Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Replicable methods

This has been making the internet rounds: If you were being truly honest in your methods, what would you say?
Overly honest methods in science

Mine would probably something like: "We had a sample size of 260 individuals. It may sound like we planned to have 260 plants, but actually 40 seedlings died, luckily leaving us with a nice round number."

A friend joked that hers would be: "All this work was done with a totally different experiment in mind, but this is all I could salvage."

I'm sure everyone has a few of these...


Jeremy Fox said...

This reminds me of a fairly well known "science to English" dictionary from an old book called The Scientist Speculates. It lists phrases commonly used in scientific papers, and their plain English translations. It's very funny. For instance:

"...handled with great care during processing."

translates as

"...not dropped on the floor."

"...the agreement with the predicted curve is [excellent/good/fair/as good as could be expected given the approximations made in the analysis]"

translates as

"[fair/poor/non-existent/imaginary]" :-)

Caroline Tucker said...

Nice. I'm sure after all the protist work you have a few of your own too? Species are always dying/appearing unexpectedly in those cultures :)

Jeremy Fox said...

"Population dynamics are plotted on a log scale to enable clearer display of rare species. Well, that, and the log scale makes the massive sampling error so the dynamics look like they reach a stable equilibrium, just like we claimed."

"We chose species known to coexist in nature. Because while nobody knows squat about freshwater heterotrophic protist distributions in nature, there's a frickin' massive number of ponds in the world, so surely at least one of them contains all of the species used in this experiment."

Jeremy Fox said...

"We ran the experiment for 60 days in order to obtain long-term dynamics. It would've been even longer, but we wasted the first two months of the summer on failed pilot experiments for another project. And then we had to stop in mid-August because our summer student went on vacation."

Caroline Tucker said...

These are all so true.
A friend who studies spiders by field sampling at night contributed this one: "Not all sites were sampled daily due to extreme fear of cougars on the part of the researcher and her field assistant."

Angela said...

I suppose that means I should add, "In the latter 3 years of sampling, as the primary author worked alone in the field, she called her mother each day after returning to the field station to assure her that she had not been eaten by a cougar."