David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Snappy Answers to Questions of Stupid

November 22, 2015

Two key scientific studies came out this week, and the effect of the research is overwhelming: We now know exactly what qualifies as "stupid," and it is to everyone's benefit (even the stupid) to mock the stupid through sarcasm.

Major research as sponsored by Mad Magazine and Al Jaffee.

Let's start with stupidity. Researchers have been able to finally define "stupid."  To be clear, they have defined what people generally mean when they call someone (or some action) "stupid."  That's not quite the same thing as defining "stupid" in some scientific way, more of a turning the Gumpism around to be "stupid does is as stupid is."  Still, it is something.

The combined efforts of Hungarian (Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest) and American (Baylor University in Waco) researchers have been able to categorize our definition of stupid actions or people by three categories:

  • "Confident Ignorance" -- One's belief about one's abilities does not balance the level of risk one takes.
  • "Absentmindness/Lack of Practicality" -- One simply can't remember the practical things in life.
  • "Lack of Control" -- Compulsive and addictive behaviors cloud one's thinking.

Now, granted, the bulk of this research uses Hungarian women as the subjects, so I am not here to cast aspersions on or to tout the researchers' work.  (I am not sure I would want to piss off a Hungarian woman.)  In fact, if they had used Baylor students, I could perhaps now know what my niece means when she rolls her eyes and declares something as stupid (her uncle's jokes, notwithstanding).

And then there is sarcasm.  Scientific American reveals that sarcasm has important benefits, especially in regard to creativity.  They actually cite a couple of different studies.  Some actually encourage sarcastic responses: "Other research has shown that sarcasm can be easily misinterpreted, particularly when communicated electronically." Really?

However, to the main point, that is has benefits, as a giver of sarcastic bon mots, I am not surprised.  As a receiver of such quips, I am aghast, but apparently the creativity does come to both (the key seems to be in not taking "mean comments at face value").  It's the difference between being the person wearing the "I'm With Stupid" t-shirt and being that person's companion.

Also, I don't know about anyone else, but when I was in college I tended to run far away from the requests for human subjects. Today's students don't seem to have to worry. If Hungarian students were excited to learn they could participate in a study to confirm "stupid," who knows how Cornell students felt about being included in a study to identify sarcasm in emails (or verbal forms)?

So, in the spirit of Al Jaffee's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions," let's see how this knowledge can help higher education.

At the University of North Carolina -- "No-one will notice that our football players are all in this fake class, will they?" "Of course not, who would bother to check where 300-pound behemoths occupy their time?"

At the University of Missouri -- "Keep driving my car through the student protest, driver."  "Absolutely, sir, should I spew tear gas through the exhaust pipe?"

At the University of Louisville -- "How do I look in this hilarious Speedy Gonzalez outfit?" "Newsworthy, sir, definitely a photo op."

At the State University of New York, Plattsburgh -- "Isn't this newspaper cartoon of a blackface student great?"  "Oh it is, and the ghetto environment you placed him in is boss."

At the University of California, Berkeley -- "We don't need to punish our faculty member repeatedly accused of assault, do we?"  "Of course not.  It's called the Sandusky approach."

At the College of DuPage -- ""A private locker room for me and other upper administrators is hardly asking much, is it?" "Absolutely, no, it's the piped-in Perrier that might get people upset, sir!"

At Wheelock College -- "I don't have time to write a welcome speech for the faculty.  Splice together some good stuff from the internet, won't you?" "Certainly.  I'll do it right after I renew our contract with TurnItIn.com."

All of these examples have been ripped from the headlines just since fall semesters began at colleges and universities across the country.  In a perfect world, Higher Ed turns to Mad Magazine's "Spy Vs. Spy" for inspiration.  Those guys do just as stupid things, but they do it all silently. Their words never come back to haunt them.