A quick rant about some negative responses to #overlyhonestmethods
For those not on Twitter, #overlyhonestmethods was a twitter hashtag, instigated by @Dr_Leigh, in which Scientists posted snippets from well, Overly honest methods sections.
IMO, it was mostly very funny, and the response was very positive – showing that scientists have a sense of humour whilst de-mystifying and humanising a profession which is occasionally seen by some as stuffy and aloof.
However, as someone who has occasionally tangled with those that might be considered as anti-science, it was quite clear to me that those with such an anti-science agenda might seek to use #overlyhonestmethods to have a pop at science.
If you scan #overlyhonestmethods, you’ll find them.
To those people:
- Not every experiment ends up in a paper. I would consider myself very efficient if 20% of mine did, although, I suspect this figure might vary massively from discipline to discipline. Personally, I do both “hypothesis testing” experiments, where I test a specific question, in what might be considered the traditional scientific method, and “what if” experiments, where I just test something out, play a hunch, follow a lead from another experiment, etc. Both approaches are equally valid, but it goes without saying that positive “what if” experiments invariably lead to more focused “hypothesis testing” experiments as ideas and hypotheses develop.
- Never under-estimate the role that serendipity plays in science. In one of my papers, the straw that broke the camel’s back was someone forgetting to add a particular reagent to an assay. Turns out that this reagent was inhibiting the enzyme in question, and this was a physiologically relevant discovery. If you fail to do an experiment “by the book” it is often worth completing it just to see “what happens if…” It is also worth occasionally deviating from the published protocols as well, to ask “what if…” Will I get better results or a more obvious outcome if I add more X, or do the incubation at a different temperature, etc etc.
- Experiments are repeated. Lots. Generally speaking, experiments are repeated at least 9 times (3x technical replicates, 3x experimental replicates) to ensure that the result seen is not happening by fluke. In reality n numbers are often greater than this. Ignoring duff experiments where something went wrong is annoying but no real hard-ship.
- IT IS A JOKE. Everyone likes to have a laugh at work. Yes, even stuffy old, lab coat-wearing, mad-haired scientists. If you’ve not put a dry-ice pellet in an Eppendorf in someone’s lab coat pocket without them realising, and then waited for the nature to take its course, then you’ve not lived.
It really is a shame that people will use something which has received overwhelmingly positive feedback, and has been hailed as an excellent piece of spontaneous and anarchic scientific communication, to have a go at science. In conclusion, it is becoming clear that no matter how obvious it is that something is a joke, you will always find someone poe-faced enough to not get it – such is the rich tapestry of humanity.