[Science Solitaire] The truth, including the silly truths
Very few other things give me the kind of pleasure that I feel when I watch science watching science. I refer to the times when science notices itself.
These instances range from the very serious to the very funny. The IgNobel Awards, given annually to research that “first makes you laugh then makes you think,” is, I think, a distinct burst along the spectrum that makes us laugh. But this past week, this latter direction has just been stretched further by Twitter.
Under the hashtag #OverlyHonestMethods, reportedly started by a neuroscience researcher named Dr Leigh last week, it is now giving non-scientists belly-laugh moments in science, 140-characters at a time.
Some scientists have called the tweets “worrying,” understandably because some of them reveal a world that does not seem to be held up by the rigor and conscientious precision that science prides itself with. Some blogs by scientists like the one in the science journal PLoS even said that overall, the tweets read like “a catalogue of methodological misdemeanors.”
But the rest of the world who are not holed up in science labs doing experiments, writing up their findings, doing their fieldwork, or running up their computations are, I think, not really worried. I think the non-science world who read these tweets would, in fits of laughter, affirm that “to err is human and to even tweet about is even more human.” At least, in this age of social networking.
Here are some of the tweets I picked out which I think are guaranteed to make you chuckle, or if you are a scientist, rush to check if this is your lab they are tweeting about.
From NatC@SciTriGrrl: Brains were removed and dissected, in, on average 58 seconds. We know precisely due to a long running lab competition.
Hope Jahren @HopeJahren: Water stress was applied to the plants until we felt we had achieved an odd sort of victory over them.
Dave Briggs@xtaldave: We used method X because Invitrogen/Sigma/etc make a kit for it with idiot-proof instructions.
Liam Cheeseman@SciencyCheese: We verified our findings with [very difficult technique] because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Jon Williams@JonBarryWill: We didn't understand the physics behind this so we claimed it was beyond the scope of this report.
Indrayani Ghangrekar @IndrayaniG: We used enzymes from NEB because the sales rep was nice and gave me free samples.
Ben Seymour @benosaka: Blood samples were spun at 1500 rpm because the centrifuge made a scary noise at higher speeds.
dr leigh @dr_leigh: Incubation lasted three days because this is how long the undergrad forgot the experiment in the fridge
dbaptista @dbaptista: Samples were incubated with primary ab for exactly 1 hr, or the duration of my lunch
Jeff Clements @biolumiJEFFence: We expanded the geographic range of our study to tropical locations because we were sick of sampling in -10 degrees
Science is a serious thing but that is not all it is. Anything inhabited by humans could not be “pure” (somehow some humans in other professions or vocations think they are.) So, if you thought that scientists were ivory tower cerebral kings, you should follow these overly honest bunch for starters. And maybe like in one of the tweets, you could feel an “odd sense of victory over them.” - Rappler.com
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” Her column appears every Friday and you can reach her at email@example.com.