Scientists Aren’t Sure Whether Parachutes Actually Work

Two scholars, including a Cambridge University professor and a Public Health consultant, have raised doubts about whether parachutes are actually effective against gravity.  Their research is published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal).

Parachutes are widely believed “to reduce the risk to orthopaedic, head, and soft tissue injury” after jumping out of aircraft.  However, this belief relies on anecdotal and observational data, as opposed to any systematic trials.

The authors point to two undeniable facts:

  1. Not everyone who jumps out of a plane without a parachute ends up dying
  2. Not everyone who jumps out of a plane with a parachute ends up surviving

The authors argue that according to strict research protocol, parachutes should be tested using a “double blind, randomized, placebo controlled, crossover trial.”  However, they admit that recruiting enough volunteers to participate in such a trial might be difficult.  (Imagine being one of the volunteers who is given a placebo parachute.)

While the paper is written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, the authors are making a point to those who insist that all scientific hypotheses require an inflexible protocol.  As the paper concludes, “individuals who insist that all interventions need to be validated by a randomized controlled trial need to come down to earth with a bump.”

Yes, I know that it’s April Fool’s Day.  But yes, this is an actual published research paper.


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