How Scientists Accidentally Found the Man With the Largest Healthy Testicles
The methods section is the most important part of a scientific paper, revealing how the experiment was done and allowing others to gauge its validity. The abstract and discussion sections often attract all the attention, elucidating upon any flashy findings, but they are meaningless without the methods.
How many participants were involved? What statistical tests were utilized? What materials were used? Exactly how was the experiment carried out? All of these questions are vital to determining whether a study's finding can be taken as scientific fact. Deficits in any area can cast doubt upon a piece of research.
Though the jargon-laden prose of a paper's method section can seem dry to even the most studious of scientists, it's well worth one's time to soldier through. Occasionally, one is even rewarded with surprising (and hilarious) nuggets of knowledge.
The 2013 paper, "Testicular volume is inversely correlated with nurturing-related brain activity in human fathers," featured a clear methods section, one worthy of publication in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. (And in case you were wondering, yes, the researchers essentially found that men with bigger balls showed lower levels of parental caregiving.)
The study's methods were mostly sound, but with the results bordering on statistical significance, the relatively low number of subjects and the questionable ways the authors used to gauge "parental caregiving" gave reasons for skepticism. The study certainly required replication to be taken as scientific fact.
This much was clear to anyone who read the methods section in its entirety, but also clear was that the researchers had stumbled upon something else that was quite intriguing indeed. Nestled in the final paragraph was this absolute gem:
One participant’s testes volume measurement was excluded because his value was 2.8 standard deviations above the mean (mean = 38,064; SD = 11,183) and was more than 13,000 cubic millimeters larger than any recorded value found in the literature. Of the more than 1,500 healthy, age-matched men in these studies, the largest reported value was 56,000 cubic millimeters, and this participant's measurement was 69,736 cubic millimeters.
The researchers had accidentally discovered the largest healthy testicles known to science!
So always read a study's methods. You never know what you might learn!