Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Being an anal scientist

I think there's a strong correlation between being excessively anal and getting good results in lab.  Certainly, the vast majority of successful lab scientists I've met are just super fussy about their experiments.  In fact, I know one guy who used to give his undergrad very precise instructions on exactly how to vortex an eppendorf tube of liquid.  It's so annoying!  And yet sweating these seemingly insignificant details somehow seems to correlate with getting good results, especially in biology, where stuff doesn't work if you look at it funny.

Of course, 90% of the stuff that fussy people fuss about probably doesn't matter at all.  But that reminds me of this quote attributed to advertising pioneer John Wanamaker: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."  The thing with experiments and fussy people is that you know that 90% of the fuss is completely irrelevant, but you never know which 90%...

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