The average science experiment has two distinct parts to it. The part when you touch it and the part where you don’t. Some experiments require constant touching, but in general these needy experiments are rare. The vast majority require a bit of touching and a bit of standing and waiting (not touching).

The not touching part can be very stressful. Normally, it comes after the touching [ED: Please please please stop saying touching] and at that point you are left standing there with your head whirling with worries about your experiments:

Will it produce the data you want? Will it work at all? Will it explode killing you? Will it explode killing you and a large chunk of the town around you? Will it do nothing and just kill your enthusiasm for your project?

The whole point of an experiment is that you don’t know what is going to happen. You might have a pretty damned good idea (you really should have at least an inkling) and even something that other more eloquent writers would called a hypothesis.

But once you step back and let the experiment run, its output in the hands of science and science has proven time and time again that it really shouldn’t be trusted with anything more dangerous than a rubber cup of gluten free vegan jelly.

So it’s no wonder that standing powerlessly letting this happen is a little stressful. Especially as there is a nagging feeling that if you could just touch- fiddle with that dial a bit then you’ll make the experiment better.

Except that you very much won’t.

Experiments should always be carefully planned out. And some of them often are!

The planning stage of experiments is often done slowly and carefully in advance and where you have clear idea of the objective and variables you’re interested in. This is kind of a past calmer version of yourself.

The version of yourself present when running the experiment is stressed, anxious and possibly in a rush to get to lunch. Present version you is very much not to be trusted. Past version was a much better researcher and part of running the experiment is trusting past you… despite the number of times they’ve previously screwed up.

Even if you don’t trust them (again, they may have got a shake track record) the last thing you want to do is go fiddling and changing your experiment from a nice controlled one where you are chasing one small variable to one where you slap a random number generator (your brain) on it for a bit. It’s almost always better to let it finish (or just stop it), put out the fire, then reset with the parameters you realised needed changing.

So, as a researcher, you have to fight the urge and don’t go fiddling with your experiments. Let them run as planned and clean up the mess it then makes at the end. You can fiddle plenty afterwards, but fiddling during is like half cooking a cottage pie and then suddenly switching to making trifle midway through.

Categories: ErrantWritings

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