I guess, typical scientific experiments, or their output, can roughly be divided into three different classes. When you look at the results of your experiment you can either…

  • … see that there is a correlation between what you did (altered) and what happened (what / how much changed in your sample). Thus you can show that, say, A influences B in this and that way. Very nice. If no one ever showed that before, you can write a paper about it and/or fly to a conference somewhere and tell your excited colleagues all about it. (If somebody already showed the same thing, you might still write a paper about it. Unfortunately, people do that all the time.)
  • … see that there is no correlation between what you did and what happened. That’s okay as well, you write a paper about it and so on, and in case you’re a PhD student you’ve got some more content for your thesis. Of course, usually you’d prefer the outcome mentioned above. Just because “Hey, I had a great idea about how things might work; so to check this I set up an experiment in this and that way; if you want to do the same experiment, you’ve got to take special care about this and that; now for sample preparation I did this and that, and some other things as well; than I indeed did measure the sample property B in question while carefully changing A in a controlled and complicated manner… and see! I can clearly show that B… umm, well, it doesn’t give the slightest damn about A.” is sort of anticlimactic, isn’t it? But still, it’s a result, and you learned something about how things work.
  • … or you can look at your measurement and realize that all you can see is clearly nothing. You get no idea if fiddling with A does anything to B or not, because the g#!§$%! sample just does as it pleases anyway. Or it just doesn’t work at all, even so it did yesterday and might do so tomorrow, or never again.
  • Someone said the third option happens 99 out of 100 times in science.
    He must have been an overoptimistic lunatic.

    10 Responses to “Science”

    1. Sebastian
      December 15th, 2005 08:53

      Mein Beileid!

    2. Torsten
      December 15th, 2005 15:26

      And the scary thing is: People still write papers/PhD-Thesises (or Thesis’s, or ?) about the results from one of the 99/100 cases. Anyway, to be a good scientist, you have to have the frustration tolerance of a sloth, the imagination of an artist and the dull, plodding mind of a chartered accountant. Oh, yes and be able to withstand the occasional high voltage ….

    3. Arne
      December 15th, 2005 15:45

      It’s thesis in singular, and theses in plural (which is sort of scary in itself ;-)

      People still write papers (…) about the results from one of the 99/100 cases.

      I guess that’s the trick for becoming a really successful scientist.

      The “to be a good scientist” part sounds a lot like Terry Pratchett to me… Was that a citation or just a good adaption of his style, Torsten?

    4. Torsten
      December 16th, 2005 09:37

      No quote, just the result of reading waaaay to much Pratchett..
      (BTW: I included some ASCII-sound effects framed by these pointy bracket thingies, but the system seems to have dropped them. The history of blogging follows the one of the movies: First the silent ones)

    5. Arne
      December 16th, 2005 16:41

      What are ASCII-sound-effects!?

    6. Torsten
      December 19th, 2005 16:36

      Soundwords like: brzz, zap, crackle etc.

    7. Arne
      December 19th, 2005 17:21

      *ding* Ah, now I got it. ;-)

    8. Random Thoughts in Scattered Posts » Science (reprise)
      December 20th, 2005 03:11

      It’s 3:20 am and somehow I got to think about my recent post where I categorized scientific experiments into three different categories. Forget it. It’s even easier – there are just two basic categories… [read more]

    9. Carsten
      May 15th, 2006 21:11

      The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “EUREKA! (I found it…)” but “That’s funny…


    10. Torsten
      April 26th, 2007 13:10

      And the most common phrase is: W.T.F.?

      Error thrown

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