The funny side of economics

Topics economics | memes | facebook memes

These are grim times and social media is full of quarantine memes and jokes. Indeed, if I may put forth a theory in eight words, “the grimmer the times, the better the jokes”. 

But despite its reputation as a dismal science, no other social science discipline can beat economics and economists when it comes to funniness. I know because for a little over 10 years I wrote weekly articles on the state of economics research in the world. 

While doing research for it, which was made easier by the rapid growth of economics websites, I would occasionally come across some very funny papers. Both funny haha and funny peculiar. 

This prompted me to look systematically for more such whacky papers and over time I collected quite a few. Some of them, about which I had written once before, are described below for your amusement. 

They are not ranked in any increasing or decreasing order of funniness. That’s something you will have to decide for yourself.

Not joking

Thus, one paper dealt with looks and how students rated the better-looking professors. The better ratings had an effect on earnings, it was posited. Brains were necessary but not sufficient but although it was not stated in as many words it seemed looks were both necessary and sufficient. 

Many of the papers were on alcohol, as in boozing. One reached the earth-shaking conclusion that higher prices led to less boozing. And another said that higher beer taxes led to a lower incidence of assault, but not of rape. Yet another said that higher alcohol taxes led to lower rates of gonorrhoea. I am not joking. 

Another said that “price and advertising effects are generally larger for females”. You can make what you want of that. 

One paper tried to link the effect of boozing on the job market and said “binge drinking conveys unobserved social skills that are rewarded by employers”. Wah. And there was one that said the long-term effect of a 1 per cent reduction in per capita drinking on mortality was nil. So in these times of quarantine, drink on, McDuffs.

One paper analysed risk-taking. This one was from the nascent field of something called neuroeconomics. 

It concluded after a lot of experiments that people with brain lesions (damage) would be more prone to take more risk. A lot of experts scoffed at this. 
Whereupon some neuroscientists trained monkeys to evaluate payoffs. The monkeys maximised the payoffs.

My favourite, though, is the one that analysed the effects of boozing on sexual activity. It said that people when drunk would use fewer contraceptives. Haste doesn’t always make waste.

Economics is not alone

But it is not only economists who conduct such research. More recently I came across a website ( that lists 30 extremely funny research papers. Please do visit it. 

I describe a few of the funniest research topics below. But let me say once again that this doesn’t mean they are the funniest. The remaining are just as funny, including one on bats performing fellatio. 

Back in 2000 a neuroscientist decided to find out if London cabbies had bigger brains. She wanted to know how these fellows managed to store so much road information in their brains. And guess what she found. They actually had bigger brains — or posterior hippocampi! 
Then there’s the one about a live duck having sexual intercourse with a dead duck.

It is called “The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos" and describes exactly what I have written. The duck had flown into a window and died. 

Another paper, this time by an international chess grandmaster, with a PhD to boot, says that by 2025 people will be marrying robots. Indeed, the paper says that it is nearly certain they will even consummate it.

Would you like to know how much pressure a penguin manages to create while having a dump? It seems a Japanese student asked the professor how penguins “decorated” their nests. The result was this paper, which says an average penguin creates a thrust of 60 kilopascal. 

Yet another set of Japanese researchers managed to show that pigeons can tell the difference between a painting by Picasso and Monet. They trained some pigeons to recognise a few paintings and later when shown paintings not seen earlier, the pigeons were able to distinguish between the two artists.

And what about wet underwear? What sort should you opt for? In a 1994 paper called “Impact of wet underwear on thermoregulatory responses and thermal comfort in the cold”, the authors found that it was not the material that mattered but the thickness of the underwear. 

Last but not least, there is the one about flatulence as self-defence. But you’d better read that yourself.

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