Joy Thompson studies the links between the lavatory and the literary
In 2008, Goldstein and colleagues were concerned about a hole in the gastroenterology literature. It’s common knowledge that many a person has “first solaced his mind, then wiped his behind”, according to the limerick, but no-one had studied the effect of toilet reading on digestive health. Goldstein et al. hypothesised that toilet reading could make defecation easier by providing relaxation, and tested this by quizzing 500 Israeli adults about their lavatory library habits. Their results, published in the journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, showed that although toilet readers considered themselves less constipated, there was no statistically significant difference between readers and non-readers. (Readers also complained more of haemorrhoids, which doesn’t sound healthy.) Sadly, Goldstein et al. failed to eliminate all sources of uncertainty: they didn’t survey their subjects’ reading matter. Perhaps their readers simply hadn’t consumed enough thrillers to be scared …less – but then again, perhaps some things should remain sacred, and reviewers should keep their potty mouths shut. In fact, Goldstein et al. are part of a steady stream of toilet research. The 2000 IgNobel in Public health went to a terrifying study of collapsing toilet seats in Glasgow, and since then the An(n)als of Improbable Research have been replete with toilet trivia. There’s a custom-designed desk for toilet users (U.S. Patent filed in 2011), complete with a shelf for coffee or nourishment. (In case the user wants to replenish what he has lost?) Then there’s Lustig et al.’s 2017 study linking deep tissue injury with prolonged sitting time. (That definitely rules out War and Peace.) The take-home message? If there’s a queue for your local throne, it’s definitely tl/dr. One thing is for sure: Cambridge students, these stools aren’t the ones on which you’d want to sit your Tripos.
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