If you’re racking your brain for a good counterintuitive research topic, the ecology team at Mother Jones have cooked up a series of columns you should cull for inspiration. They’re full of challenges to “common knowledge” claims many of us take for granted. Are animal shows cruel? Let’s investigate. Are products made from bamboo more eco-friendly than if they were made from trees? Let’s investigate.
In most cases, a certain amount of research has already been done by Mother Jones writers so you’ll have to find your own angle on the topic to avoid simply adopting their premises and conclusions, but there’s always plenty left to investigate on the tantalizing questions they raise.
My favorite econundrums puncture the inflated claims of greenness too often made by commercial operations determined to sell us something they pretend has big environmental advantages. Electric cars make me furious, for example, because their manufacturers pretend exhaust pipe emissions are the only measure of a car’s environmental impact, conveniently ignoring the damage done to the planet to produce the electricity in the first place, a huge percentage of which is lost to transmission before it ever starts the car. How green is your Prius? Let’s investigate. (Now, a 100% solar car . . . ? Or a car powered by magnets or gravity? Hey, a guy can dream.)
Follow a link or two to the Mother Jones website and decide if there’s anything here to interest you. If you like the idea, but not the particular topics, do a search at the website for econundrum. You’ll find hundreds.
The particular and brilliant advantages of these topics are that they’re narrow enough to be manageable and specific enough to quickly snag reader attention. Nobody (myself included) wants to read a research paper that pretends to prove such enormously broad claims as “Global Warming is Real” or “Global Warming is Man-Made,” and I will refuse permission to anyone who floats such proposals. But: “Is It Wise to Migrate the Spotted Treefrog?” is a way to address the big issues of climate change engagingly.
If this sort of question appeals to you, I would actively support you to do counterintuitive research into what’s green and what’s not that could really benefit the world.