moves faster than it does now, and should not rely on a determined objector raising concerns several times over many months.

  9. kome says

    [random attribute] + [subjective, complex phenomenon] → BAD STUDY

    Well that describes somewhere between 99.99% and 100% of evolutionary psychology.

    Oh. I see what you’re saying.