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South African Satire

Issue 16,  January 2005

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Study On Useless Research Pinpoints Self

researcher.jpg (13180 bytes)JOHANNESBURG - A researcher from the University of Johannesburg (formerly RAU) has just published results of a study identifying the most useless research topics in South African Universities. Dr Elvis Nhlanhla spent three years developing a system that ranks research projects according to several criteria including relevance, cost-benefit ratio, duration of study and resource requirement intensity. Scores are assigned to each category and combined into an overall Value Index. A score of above fifty means that the research will in all likelihood be beneficial to humanity. A score below 25 indicates that humanity would benefit most by having the researchers involved shot with a small calibre rifle.

Dr Nhlanhla analysed over 250 research projects from all the major South African universities in all disciplines. Unsurprisingly, topics in engineering, medicine (especially HIV/AIDS research), and physics came out on top in terms of the Value Index. Topics in accounting and social anthropology came out at the bottom. However, Dr Nhlanhla was particularly concerned with the high percentage of "useless" research being done in the country. 28 of the 253 topics surveyed came out with scores below 50, or just over 11%. Some of the worst topics Dr. Nhlanhla identified were:
  • The prevalence and distribution of body odour in public institutions (Wits - 48).
  • The link between smoking and premature balding in Maltese poodles (Stellenbosch - 21).
  • Premature ejaculation in adolescent boys - the Catholic priest factor (Potchefstroom - 19).
  • How many ways are there to skin a cat? (Wits - 16).

the sjambok then asked Dr. Nhlanhla to demonstrate the procedure with his own research topic. The algorithm gave "A quantitative study into the relevance of South African research" a Value Index of 13, the lowest of all topics evaluated.

The writer is a graduate of the University of Cape Town. His Master's thesis entitled "The simulation and modelling of a Pressure Swing Reactor" obtained a Value Index Score of 3.


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