Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Alcohol may impair your science

If you're a graduate student, chances are you came into the lab yesterday hungover from St Patrick's day and that your productivity was impaired. So how does drinking beer impact your science? The February issue of Oikos, an ecology journal, features a paper by Tomas Grim from the Czech Republic entitled "A possible role of social activity to explain differences in publication output among ecologists".

We at the bayblab take beer drinking and science very seriously, and these new findings are cause for concern. The study is mostly a correlation between beer consumption and citation counts. As per the abstract:

"One of the most frequent social activities in the world is drinking alcohol. In Europe, most alcohol is consumed as beer and, based on well known negative effects of alcohol consumption on cognitive performance, I predicted negative correlations between beer consumption and several measures of scientific performance. Using a survey from the Czech Republic, that has the highest per capita beer consumption rate in the world, I show that increasing per capita beer consumption is associated with lower numbers of papers, total citations, and citations per paper (a surrogate measure of paper quality)."

Unfortunately I do not have access to the paper in question to peruse the figures but here are some great quotes about the results from the NY Times:

It’s rather devastating to be told we should drink less beer in order to increase our scientific performance,” Dr. Symonds said."

"Though the public may tend to think of scientists as exceedingly sober, scientific schmoozing is often beer-tinged, famous for producing spectacular breakthroughs and productive collaborations, countless papers having begun as scrawls on cocktail napkins."

"Yet the new study shows no indication that some level of moderate social beer drinking increases scientific productivity. "

"More important, as Dr. Grim pointed out, the study documents a correlation between beer drinking and scientific performance without explaining any correlation. That leaves open the possibility that it is not beer drinking that causes poor scientific performance, but just the opposite"

I think this needs to be investigated to find the optimal number of beers to produce good science. We'll get into this matter as soon as we've figured out the optimal number of beers for bowling... So what is your citation count and beer consumption?


rob said...

The link is to the wrong paper.

Anonymous Coward said...

Freudian linking fixed.

Also this is what he used for correlation : a survey (which was conducted starting in 1980) from the Czech Republic that involved avian ecologists.

Corey Smith said...

Reminds me of this

matt said...

for those without access to the article, this conclusion is based on a dataset comprised of 34 people... and the r^2 for the correlation is 0.55. Hardly a knockout result. In fact, it's a shame that the NY Times picks up on this type of pseudoscience.

CAE said...

Extreme (St Patrick's Day-style) drunkenness is truly destructive to scientific progress. More moderate forms have tended to help me in the past.

Eric said...

This result may apply only to avian ecologists. Anecdotal evidence suggests an opposite correlation for biochemists and molecular biologists.

Bayman said...

Superficially, Banting may be a case in point for Eric. Banting was apparently a raging alcoholic, and he won the Nobel.

Then again, maybe it was an impediment to progress. Alcohol was important in the purification of insulin, so maybe work would have progressed faster if he wasn't drinking all his reagents.

Also I remember watching a documentary that showed some of his lab books of the time - totally nonsensical apparently.

Maybe at Banting's worst periods it was his student Best who carried things forward in the lab when the ethanol was getting the better of his boss...

I wish I could find more on this interesting aspect of the Banting story but Google hasn't turned up much...what I remember was from a CBC documentary I saw quite a few years back...