Do Parachutes Work? No, They Don’t Do Squat, According to Highly-Flawed Study

July 4th, 2019

by Marco G.

Parachutes are kind of useless, according to one study whose whole utility has been put into question.

Do parachutes work? Hm, who does ask that in this day and age?

Scientists, that’s who!

A new study in the British Medical Journal should serve as an example for journalists who rush to report the most sensationalist of scientific papers without doing their due diligence.

The Premise

The paper, titled ‘’Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma when jumping from aircraft: randomized controlled trial’’, claims that the respective safety devices don’t have that much of an impact on the likelihood of death or suffering major injury after jumping from an aircraft.

Our life was a lie, apparently. So if you ever asked yourself “Do parachutes work” whenever you swooned for Keanu Reaves in the skydiving scene from Point Break, this study gives you the cold shower you needed: no. 

But, the plot thickens!

The Data

They compared two groups – one that jumped with safety devices attached like normal people, and one that jumped with empty backpacks. Also, they had a smaller control group than expected – 92 people in total, with 69 excluded and 23 randomized.

Do parachutes work? Their conclusion

Skydivers don’t need parachutes. Or so you would believe, until you find out that all participants jumped from a stationary, grounded plane, from an altitude of 0.6 meters. To give credit where credit is due, this paper has all the makings of a marketable, click-worthy study. You can see the “Today Show” jumping on this like rabid dogs.

Do parachutes work? Well, they better, because this study is about to land flat on its belly!

The Motivation

Studies don’t just happen without a reason. There’s a whole industry dominated by politics. Scientific politics, that is. Thing is, in order to receive a grant to conduct a real study, you need funds. However, you can obtain funds by publishing papers. The more of a wow factor you give to your study, the more free publicity you get, the higher the chances of obtaining a grant to study something actually useful.

However, things are more complicated than this. Sometimes, lucky scientists stumble upon findings while researching data for entirely different things. These random findings usually give birth to sensational news like the one we’re reporting today.

Other times they just have the result in mind and manipulate the data to prove a point. This is the bad part of science, but it does exist and, unfortunately, it happens more often than naught.

After all this, one would wonder: how did this study happened? What’s the purpose behind it? Who funded this? Was this study financed by anti-parachute lobbyists?

All jokes and snarkiness aside, we shouldn’t rush to blame the scientists for their faulty methodology. This study is actually symptomatic of a modern climate that finds easy, poppy, trivia-like science facts appealing.
And in order to survive, scientists were forced to adapt to this reality in order to ensure funding for their more serious projects. That’s why for every groundbreaking study that makes a real contribution to the field of science, there are ten praising the incredible benefits of kiwis or something along those lines.

But don’t believe us, here’s John Oliver talking about this subject at length. So next time you see a clickbaity study, please, please don’t take it for granted just from the title and read the actual paper.

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