Over the past week, a Twitter science hashtag has gone viral: #overlyhonestmethods.
Twitter trends are hard to predict, but who would have guessed that a sort of silly, sort of cynical, sort of hilarious riff on how science is actually practiced in a lab would take off?
For those who don’t work behind the bench, the Methods section of a scientific paper is supposed to describe how a study was done. But these descriptions are often a pat, perfect version of events that may tell little about the struggles, dead-ends, and serendipity that might really acccount for why an experiment finally worked.
The Methods section often suggests there was some logic and predetermined reason for the steps taken in the paper, and the scientists’ Twitter feeds jest about many other reasons that might be more truthful: a sample was incubated for a certain amount of time because that was how long lunch took, for example. The tweets pull back the curtain on the laboratory, showcasing scientists’ sense of humor and also leveling a sometimes barbed critique of the pressures and politics of laboratory life.
All of these tweets humanize science a bit. Scientists from across the world have been riffing on the shortcuts that sometimes lie behind findings, the weird things that can happen during an experiment, and the hoops researchers sometimes have to jump through to get their work published.
I rounded up a few Tweets tagged #overlyhonestmethods from people who self-identify on Twitter as from New England. Enjoy!
@NAChristakis (Twitter handle of Dr. Nicholas Christakis, the well-known Harvard researcher whose highly-publicized and sometimes controversial work suggests traits such as obesity, smoking, and happiness are contagious): “We added needless extra math to our paper because this impresses people.” He links to a paper called “The nonsense math effect.”
@kejames, a biologist based in Bar Harbor, Maine, tweeted: “Sample from Darwin’s bird specimen was protected from light except when 3rd author peeked in & made squee-ing sounds #overlyhonestmethods”
@p_maverick_b, a synthetic biologist based in Boston tweets: “Scientists are pressured to sugarcoat our methods because we value career advancement over reproducibility #overlyhonestmethods #buzzkill”
@AkelaOO, a Harvard scientist, writes: “We bought the wrong inhibitor but it worked and it is the only reason we started this project #overlyhonestmethods”
@boldtetrahymena, a molecular biologist in Cambridge, wrote: “ ‘Don’t know how experiment was done because we were not able to translate our former postdoc’s notebook into English’. #overlyhonestmethods”
“The research in our lab is supported by NIH and Mary’s grandmother who donated a microwave” #overlyhonestmethods”
What are some of your favorites?