Organisation - February 3, 2010

# Close to fraud

We've reached the third week of our practicum. A group of about thirty students are sitting in the computer room, working out their results. I can already see that not all the experiments are equally successful. Well, that's how things are during a practicum. Today, calculations have to be done which are more difficult than expected. Quantities, concentrations or activities have always been tricky issues. I try my best to explain the differences.

We've reached the third week of our practicum. A group of about thirty students are sitting in the computer room, working out their results. I can already see that not all the experiments are equally successful. Well, that's how things are during a practicum. Today, calculations have to be done which are more difficult than expected. Quantities, concentrations or activities have always been tricky issues. I try my best to explain the differences.
A team of two cheerful girls has come up with good results. Together, we discuss the conclusion which can be drawn from their measurements. Not so easy, it seems. One point in their graph sticks out and is therefore assigned a conclusive role.
'Clear induction', they concluded with enthusiasm.
Spurred on by my own knowledge, I utter a hasty rebuttal: 'Are you going to base your conclusion on that one point?'
'We've found three rather divergent values and compared these with what the other groups have, and picked out the most likely one to use. Therefore, this must be the good one.'
I almost succumbed to their steadfast belief in the value they've discovered.
'If you think that's it, then you might as well put that down in your report. I do, of course, expect a clear explanation.'
A tinge of doubt appears on their faces. 'Shall we just go through the calculation again?' Without waiting for my answer, they pore over their spreadsheet once more.
Less than five minutes later, I am summoned again.
'We were close to committing a fraud.'
'Fraud? That sounds serious.'
They point to the screen showing the different numbers. It appears that they have shifted all their values one cell up, which has strongly affected the graph, especially that first point.
'A little fraud, because we didn't look straight', says one of them, beaming. 'And now we're going to get the expected margin.'
Indeed, the graph now displays the familiar image. 'Fine. You're now able to draw the right conclusion', is my own conclusion.
'Yes, it was not a fraud, but just a stupid mistake.