I don't think there have been any official government studies regarding the use of knife steels, which is a good thing since that would have been a really silly use of taxpayer money (unlike investigating the sexual arousal in anesthetized female rats…true story).
However, if such a study was done, I believe we'd learn that most home cooks have no real idea what this very important tool is for. Many think it's a knife sharpener, and when their knives get dull, they pull it out, only to be sorely disappointed that "it doesn't work."
A knife steel is made to keep a sharp knife, sharp, and will do so for quite a while if used properly. By the way, most cuts in a kitchen are due to dull knives, so this video may save you a visit to the ER. If you don’t have a steel, go buy one, they're only about $20, and worth every penny!
If your knives are dull, please take them to professional knife sharpener (every city has one), and for a few dollars per knife you can have the edge put back on them. Then, using the simple technique you'll see in this video, you'll keep that sharp edge for a very long time. One thing I failed to mention in the clip, wipe the knife after using the steel – there will be a small amount of superfine metal dust produced. Enjoy!
No, you’re no going crazy, I have done this lesson before, but it was for About.com, and I've wanted to do a Food Wishes version for a long time. I'm glad we straightened that out [rim shot].