January 9, 2013 | 3
This Monday thousands of scientists contributed to the hashtag #OverlyHonestMethods, a collection of methodological descriptions that would never appear in a scientific publication: brazen confessions, sardonic resignations, gleeful editions of may-my-advisor-never-read-this.
Most of the tweets react to the specialized and strange set of writing conventions that scientists must conform to in order to publish articles in scientific journals. Others tackle subjects like gender inequity, the overworking of graduate students, and guidelines for authorship.
A few favorites:
@angerstusson: Experiment was repeated until we had three statistically significant similar results and could discard the outliers #overlyhonestmethods
@james_gilbert: Apparatus was placed on the 2nd shelf up, approx 1 foot left of the spider plant. Results were irreproducible elsewhere #overlyhonestmethods
@ProteinWrangler: Plasmids were a gracious gift from the Miser lab after many emails, phone calls, & drunken reminders at conferences. #overlyhonestmethods
While some of the tweets might read as inside jokes, the hashtag provides a rare window into the social lives of scientists, a window rivaling Latour’s groundbreaking anthropological study of laboratory life.
Since the emergence of their field in the 1960s, science and technology (STS) scholars have taken scientists and their methodologies as their subjects, applying insights from anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and history. That a whole field is dedicated to the study of scientific practice comes as a surprise to many scientists. It is a sad reality of institutions that scientists, those who study things, rarely interact with humanists, those who study people.
The above three tweets each tackle an important STS topic. Norms of statistical methods have been analyzed by scholars like Theodore Porter, the material contingency of experiments by those like Karin Knorr Cetina, and the importance of social networks by actor-network theorists.
The take-away message from STS is that science is messy. We of the 21st century may be enamored of the truthiness of science, but any practicing scientist can tell you the overlyhonesttruth of it.
Image: Smithsonian Institution
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