Illustration for article titled The Truth About the Scientific Method: Its Much Messier Than You Think

Scientific labs are in the business of uncovering truths. But, when you look a little closer at how they work, there’s another truth coming out of them: The process to getting there is a lot messier than it looks from the outside.


io9’s comment of the day comes from commenter Tenaj, who shared this tidbit about the unlikely lab tool they use in their work:

I work in a lab that does research using Drosophila. Some of our experiments involve “egg transfers,” which means that we collect a certain number of eggs and transfer them into a container so we can raise the larvae under specific conditions. To give you an idea of how small Drosohpila eggs are, you can have several hundred on an egg-laying plate that’s about 1.5 inches across.

Anyway, to transfer the eggs we use a coffee stirrer with a toothpick taped to one end.


It’s both a wonderful and terribly ordinary example of how scientific research looks from the inside.

Lab work usually involves the application of sometimes fairly general tools for almost painfully precise purposes—and to get to that point that those tools are useful you usually have to alter them a bit using whatever you have on hand.

In a Neuroscience lab I used to do research in, I needed to get incredibly thin cross sections of rat brains laid out on slides. There was, of course, a very specialized tool for the actual slicing but getting the samples high up enough, cold enough, and level enough to be sliced up in the first place was accomplished only by Macguyvering miscellaneous equipment that we had on hand. There was no particular procedure for it: You simply kept fiddling with things until it worked.

And that is the truth that often gets lost in discussions about scientific research: Science relies heavily on standardization and procedure, but it relies just as much on improvisation, creativity, and, above all, a willingness to keep fiddling until something, finally, finally, works.


Image: Maggie Bartlett, NHGRI

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