Examples of overly simple solutions that were wrong
October 15, 2019 1:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm working on a piece for which some really pithily-expressed examples of simple "solutions" that don't/didn't help at all -- but that everyone will immediately recognize -- would be helpful.

For example, by now, most educated people probably know that "just eat less" isn't really an effective weight-loss strategy. Also (maybe) that slogans and sound bytes aren't really enough political discourse for a healthy election.

Any other, I hope better, examples? If they can be expressed in 2-7 words that would be awesome; if they're familiar enough, I can probably evoke them with a short phrase anyway.

Any ideas? Thanks in advance!
posted by amtho to Society & Culture (81 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Just Say No"
posted by cadge at 1:48 AM on October 15, 2019 [16 favorites]


Just forget about him/her.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:50 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


DTMFA*, but that might be niche.

*Which is not to say it’s not often a wise recommendation by the time some has resorted to asking the internet about their relationship, but like losing weight, for people in the middle, it’s often not that simple, emotionally.
posted by penguin pie at 2:25 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Ignore them and they'll stop bullying you.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:28 AM on October 15, 2019 [40 favorites]


Trickle-down economics.
posted by brianogilvie at 2:32 AM on October 15, 2019 [34 favorites]


Frowning takes more muscles than smiling.
posted by flabdablet at 2:39 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


That's a man's job.
posted by Thella at 2:40 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Just build more nuclear power.
posted by flabdablet at 2:41 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Build a wall.
posted by flabdablet at 2:42 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


The market will regulate itself. / The law of supply and demand will take care of it.
posted by gakiko at 2:43 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


War on Drugs.
War on Terror.
posted by flabdablet at 2:44 AM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


Cut taxes on the rich.
posted by flabdablet at 2:48 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Train and fund the Contras.
posted by flabdablet at 2:49 AM on October 15, 2019


Burn it all down and start over.
posted by flabdablet at 2:50 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Stop the boats.
posted by flabdablet at 2:52 AM on October 15, 2019


Boys will be boys.
He's mean to you because he likes you.
posted by August Fury at 3:04 AM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


These are helpful.

I'd really love non-political, non-societal-issue examples.

I think I should be more specific, though. I'm looking for things that everyone will agree don't/didn't work already, so that I can, by analogy, dissuade people from currently-popular ideas like "cut taxes on the rich" or "burn it all down" or whatever other folly is current.

So, the war on drugs is on the right track, since it started in the past and clearly hasn't worked -- a perfect example would be 95% non-controversial, though, and probably not political.

So, maybe "use more perfume" as a solution to a bad smell, or something.
posted by amtho at 3:15 AM on October 15, 2019


"Ignore them and they'll stop bullying you" is definitely a good one!
posted by amtho at 3:15 AM on October 15, 2019


Add more freeways.
posted by flabdablet at 3:16 AM on October 15, 2019 [8 favorites]


"There's a great future in plastics" from The Graduate?
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:40 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Prohibition
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:44 AM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


"Peace for our time," declared by Chamberlain a year before WWII broke out.
posted by penguin pie at 3:49 AM on October 15, 2019


Spare the rod and spoil the child.
posted by FencingGal at 3:51 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


"Leave your toxic job." There are many, many considerations to take into account before one leaves one's toxic job, e.g. commute, finances, career development etc.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:54 AM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Exercise
Get eight hours sleep.
Drink more water.
Therapy.
It doesn’t seem to matter what your problem is, people tell you to do these things.
posted by Jubey at 4:00 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Just strap on some fake wings and jump off a cliff (to fly)
Let's just keep sailing West until we reach India
posted by peacheater at 4:04 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


The more modern version of “spare the rod” is “What that child needs is a good spanking,” which has definitely been around during my lifetime. I can remember spanking “solving” the problem of a misbehaving child on TV in the 60s and 70s.
posted by FencingGal at 4:07 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Put yogurt in your vagina to cure yeast infection. Or garlic.
posted by waving at 4:12 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Pivot to video.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:16 AM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


THoUgHts aNd pRayERs

You familiar with the subreddit r/wowthanksimcured?
posted by phunniemee at 4:20 AM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


Fake it 'til you make it
posted by the long dark teatime of the soul at 4:37 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


"Look on the bright side." /"Think positive thoughts."
"Sleep when the baby sleeps."
"Hitting rock bottom."/"It's all up from here."
"Never go to bed angry."
"Depression is all in your head."
"We'll get you another [pet/beloved toy]."

"Tough it out" with regard to illness/major injury (I hear American football has some "great" examples if your audience would recognize them)/emotional distress

It may be "simple" to amputate a limb, but lots better to work hard to save it, if one is skilled enough to manage it. (I can think of other examples along those lines but they tread close to "death panels" territory.)

Putting developmentally delayed and/or disabled and/or neuroatypical children in institutions.

Companies whose products have high failure rates but instead of fixing the issue they just send out new ones to affected customers who think to ask, since the high rate is still low enough it's relatively unlikely the second one is also bad. ("Playing the odds" or "What are the odds?" is the pithy version I guess.)
posted by teremala at 4:58 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


People will like you if you just ask them questions about themselves.
posted by Chenko at 5:02 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


All bullies are cowards.

If you love some enough, they will change (insert negative aspect here).
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 5:17 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just be yourself.
posted by panama joe at 5:20 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


"We will only have to kick in the door, and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down." -- Hitler, on invading Soviet Union.

"The acquisition of Canada, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a matter of mere marching.” -- Jefferson, on invading Canada.

"What we need is a short, victorious war to stem the tide of revolution." -- Minister of the Interior Vyacheslav Plehve, encouraging Nicholas II to start the Russo-Japanese war (disputed) -- Russia.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:42 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


“I am not a crook.”
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:52 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


For optimal security, change your password every 3 months.

Seems simple, right? It was very common. But that advice is now officially wrong.

Most people have run into the annoyance of required periodic password changes. They'll be happy to know that in the future they can season that annoyance with smug superiority and hope that eventually this practice will completely die out.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 5:56 AM on October 15, 2019 [12 favorites]


"Abstinence education prevents teen pregnancy."

The evidence against is pretty incontrovertible.
posted by freya_lamb at 6:19 AM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


time heals all wounds
posted by Namlit at 6:22 AM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Time wounds all heels.
posted by jeoc at 6:23 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Conservatism
posted by Chaffinch at 6:24 AM on October 15, 2019


Putting butter on a burn
posted by Redstart at 6:28 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Putting lead in gas offered better performance in car engines, but also poisoned the world. Switching to unleaded gas and using some engineering brainpower to make up for the lost power was a better solution.

Didn't they import camels to Australia to solve a transport shortage or something -- which didn't work but now "feral camels" are a thing? Hang on....*clickety-click* Yep, that is one looooong list! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invasive_species_in_Australia (At least it gave us the "...and in the winter, the gorillas will freeze!" punchline.)

Last, don't forget Mencken's quote: "...there is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong."
posted by wenestvedt at 6:35 AM on October 15, 2019 [6 favorites]


the Equal Transit Time theory of aerofoil lift
posted by scruss at 6:38 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just put it in reverse.

Ask for a raise.

Good parenting will solve all this child's problems.

What we need is a leader.

You're not trying hard enough. Try harder. If you didn't succeed it's because you didn't care enough to succeed.

You'll feel better once you are married/have a child/get that raise/finish school etc.

It's up to the young to change the world.

Anyone can learn to drive.

You'd be much happier if you were more like me.

Anyone can write a novel.

If you're not having orgasms it's because he's a bad lover.
If you're not having orgasms it's because you're mentally messed up.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:41 AM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


If the project you're managing isn't going to finish on time, add more people.
posted by Homer42 at 6:49 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Write your name on your food before you put it in the office refrigerator and no one will eat it.

If you dress sexy he will be attracted to you.
You won't get attacked if you dress modestly.

An apple a day...

Melatonin!

Anyone can exercise and lose weight.
Anyone can diet and lose weight.

Anyone can exercise.

This recipe is foolproof!
[Anything] is foolproof.

Ask an expert.

Ask your Mom.

Just squirt some antifreeze into the lock.

Any strategy to prevent rape

Any strategy to prevent bullying

Pesticide
Herbicide
Globalization
Free trade
De-regulation
Writing another regulation
Affirmative action
Feminism
Biological reductionism
Preventing forest fires
Municipal water treatment
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:50 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


To alter the amount of X in the body, change the amount of X consumed. I'm thinking of the case X = cholesterol, but I'm sure there are many others.

To prevent something, just make it illegal (or illegal-er).
posted by SemiSalt at 6:56 AM on October 15, 2019 [7 favorites]


For meetings, having both an agenda and minutes in writing are a waste of time.
posted by Homer42 at 6:56 AM on October 15, 2019


Ignore them and they'll stop bullying you.

Also, "Fight back and they'll stop bullying you."
posted by escabeche at 6:59 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Back in 1935, cane toads were introduced to Australia in a (severely misguided) effort at controlling pests that were eating sugar cane. It didn't work.
posted by JD Sockinger at 7:07 AM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Do what you love and the money will follow.
posted by Enid Lareg at 7:16 AM on October 15, 2019 [12 favorites]


If you are putting on a large rock concert, find some Hells Angels, and put them in charge of security.
posted by JD Sockinger at 7:25 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Re-start the router and it'll work
posted by Namlit at 7:35 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


The search for "overly simple ideas that failed" is overly simple. We see, in hindsight, that they failed, and so judge them overly simple.

In practice, people will disagree on whether we could have seen it coming, or even if a particular idea failed, or "was failed" (because it was implemented incorrectly, or we didn't give it time, or we didn't do this other obviously necessary thing).
posted by alittleknowledge at 7:55 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


- Adding lanes or roads reduces traffic.

- There was that example in Freakonomics (though maybe it's been discredited like much else in the book) about the daycare school where the simple solution of making parents who were late to pick up their kids pay a fine actually increased lateness, because human psychology isn't so simple.

- If by any chance you're talking to engineers, especially software engineers: when a project needs to be finished faster, (don't) just add more people to work on it.

- On a similar note: double the quantity doesn't necessarily mean double the baking time.
posted by trig at 8:02 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


The low-fat version is healthier!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:08 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


The SlateStarCodex blog has some excellent examples, though most of them are ones that are not easily reduced to a pithy 7-word summary.
posted by alex1965 at 8:29 AM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Just google it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:46 AM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


The answer to the legit question from a rural american feral hog problem is not assault rifles but nor is it warfarin.
posted by emkelley at 9:45 AM on October 15, 2019




Everything happens for a reason.
posted by cooker girl at 10:49 AM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
posted by cooker girl at 10:50 AM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Looking for a job? You should call them up/physically go there with a resume!

Basically any advice that starts off with “Why don’t you just...”
posted by Weeping_angel at 11:06 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


How about that time the Oregon DOT decided that the simplest way to get rid of a dead whale on the beach was to blow it up with dynamite?
posted by clawsoon at 11:09 AM on October 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Surprised no one said "Lean in" which maaaaaaybe worked for some white women but was terrible advice for basically everyone else.

Along those same lines, the idea that the police are there to help you and calling them is the solution for an out of control problem and will make the problem less-worse (again, maaaaaybe true for better off white people but almost universally less true for people in every other demographic especially young black men and people experiencing mental health crises)
posted by jessamyn at 11:18 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Use a pencil.
Pencils may not have been the best choice anyway. The tips flaked and broke off, drifting in microgravity where they could potentially harm an astronaut or equipment. And pencils are flammable--a quality NASA wanted to avoid in onboard objects after the Apollo 1 fire.
posted by Green With You at 11:21 AM on October 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


Basically any advice that starts off with “Why don’t you just...”

Maybe helpful to you 0P, within my circle “just" is considered a dirty word.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:12 PM on October 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Would examples from toddler behaviour be useful? E.g. if another child has a toy you want, the simplest solution is to grab it and take it from them.
posted by clawsoon at 12:27 PM on October 15, 2019


Stop enabling homeless people by giving them money.
Stop enabling addicts by giving away needles.
Make abortions illegal to prevent abortions.
An armed society is a polite society.
posted by subocoyne at 12:57 PM on October 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Summer's Eve will make you a cleaner, better woman.
posted by tacodave at 5:16 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Robert McNamara's approach to the Vietnam War: If you kill more of the enemy than they kill of you, you'll win the war. It has been enshrined as the McNamara Fallacy.
posted by clawsoon at 5:28 PM on October 15, 2019


Pivot to video.
posted by redfoxtail at 6:47 PM on October 15, 2019


Supporting counterproductive laws because it "sends a message".
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:13 PM on October 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


> Spare the rod and spoil the child.

This one is a double-whammy. Modern reading of this is that it's a command to parents: don't hit your kids, but spoil them. The original reading of that phrase is a warning to parents: if you don't hit your kids, they'll be spoiled.

Spoiled kids are bad. Hitting kids is bad. That whole thing is just a cluster.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:44 PM on October 15, 2019


If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
posted by bricoleur at 7:07 AM on October 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


A disgruntled athlete will change suddenly to "our" system, so we should make the trade. (See Antonio Brown)

Trust the process.

What can go wrong? (Applied to DIY home remodel projects where professionals with years of experience will save you the troubles.)

Get a bigger hammer.
posted by brent at 9:40 AM on October 16, 2019


Conservatory teacher: "You'll have to re-learn your entire technique"
posted by Namlit at 1:08 PM on October 16, 2019


Regarding modern art: "My five year old could do that!"
posted by Vervain at 6:57 AM on October 18, 2019


"My five year old could do that!"

Or, the long read:
"Those pictures at your last exhibition, yeah I could imagine me doing one of those myself one day, but the drawings you did together with the kids yesterday, absolutely stunning, wouldn't know how to begin doing any of it."*

* This is authentic, not made up.
posted by Namlit at 7:17 AM on October 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


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