`News flash! Scientists prove that swallowing magnets is bad for you. Stop the presses! Smoking hurts wealth as well as health. Eureka! Faraway objects can be hard to see.
Every year, serious scientists undertake detailed, rigorous studies to prove things that seem—well, painfully obvious. Why bother? We reviewed scores of unshocking discoveries and asked the researchers who conducted the work to explain their motivations. Two main themes emerged. First, scientists don’t assume how the world works; they test it. Common knowledge once held that meat spontaneously generated maggots. Then, in 1668, Italian physician Francesco Redi devised a set of investigative steps—what we now call an experiment—to prove wrong what everybody thought they knew.
Aside from testing untested observations, the other good reason to undertake no-duh studies, investigators told us, is that hard numbers often inspire social change. Simply put, scientists must quantify to justify.’