May 23, 2010

· Misc

Morning and Afternoon Tea are the twin social hubs of Australian academia, so it’s only natural that a disturbing tearoom phenomenon would be noticed, investigated and subsequently published in the British Medical Journal: The case of the disappearing teaspoons: longitudinal cohort study of the displacement of teaspoons in an Australian research institute.

Objectives To determine the overall rate of loss of workplace teaspoons and whether attrition and displacement are correlated with the relative value of the teaspoons or type of tearoom. Design Longitudinal cohort study. Setting Research institute employing about 140 people. Subjects 70 discreetly numbered teaspoons placed in tearooms around the institute and observed weekly over five months. Main outcome measures Incidence of teaspoon loss per 100 teaspoon years and teaspoon half life.

Results 56 (80%) of the 70 teaspoons disappeared during the study. The half life of the teaspoons was 81 days. The half life of teaspoons in communal tearooms (42 days) was significantly shorter than for those in rooms associated with particular research groups (77 days). The rate of loss was not influenced by the teaspoons’ value. The incidence of teaspoon loss over the period of observation was 360.62 per 100 teaspoon years. At this rate, an estimated 250 teaspoons would need to be purchased annually to maintain a practical institute-wide population of 70 teaspoons.

Conclusions The loss of workplace teaspoons was rapid, showing that their availability, and hence office culture in general, is constantly threatened.

Follow the link and scroll down for the long correspondence that followed. Notable contributions include “Teabags and forks are confounding factors”, “Communism and Biros”, “Global Implications, Impending Catastrophe”, and “Could teaspoons be the larvae of some unrecognised adult?

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I am Associate Professor of Sociology at Duke University. I’m affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Markets and Management Studies program, and the Duke Network Analysis Center.



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