April 20, 2012
Scientists have conducted a study and concluded that beer makes you smarter. At least that’s the way it was reported in the news when I first heard about it. The truth is a little more complicated, which, I think, is why people hate science. It’s not the fault of scientists because they come up with conclusions that get mangled and misreported, and when it’s something like "beer makes you smarter", that, even though it sounds counterintuitive, also sounds awesome and a great excuse to pop open a cold one right in the middle of a meeting at work, it turns out to be more complicated. You have to wade through the data, although I think data is a much better reason to hate science. I don’t mean information itself. I mean, specifically, the word "data" because it’s confusing. It’s a plural noun, but no one other than scientists and grammar Nazis seem to realize it’s a plural noun so they always cringe whenever they hear someone talk about "this data" or "that data" and then use "impact" as a verb because they can’t differentiate between "affect" and "effect" well enough to use them correctly.
So anyway as I was saying I always cringe when I hear someone talk about "this data" because I know they’d never talk about "this children" or "that Ukrainians". And I do have to admit I understand why the fact that data is a plural noun is confusing. For one thing there was only one Data, even though Brent Spiner played at least five different characters on Star Trek, but that’s another story. For another the singular of data is datum, but I don’t think anyone really knows what a datum is. What would a scientist say if you asked for a datum? "Well, here’s one. It’s the number 7."
To get back to beer making you smarter, though, the real result of the study was that a certain amount of alcohol in your system makes you smarter in some ways, but dumber in others. Specifically scientists found that a blood alcohol content of 0.07 made people better at creative problem solving because it encourages non-linear thinking, although it also made them worse at other things. Driving, for instance. Depending on where you live a blood alcohol content of 0.07 may be just under the legal limit, but it’s still 0.07 more than you should have in your system while driving and guaranteed to make you a pretty stupid driver because even with a very small amount of alcohol your chances of answering a question like "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" by saying "Practice" go up, and the chances of you trying to get to Carnegie Hall by driving through a crowded train station go up the more you drink.
Oddly enough a few days after I heard about the study I found evidence of obvious beer-induced stupidity, or maybe it was just beer-exacerbated stupidity, while I was walking home from work. Someone had thrown a Guinness bottle cap out of their car onto the side of the road. So not only were the littering, they were also drinking and driving. There are all kinds of ad campaigns, and messages within ads for alcoholic beverages, telling people not to drink then drive, but I realized there are very few that tell people not to drink while driving, probably because that’s something so patently obvious that you should be able to figure it out even without a blood alcohol level of 0.07. Admittedly most people do drink and drive, but specifically most drink water or sodas or, well, nothing alcoholic, and most people who do that use a straw. Somehow I doubt the guy who tossed out that bottle cap was drinking his Guinness with a straw. And I am more than a little bit surprised that he was drinking Guinness, because if there’s one beer that should make you smarter it should be Guinness, since it’s made with fish eyes. And it annoyed me because I felt like this guy was making responsible Guinness drinkers like myself look bad. I imagine he was driving along in his 1976 green Pontiac, getting about four miles to the gallon, using his teeth as a bottle opener, sucking down the six-pack of Guinness that his step-brother had given him as a birthday gift because he couldn’t bear to not have a buzz on for the fifteen minutes it took him to drive to the corner market to pick up a $5.69 case of Milwaukee Lite. Maybe I’m wrong to assume that he was an idiot, though. Hopefully he wouldn’t harm anyone else, but if he were to crash his car badly enough to effectively take himself out of the gene pool that would be a creative way of solving a problem.