What magazines get stolen the most from waiting rooms? Hint: It’s not the Economist.

When you go to the doctor’s office and the wait time starts to add up, reaching for a magazine is the usual course of action (unless you’re terrified of germs). But it seems like the magazines are always a couple months old, crinkly, soft, and especially with the gossip variety – who broke up with […]

When you go to the doctor’s office and the wait time starts to add up, reaching for a magazine is the usual course of action (unless you’re terrified of germs). But it seems like the magazines are always a couple months old, crinkly, soft, and especially with the gossip variety – who broke up with whom is more than yesterday’s news.

It turns out, this isn’t because the offices’ subscriptions aren’t up-to-date. It’s because people are stealing the more recent issues, especially the gossipy ones (i.e. not the Economist and Time magazine).

At the University of Auckland in New Zealand, professor Bruce Arroll, PhD candidate Stowe Alrutz and statistician Simon Moyes decided to pay some close attention in a study, published a few days ago in BMJ, and find out what was really going on in the waiting room of one practice. Here’s what they found:

On 28 April 2014, staff of a South Auckland general practice placed 87 magazines in three piles in the waiting room. The study was terminated after 31 days when all 15 of the most gossipy magazines and all 19 of the non-gossipy magazines had disappeared. Eighty two of the magazines had a date on the front cover and were aged less than 1 year (some were the autumn issue for which we assigned an approximate date, five had no date). Forty seven magazines were aged less than 2 months and 28 (60%) had disappeared at the end of the study. Ten of the remaining 35 older magazines (29%) had also disappeared (P=0.002). After 31 days, 41 of the original 87 magazines (47%, 95% confidence interval 37% to 58%) had disappeared. Using the hazard ratio, on any one day the gossipy magazines disappeared 14.51 times (95% confidence interval 6.69 to 33.32) faster than the non-gossipy ones.

To sum up:

  • Practices do not put old magazines in their waiting rooms, rather the newer ones disappear

  • Gossipy magazines (5 photographs of celebrities on the front cover) disappear more quickly than non-gossipy ones.

  • Magazines disappeared at a rate of 1.32 copies per day

  • This study heralds a new specialty of scientific endeavour: waiting room science

Clearly this isn’t breaking news, but it seems like the people involved had a good time during the process, a sense of humor, and that shows in the footnotes.

“We thank MADT (Kasey Dawson, Rixanne Fergusson, Florence Iosefa, and Tes Williams) for their advice on how to run this study. No gossipy magazines were harmed in this study (although we were tempted). Some recipe pages were torn out. Please be assured that clinical staff did not remove magazines during this study, so none incurred the death penalty.”

[Photo from flickr user Ian MacKenzie]