Sex and love are great.
That’s probably why the science of sex and love is so popular. I know it’s popular because sometimes I write about it, and lots and lots of people read those stories.
Writing about these subjects is fun. There’s a lot of weird science out there about how and why people hook up — for example, did you know that several studies suggest body odor plays a major role in attraction? That weirdness is a big part of why science journalists like to muck around in these areas.
But it probably won’t shock you to know the other reason we (or at least, I) write these stories is because we know people will almost always read them. Finding science that’s exciting, presenting it in a truthful, accessible, well-sourced way — that’s the job.
But I worry, frankly, that people come to these stories for the wrong reasons. No science writer (or scientist) can provide you a rule book that’s going to get you laid, wed, or anything in between.
A quick little story like “9 weird psychological reasons someone might fall in love with you,” (if it’s responsibly written) will round up the best available science on the subject, couch it in caveats about the limitations of that research, and not promise any results.
These aren’t proven tricks. They’re oddball results from just a few studies, in a field that’s nowhere near well-enough understood to offer definitive answers. They’re fun to read, and wonder about, but they’re highly unlikely to offer some missing link to your dating life. That’s not why they exist.
Small numbers of studies can’t paint a picture of universal truths, because that’s not how science works.
Rather, we should think of individual papers more like points on a paint-by-numbers board that’s still filling in with dots. Some are more useful than others, but we need a whole constellation of them before we can make definitive statements about what they reveal. In the meantime, individual results can be confusing — and some flat-out wrong.
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