Sunday, December 22, 2013

Even scientists have a sense of humor

I was delighted to read a wonderful research spoof in the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal.  It's couched in what seems like impenetrable academic and professional language, but in reality it's a tongue-in-cheek dig at the whole 'publish-or-perish' mentality.  Here's the abstract (a.k.a. 'executive summary' for those used to business reports).

Objective  To review the beneficial and harmful effects of laughter.

Design  Narrative synthesis.

Data sources and review methods  We searched Medline (1946 to June 2013) and Embase (1974 to June 2013) for reports of benefits or harms from laughter in humans, and counted the number of papers in each category.

Results  Benefits of laughter include reduced anger, anxiety, depression, and stress; reduced tension (psychological and cardiovascular); increased pain threshold; reduced risk of myocardial infarction (presumably requiring hearty laughter); improved lung function; increased energy expenditure; and reduced blood glucose concentration. However, laughter is no joke—dangers include syncope, cardiac and oesophageal rupture, and protrusion of abdominal hernias (from side splitting laughter or laughing fit to burst), asthma attacks, interlobular emphysema, cataplexy, headaches, jaw dislocation, and stress incontinence (from laughing like a drain). Infectious laughter can disseminate real infection, which is potentially preventable by laughing up your sleeve. As a side effect of our search for side effects, we also list pathological causes of laughter, among them epilepsy (gelastic seizures), cerebral tumours, Angelman’s syndrome, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or motor neuron disease.

Conclusions  Laughter is not purely beneficial. The harms it can cause are immediate and dose related, the risks being highest for Homeric (uncontrollable) laughter. The benefit-harm balance is probably favourable. It remains to be seen whether sick jokes make you ill or jokes in bad taste cause dysgeusia, and whether our views on comedians stand up to further scrutiny.

There's more at the link.

I'll leave you to look up the medical technicalities on Wikipedia or elsewhere, if you wish.  I had a good laugh at the authors' impish sense of humor.


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