03 June 2006

Here we go 'round again

I spent a good chunk of the day in my lab doing work related to my current manuscript that's in revision. It's necessary but unglamorous grunt work: all I'm trying to do is to get some pictures of already known results.

One of the great joys of doing research is that you get to find out new things. But the downside is that you always have to do it more than once. Replication is critical to science. In fact, I was listening to an interview with a parapsychologist (A little searching reminds me that it was Michael Thalbourne) who talked about the "well-known fact" that results in parapsychology get weaker over time as people try to replicate them, not stronger.

And I thought, "There's your sign."

The effect gets worse the more you try to study it? That's the exact opposite of regular science, and to me speaks volumes about why parapsychology doesn't get respect. It's pathological science to say, "Oh, effects get weaker as we look for it again."

In my case, I'm trying to get a few pictures of crayfish neurons. The ones I'm interested in were well described about 30 years ago, and are well known. But, since the point of the paper I'm working on is to compare similar neurons in a species that is not a crayfish, it helps to have pictures showing that I can in fact see what everyone else has described, and that any differences are not just due to dodgy techniques on my part.

And, to make matters even less interesting, I even have some pictures of the relevant cells. They're just not very pretty. But, because I think this manuscript has a chance to actually be a bit more widely read than some of my other stuff, I figured I might as well take the time to try to get some stuff that looks nice.

Necessary, but trying to maintain enthusiasm while doing replicates is awfully hard for me. Research is much more fun when you don't know what the answer is going to be.

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