General News

Almost Reel: Poll Position

By:
Aug 01, 2001 | 12:47pm EDT

As a veteran journalist, I know that important polls and studies from the world of scientific research generally follow a certain script.

The Foundation for Attaining Incredibly Large Pointless Grants issues the results of a study revealing that, say, laboratory mice are 87 percent more likely to develop alcoholism if tickled continually while being fed a diet of vodka and tequila.

The press (me) then seeks out experts and quotes them.

The experts wax scientific. The American Association for Righteous Indignation expresses, um, er, indignation. (We veteran journalists are really good at analogies.) The alcohol industry questions the methods and standards of the study.

Everyone then promptly proceeds to forget the whole thing a few days later when the Association for Relating Really Unimportant Things about the Sun reveals that if you stay out in the sun too long you run the risk of your skin darkening. (Los Angeles Times front page headline: "Sun Shines! Flesh Blackens!")

My point is--and yes I am getting to it now--the members of the press are pretty used to these revelations by now. We know what to do and how to react.

A new poll, however, was released just last week that left us almost speechless. (If it had rendered me truly speechless, this would be a much shorter column. And then I'd be out of a job.)

A poll of British audiences ranked noisy candy wrappers as the most disturbing element in theaters, far surpassing such other distractions as ringing cell phones, whispered conversations, latecomers and "obnoxious Americans."

Nearly 80 percent of respondents ranked the crackling wrappers as the chief annoyance, with one remarking insightfully, "Theaters should not sell such noisy stuff."

This poll raises some interesting scientific questions:

1. Who cares about British audiences?

2. Who shells out the money for these polls? They aren't very discriminating, are they?

To conduct this poll the company sent out pollsters into movie theaters across England. They must have watched the same movie over and over and over again. Did no one notice that these people never left? Didn't the ticket takers even think of calling the cops?

I'm even more surprised that researchers didn't find a strong connection between noisy candy wrappers and bloody noses.

Researcher: [Crinkle, crinkle, crinkle]

Moviegoer: "Shhhhhh!"

Researcher: [Crinkle, crinkle, crinkle]

Moviegoer: "Will you please quit that, I'm trying to watch the movie!"

Researcher: [Crinkle, crinkle, crinkle]

Punch. Thud.

Was this poll really important? Was there not more important scientific research on the docket that day? Was the grant to study the effect on the deterioration of the ozone layer due to consumption of Maine lobsters in outdoor restaurants pushed off until next Wednesday? And is the fact that movie audiences would be most annoyed by loud candy wrappers really so startling?

News Flash: People are ticked off by annoying sounds during a movie! Stop the presses! What a surprise!

Next these competent, dedicated researchers will be trying to convince us that old people tend to walk slower than young people, that blondes have lighter hair than brunettes and that cats lick themselves more often than humans.

Speaking of old people, there was another study released not too long ago that stated Academy Award winning actors and actresses live longer than actors who haven't won squat. Gee, the horror.

See question 1 above, and just substitute "actors" for "British audiences."

I've just obtained a grant. Next year I'll be releasing the results of my own study, The Effects of a $100,000 Grant Embezzled by an Underpaid, Overworked Writer. Stay tuned: It's sure to be a barn-burner with plenty of startling results.

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