Overly honest (marine science) methods

Dr Leigh (@Dr_Leigh) started a genius Twitter hashtag (#OverlyHonestMethods), allowing scientists to come forward and admit how they might really write those extremely dull method sections if journals gave them complete freedom to be extremely blunt. Here are Words in mOcean’s  own marine science suggestions that you may have been temped to include in your papers:

If you have any of your own suggestion, why not add them to the comment section at the bottom.


The sample location was NOT chosen carefully as I do not own my own research ship! It was a compromise reached by academics far more senior than me, working on completely unrelated scientific questions.


This study was performed in the tropics because… you know, the weather is REALLY nice there!


This study was done in the Arctic Ocean because I really really really wanted to see a polar bear…

later on in ‘future work’ section:

 …The effects of this phenomenon in the Southern Ocean are unknown (which will allow me to see penguins and elephant seals next cruise…boom!)


Figure 1 is a pretty satellite image of the area at the time of sampling. It shows very little, but looks quite pretty don’t you think?


At each station 5 litres of seawater was taken from the CTD – at a few stations this was only 2 litres as the selfish prick before me took too much f****ing water!


We sampled to within 0 meters above the bottom because the ship’s winch operator fell asleep (courtesy of @rejectedbanana)


Marine specimens were stored in formaldehyde for 16 years, at which point I persuaded a Masters student to analyze them – the molecular data obtained from them should be taken with an enormous pinch of salt!


Figure 2 shows data we collected when the ship left the geographic area actually relevant to us and we needed something else to do.


Incubations were run for 72 hours, with samples taken every 3 hours. Consequently, data points become less and less reliable with time… I don’t even remember collecting the last 6!


Trace metal concentrations were unusually high at station 1. Why? Because the person ahead of me in line for CTD water contaminated it by not wearing any gloves!


Glass bottles were not rinsed as thoroughly as we would have liked because there was one Milli-Q machine and 30 Milli-Q thirsty scientists.


The ship’s -80oC freezer thawed at one point. Our molecular data is almost certainly bullshit but we used them anyway… do you have ANY idea how hard/expensive it is to get ship time?


Nutrient, oxygen and chlorophyll data wasn’t analyzed by me. Someone sent me it in an Excel spreadsheet, but I have done my best to sound like I know what I’m writing about.


Those data points are missing for one of the following reasons:

-I was seasick and, consequently, chundering everywhere!

-The sampling device was destroyed by the prop at that station.

-The alarm I set for 3am didn’t go off (actually it did, but I turned it off).


Only one transect was completed at site X because the current was strong and we needed coffee (courtesy of @jess_carilli)



6 thoughts on “Overly honest (marine science) methods

  1. The samples were taken (more or less) randomly. I chose to place half my transects where there was lots of coral so the results looked good and the other half on bare seabed to make counting the “corals present” quicker so I didn’t miss lunch. True story.

  2. Ah, yes, the pretty picture issue. I’ve called a young conservation biologist on that – he brought in a map of fishery hot spots but couldn’t really tell me any more than that. Fortunately I know a good bit more about both the program and data sets and was quite pointed about this at a management council meeting, and he was telling me and the council it “showed hot spots,” but it should have been hot spots at what type of landings (pounds or fish?), commercial or recreational catch (or both), and what sort of binning among other things. He didn’t know because he hadn’t made the map. How bloody useless!

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