A true science horror story


#1

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#2

She may have just flushed a cure for cancer or possibly a specimen that could have lead to untold discoveries. Or, she may have just flushed some nasty down the sink. We’ll never know.


#3

Until we invent a grad-student cloning device, we’ll never have enough labor to analyze all the weird stuff that gets churned out during the course of doing science… And, if we do, it’ll be a recursive problem, because all those clones will generate their own oddities in the course of analyzing the first set of oddities, and so on…

What struck me is how brutally unpleasant the lab atmosphere sounded. Blaming the new kid because something has been growing in the refrigerator for longer than she has been on staff? WTF, dude…


#4

Ever hear of that nonsense “peanut butter” argument against abiogenesis?


#5

Gah! We could have shut that argument down forever!


#6

A blob of something is found in nutrient solution. Ewww? Kill it!

Where would we be if Fleming had dumped his contaminated bacterial culture? After all, it was clear that his experiment was ruined by that pesky penicillium notatum, so out with the plate, sterilize everything, and start all over again.

But Fleming was a scientist, not a technician; he saw something new and investigated. If you or anyone you know had their life saved by an antibiotic, say thank you to Fleming’s ewww moment.

Ms. Milbury will likely get her PhD, and may even do some good work. But a scientist she is not, and will not be until she develops a questioning mind-set. Given that she published the article, I know which way I’d bet.


#7

Do you actually think that you could find a scientist who hasn’t tossed something that they could have spent a week poking instead? A single one? Anywhere?


#8

“Do not read while eating.”

Really? I wish I’d had some popcorn.

The hostile nature of the lab reminded me of my first, and only, college biology course. I’d taken college level biology courses in high school, and tested out of the college’s minimum level biology class. Even though I was an English major I liked science. I still like science.

On the first day the professor came in and started with, “This is not a class for English majors. If you’re an English major get out now.” I stuck around, because I was there to learn. A few days later I’d meet the professor at an ice cream social. I made the mistake of telling him I was an English major. This resulted in him firing questions such as “What’s a phospholipid?” at me for several minutes. When I kept answering correctly he finally muttered, “Well stay out of the way” and walked away.

When my first test came back marked with a ‘D’ I decided to drop the class. When he signed it he said, “I’m sorry to see you go.” I thought he had a lot of nerve, but I’d later learn I was only one of three people in the class to get a passing grade.

Maybe these trials by fire are useful for weeding out dilettantes, but they can also be pretty damn good at creating the idea that science is a highly exclusive club.


#9

I can’t say I’ve worked much in one myself, but I understand there may be things in a biology lab – especially one that deals with human cancer cells – that really should be disposed of expediently due to their potentially carcinogenic nature. Just because Marie Curie died from radiation poisoning doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the rest of us.


#10

This is a multipart message in MIME format.

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OK, everybody makes mistakes. But most of us, if we admit them, use =
them as illustrative examples of what not to do; we don=E2=80=99t brag =
about them. =20

=20

I=E2=80=99ve worked with many people with science degrees over the past =
few decades. Of the ones who were active in research, most were =
conscientious technicians who plugged along, did routine research, =
published routine papers, and in general, whatever their nominal duties, =
worked in development, rather than doing real research . While pretty =
well all of them got patents, and a couple even won prestigious prizes =
and were seen as leaders in their very specialized fields, most of their =
work was predictable. To the best of my knowledge, not one of these =
pluggers found anything truly new. And all of them diligently cleaned =
their equivalent of contaminated petri dishes whenever they found them.=20

=20

And I was fortunate enough to meet several real =
scientists=E2=80=94people with questioning minds and a perpetual sense =
of wonder. These people likely also dumped the occasional contaminated =
nutrient, but generally investigated any anomaly before disposing of it. =
This small handful contributed more to the store of human knowledge =
than the rest of the bunch put together.=20

=20

=20

From: fuzzyfungus [mailto:info@discourse.org]=20
Sent: November-19-13 1:03 PM
To: john.roshak@awfraser.ca
Subject: [Boing Boing BBS] new reply to your post in ‘A true science =
horror story’

=20

Image removed by sender.

http://bbs.boingboing.net/users/fuzzyfungus fuzzyfungus
November 19=20

Image removed by sender.genre41 said:

But a scientist she is not, and will not be until she develops a =
questioning mind-set. Given that she published the article, I know which =
way I’d bet.

Do you actually think that you could find a scientist who hasn’t tossed =
something that they could have spent a week poking instead? A single =
one? Anywhere?

To respond, reply to this email or visit =
http://bbs.boingboing.net/t/a-true-science-horror-story/14591/7 =
A true science horror story in your =
browser.

_____ =20


#11

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Cancer cells per se are not inherently dangerous, and we=E2=80=99ve =
learned a lot about handling dangerous stuff since Marie Curie. =20

=20

From: Jorpho [mailto:info@discourse.org]=20
Sent: November-19-13 1:55 PM
To: john.roshak@awfraser.ca
Subject: [Boing Boing BBS] new reply to your post in ‘A true science =
horror story’

=20

Image removed by sender.

http://bbs.boingboing.net/users/jorpho Jorpho
November 19=20

I can’t say I’ve worked much in one myself, but I understand there may =
be things in a biology lab =E2=80=93 especially one that deals with =
human cancer cells =E2=80=93 that really should be disposed of =
expediently due to their potentially carcinogenic nature. Just because =
Marie Curie died from radiation poisoning doesn’t mean it’s a good idea =
for the rest of us.

To respond, reply to this email or visit =
http://bbs.boingboing.net/t/a-true-science-horror-story/14591/9 =
A true science horror story in your =
browser.

_____ =20


#12

Investigating unexpected leads is expensive and time consuming, and usually (almost always) leads to nothing interesting. Sometimes it does.

The challenge is in deciding which (one or two) of the hundreds of spurious observations you encounter each month in the lab is actually worth pursuing with your limited time and funding.


#13
What struck me is how brutally unpleasant the lab atmosphere sounded. Blaming the new kid because something has been growing in the refrigerator for longer than she has been on staff? WTF, dude...

While she was almost certainly overreacting, labs (and grad school especially) can (depending on the institution) be a very unforgiving environment. Ultimately, whatever happens is your responsibility. Even though someone else owns and manages the equipment. Even though someone else wrote the grant application and you found an obvious flaw early on that makes the whole project untenable. Even though the person who knows the answer to your question graduated and never kept good notes and you never heard of them.


#14

I’m pretty unimpressed. The one person who should have had an idea what it was or might be, just freaks out, panics that “it’s human”, and flushes it down the drain. Whatever it was, you could’ve just taken a section and looked at it under the microscope, no? What’s the big mystery? Why the terror?


#15

Legit question: Where is the “horror” part? Is it just because she was afraid of getting in trouble, or is a mysterious solid mass in a jug of sugar water really that terrifying somehow? It seems to me that if you find something weird growing in a liquid that you keep around specifically for the purpose of growing weird things, you shouldn’t get all worked up about it. It may have been slightly weirder than the normal stuff, but unless it attacked you or was trying to communicate telepathically, it would be just another one of those things that happens in a bio lab.


#16

Tumor in a bottle… Wasn’t that a Christina Aguilera hit?


#17

I think it was Sting.
He also did “I’m an Illegal Ailment!”


#18

Yeah, maybe it’s because I’m a microbiologist (although mostly computational these days), but this kind of seemed like a typical event in my grad school days rather than something horrific. Cells and cultures don’t freak me out. The scary things were the unlabeled bottles of chemicals you’d find in a back cupboard and would have to call the university haz-mat teams to deal with.


#19

It was probably fungus. Had a little more time to grow. She totally overreacted. Not gross. Not a mystery.


#20

Via @Tavie’s post in a different thread
Perhaps it was ChickieNobs