Last week, I told you about a new, peer-reviewed study detailing more than 700 cases of traumatic brain injury in the comic Asterix. Yesterday, I went on New Hampshire Public Radio's Word of Mouth to talk about WHY that study was done. That's the question everybody had about this research. And it's a reasonable question. After all, what good is it to anyone to know how comic book characters get injured?
The answer is surprising. On several levels. For one thing, lead author Marcel Kamp told me that Traumatic brain injuries in illustrated literature: Experience from a series of over 700 head injuries in the Asterix comic books is the first peer-reviewed paper he's ever published that didn't need any revisions. The reviewers were very supportive, right from the beginning.
The other big surprise: This is really a culture shock thing. Turns out, what the general public sees as frivolous "dumb science" makes a lot more sense if you know how this paper fits into the cultural norms of medical research. I explain this in my Word of Mouth interview, but I will spoil you on one little tidbit. Before you complain about the waste of public funds, you really should know that no public funds were spent on this paper. As Kamp told me, "the analysis" was done on weekends and holidays, using the researchers own collections of comic books.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.