Category Archives: Experimental design

Teach statistics the same way you teach baking a chocolate cake

We have wonderful undergraduates and we are failing them. We are failing in something important and I plan to fix it. That we are failing became very clear to me this past spring at their poster presentations. Generally the posters … Continue reading

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What if you assume your hypothesis is wrong when you design an experiment?

Designing experiments is deceptively simple. After all, you know what’s going on, right? So you just design an experiment that manipulates or otherwise examines the variable of interest, with an appropriate control, then show the pattern you expected, write it … Continue reading

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Help your writing with this clear rubric

What goes in the introduction? Why did she tell me to write the methods  first? Why should anyone care about my results? How can I convince them? Why did I do this project anyway? An excellent rubric can help. In … Continue reading

Posted in Data and analysis, Experimental design, Publishing your work, Writing

You can’t be too careful with documenting your science

Once upon a time we simply kept graphs and tables in our lab notebooks. We kept videos of behavior and the transcripts from those videos. For decades I kept huge binders of printed computer output. I kept those long hole-punched … Continue reading

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Keep your research honest, unbiased, comprehensive, and blind

Science cannot advance on fraudulent publications, whether the problems are big or small. We all know the basics of honest research, but there are also things we need to be taught. These are based on understanding our inadvertent tendencies to … Continue reading

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Communication up is better than communication down

A research lab group is a complex mix of partly independent individuals of varying research levels attempting to do something new. There is usually a power and information inequity because the laboratory leader controls much of the funding, has more … Continue reading

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What E. O. Wilson got right, what confused him, and what he disrespected

The brilliant conservation and ant biologist E. O. Wilson wrote a bizarre piece for the Wall Street Journal recently. It is modified from an upcoming book of advice for young students. It has inspired an intense flurry of highly negative … Continue reading

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Be careful when you generalize

One of the things we learned at the Xenophobia meeting we went to a few months ago at Arizona State University, was how quick humans are to generalize. We can learn to be careful when we apply those generalizations to … Continue reading

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Scientific error, scientific fraud: why did Gould claim Morton mismeasured skulls?

False theories die with disproof, but false data may live forever, or so my undergraduate advisor, Richard D. Alexander, told me. A single false fact can corrupt a dataset, a study, even a field. I remembered this as I counted … Continue reading

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Introducing undergraduates to research: first tools, or first ideas?

If I want to chop up some DNA for an experiment, and get it to a certain size, I’ll learn all about which restriction enzymes work well together, and what size pieces they make. … But when undergraduates come into our laboratory for independent study, or as work-study students, there is a certain efficiency to teaching them a couple of months of tools. Continue reading

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