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Trinkaus: Another Informal Look

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

Further data mining on a masterful researcher of the human condition
by Don Danila
East Lyme, Connecticut

A recent monograph in AIR, republished here, documented in detail the fascinating research career of John W. Trinkaus. In describing Trinkaus’s research, which has focused on the often quirky behavior and motivations of humans, the authors supplied detailed citations of his publications. A casual perusal of this summary enabled me to make several inferences about the life and career of the author himself.

Trinkaus -- The Lone Wolf
An examination of any scientific journal shows a tendency -- especially in recent years -- towards multiple authorship research papers. After all, much of science tends to be collaborative. In this respect, Trinkaus has swum against the tide and has almost always gone it alone (see Figure 1).

Fully 94% of Trinkaus’s publications have no co-author. What is the reason for this apparent lack of collegial support? It may be that his study sites -- street intersections, supermarket checkouts, entrances to offices or subways and so forth -- do not lend themselves to multiple observers of human activities. After all, an individual casually lingering at one of these locations may not call attention to himself, whereas two or more people with clipboards, counters, and stopwatches may more easily invite notice from the subjects who are being observed, thereby altering behavior and invalidating the research.

Trinkaus – Short Circuiting the Publication Process
Unlike many scientists who endeavor to publish in a wide variety of journals to attract a wide readership, early on in his career Trinkaus found his publishers, and then stuck with them (see Figure 2).

After several years of dallying with Psychological Reports, Trinkaus discovered Perceptual and Motor Skills. Thereafter he may have asked himself: why risk rejection at the hands of editors and reviewers unfamiliar with one’s body of work? PMS received a steady and reliable stream of papers to fill its pages, and Trinkaus had found found his home.

A recent return to publishing in Psychological Reports is perhaps an indication that he may be longing for his lost youth. Or, perhaps, with the passing of time and the gradual retirement of the formerly receptive PMS editorial staff and replacement by people less knowledgeable and appreciative of the vital nature of his work, Trinkaus was forced back to friendlier climes.

Trinkaus -- The Temporal Trend Does Not Bode Well
After getting his feet wet with juries, flea markets, and hypnotists, Trinkaus’s golden years were from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s (see Figure 2). However, after those peak years of publication, Trinkaus seems to have slacked off in his research. At first glance the trend appeared to be heading towards less frequent publication. However, although his prolificacy was been on the wane for some years, a recent upturn gives the today’s reader some reassurance that we will see more from this man.

Ideas for Further Research
Trinkaus’s devoted readers must be tempted to wonder what happened in 1981. In comparison to the terrifically productive years of work leading up to it, and then following it (see Figures 2 and 3), that trough year stands out. Was Trinkaus on sabbatical, formulating the ideas that would carry him through the next two decades? Perhaps he completed a lengthy service on a jury that left him no time for research. Or could he have been on medical disability, having been struck down in a crosswalk by a careless motorist running a stop sign? I leave this mystery to the next person who chooses to examine the life and works of this foremost observer of the human condition.

“Trinkaus: An Informal Look,” Alice Shirrell Kaswell and/with Rachael Moeller Gorman, Annals of Improbable Research, vol. 9, no. 3, May/June 2003.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: John W. Trinkaus was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel Literature Prize].

LITERATURE: John Trinkaus, of the Zicklin School of Business, New York City, for meticulously collecting data and publishing more than 80 detailed academic reports about things that annoyed him (such as: What percentage of young people wear baseball caps with the peak facing to the rear rather than to the front; What percentage of pedestrians wear sport shoes that are white rather than some other color; What percentage of swimmers swim laps in the shallow end of a pool rather than the deep end; What percentage of automobile drivers almost, but not completely, come to a stop at one particular stop-sign; What percentage of commuters carry attaché cases; What percentage of shoppers exceed the number of items permitted in a supermarket's express checkout lane; and What percentage of students dislike the taste of Brussels sprouts.)


This article is republished with permission from the January-February 2005 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can purchase back issues of the magazine or subscribe to receive future issues, in printed or in ebook form. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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