Nieuws - 9 juni 2011


I gaze yawning at a screen full of figures. An unimaginative record of nine days' worth of caterpillars' weights, plants' weights and numbers that cease to have any meaning at all after hours of staring at the screen. How in the world could we have come up with that caterpillar experiment? Garden centres do their best to kill off these bugs, routinely impregnating their seedlings with special caterpillar poison. And here we are, trying to see what the caterpillars like best: do they prefer their cabbage well-watered or a little on the dry side?

Frustrated - because even after applying the natural logarithm, the data do not have a normal distribution - I push back my office chair. An uncoordinated movement which very nearly tips over my umpteenth cup of budget coffee. With studied cheerfulness, I share my latest discovery with the other members of my group.
It all seemed to be going so well. Over the last few weeks my life has revolved around Ecological Methods II. Making plans, transporting caterpillars, weighing caterpillars, taking cuttings, estimating the consumption. And as soon as I had a moment to spare, I helped other groups by throwing daddy-long-legs into ethanol with a sadistic grin. Casually remarking that their struggles actually looked quite pathetic. All in the interests of science, though, of course!
But since my weekend in Paris, the analysis seems pointless. Apparently, my brain would rather take endless photos of the Eiffel Tower that take part in pseudo-science. Why in heaven's name do I put 60 hours a week into such an insignificant experiment - in which the results of the various treatments do not even differ?
As I take another sip of my budget coffee, with a sigh, my colleague comments that the dataset has been jumbled. 'Look, in the last document, there were totally different figures for the caterpillar.' I stare at the screen in disbelief. It is four o'clock in the afternoon and tomorrow morning first thing, all the results must be out. Without betraying any emotion, I copy the correct data to my computer. Concentrating now, I drag my chair back to my desk, sit up and start all over again. I smile cynically at the screen. 'Next week', I murmur to myself, 'I am sure to be able to laugh about this.'