A scientific approach to Santa Claus visits

Credit: jill111 via Pixaby
Credit: jill111 via Pixaby

Every year since 1982, the BMJ (originally British Medical Journal) has published a special Christmas issue featuring quirky medical research. While the subjects of the articles can be downright bizarre, findings are always based on rigorous scientific methods. This year, one such study investigated whether visits of Santa Claus to paediatric wards across the UK were influenced by “naughtiness” of children in the area, alongside other possible factors.

Naughtiness was measured by rates of absenteeism from primary schools and the conviction rate for crimes committed by young people aged 10 to 17. Researchers also looked at the distance between hospitals and the North Pole, and measures of socioeconomic deprivation. These factors were correlated with presence or absence of Santa Claus during Christmas 2015. Interestingly, the study found no statistically significant effect of naughtiness and concluded that the culturally widely accepted criterion of “naughty or nice” for Santa visits does not hold up to close scrutiny. The distance from the North Pole also didn’t have a significant effect, but Santa is less likely to visit hospitals in more deprived areas.

Other prominent articles this year include a study on the effect of Pokémon GO on physical activity (more daily steps in the five weeks after installation, but no longer term effect) and an investigation of genetic factors that determine whether people notice a distinct odour in their urine after eating asparagus (several mutations in or near olfactory receptor genes were identified). The most popular Christmas article in history, according to the BMJ website, established in 2014 that men are much more likely than women to win a Darwin award, which honours particularly idiotic deaths.

How do we benefit from such research? The authors of the study investigating Santa Claus visits suggest that local Santas can be employed to reach out to economically deprived areas. Furthermore, they raise the ethical question whether or not their results should be made available to children, as the knowledge that Santa doesn’t punish you for being naughty might lead to an increase in bad behaviour. These are fascinating issues to consider this Christmas, and we encourage readers to further explore the fascinating array of BMJ Christmas articles for an enjoyable festive season!

This article was written by Hans-Joachim Sonntag and edited by Teodora Aldea.

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