Shop Talk

December 23, 2020

Here at The Evidence Workshop, we’re big fans of Santa Claus. After all, he runs the most productive workshop in the world. But in recent weeks, our relationship with the Jolly Old Elf has been strained. We learned that his practices may not be grounded in research evidence.

Right after we published our last blog on telerehab, we were nestled all snug in our beds. When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, we sprang from our beds to see what was the matter. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow revealed a coal-stained copy of an old narrative review. The title was, Here Comes Santa Claus – What is the Evidence? by Dr. Martha Highfield. We spoke not a word, but went straight to work, examining the text and all of its perks. Much to our wondering eyes did appear Highfield’s claim that there were no meta-analyses, systematic reviews, or randomized controlled trials on Santa. She went on to explain that the highest form of evidence for Santa Claus is a case report from 1822 titled, Twas the Night Before Christmas. Concerned, we turned with a jerk and sprang to the local children’s library to pull the primary source. Chuck full of clear, well prepared illustrations, this report provided an eye-witness account of a broad faced, jolly old elf who filled stockings all by himself. But a subsequent Cited Reference Search in Web of Science found not a single article referencing the classic report from 1822.

Why was there no further evidence of Santa? Had the scientific community lost interest? Did the National Institute of Jolly and Bright lose its funding in a round of budget cuts? Perhaps. But Highfield provides an alternative explanation - Santa is difficult to study.

  • Randomized controlled trials are next to impossible. Only the Grinch would randomize a group of children to the naughty group.

  • Observational data are deeply confounded by Santa’s tendency to ignore a year’s worth of naughty when Christmas Eve comes around. See Prep and Landing, 2009. (By the way, if you think that’s unfair, consider for a moment whether you really want Santa to operate according to a strict meritocracy.) 

  • Descriptive research proves elusive, as Santa is difficult to measure. Anecdotal evidence from our household suggests that, no matter how many recording devices an 8-year-old sets up, Santa cannot be caught on camera. Perhaps his resistance to photographic recording is related to his innate immunity to COVID-19. See Fauci, 2020. 

We almost quit reading. It was too much bear. No evidence for Santa?! Does that mean no gifts beneath our tree? Finally, Highfield winked her eye, twisted her head, and quoted another old classic she’d read: “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.” See The New York Sun, 1897. With that, we laughed in spite of ourselves and agreed with her conclusion that “we may fare better simply to believe that Santa Claus is out there.”

Thanks for reading. We look forward to talking with you in 2021. If you would like to support our work, you can buy us a coffee at; every drop helps. Meanwhile if you want to learn more about the evidence for Santa, check out the fun and helpful resources below. 

  1. Read the Highfield article at It’s real. 

  2. Check out our series on telerehab at

  3. Check out Cited Reference Search in Web of Science. It’s a database that allows you to find all the papers that have cited a published article. It’s most helpful when you have a good paper in hand, and you want to know what’s been written on the same topic since that paper was published. I tell my students that Web of Science lets you search into the future, which is memorable but not strictly true. It allows you to search into the future with respect to the date of publication of the paper you have in hand.

  4. Review Dr. Anthony Fauci’s statement on Santa’s good qualities, including his innate immunity to COVID-19 at

  5. Read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, also known as A Visit from St. Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore at

  6. Watch Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas at


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