I was intending to entitle this offering “The Bad Scientist”, a play-on-words on “The Mad Scientist”, which is not that impressive if you required to explain it, so I didn’t.
It’s just that I never throw anything away, so there it is.
I’d like to say that we are all bad scientists – including the scientists – but I better personalize it, as I do not know any scientists, and many scientists I don’t know have done spectacular work, including the inventors of the robotic heart surgery I experienced a while back to whom I appreciatively say, “Thank you for not requiring my ribcage to be pried open.”
And I mean that sincerely.
Let’s say it’s just me who’s a bad scientist. Though I am hoping it is at least a few other people, so you can say, “Oh, yeah, that’s me too.” and then I won’t seem so crazy.
Okay, so here’s the thing.
Wait. First, this.
The scientist’s job is making meaningful causal connections. “Our assiduous experimentation confirms – or at least strongly indicates – that ‘this’ almost certainly caused ‘that.’” When scientists can determine that “this” led to “that”, they go to work on alleviating – or at least controlling – the “this”, so that sufferers no longer have to experience the “that.”
That’s how you cure things. You figure out the “this”, you find a way of combatting it – you say goodbye to the “that.”
Pathogens in the milk led to diseases like tuberculosis. Reduce the number of pathogens in the milk – there is a reduction in those diseases. Ipso facto – Louis Pasteur is a “Hero of Science” and an enjoyable Paul Muni movie.
How do you scientifically determine that “this” almost certainly “that?”
You isolate the variables in hopes of finding a single variable generating the consequence in question, known scientifically as “that.” You treat that variable – Ta da! – no more – or at least a significant reduction – in “that.” “Thank you, doctor.” “Here’s my bill.”
The trouble is that amateur scientists like myself have trouble identifying the appropriate variable – determining the “this” that led inevitably to the “that.”
Incapable of isolating that variable, we end up, unhelpfully, all over the place in our explanations.
Okay, now “Here’s the thing.”
A few months ago, I woke up to discover… how do I describe this so I won’t unnecessarily scare myself or repel the readership…
Some “minor irritations” on my tongue. I got up one morning, I looked in the mirror for some reason, and there they were.
I flew almost instantly into “Scientific Mode.” (Following a reflexive visit to “Panic Mode.”) I thought,
What is the reason for these “minor irritations” on my tongue?
With amateur scientists – I don’t know about the real ones – the investigation proceeds directly to “Temporal Connection.” Even though I am aware that something happening before something else does not necessarily mean that it caused it. What can I tell you? I had to start somewhere.
The question was, what happened directly before the time I did not have “minor irritations” on my tongue leading to the time I woke up in the morning and I did. Had I inadvertently “slept wrong” on my tongue? I immediately ruled that out.
But I had a direction. My “Isolatable Variable”: “Uncharacteristic Outlier Behavior.”
What had I done differently? Well, the day immediately before, after receiving an acupuncture treatment for a gastro-intestinal ailment, Dr. Mao sent me home with a bottle of supplements, which I took for the first time that evening.
The next morning, I woke up with “minor irritations” on my tongue.
“Viola, Blab!” as Super Snooper would exclaim triumphantly to partner Blabber Mouse. I had discovered “The Answer”:
Dr. Mao’s supplements had induced “minor irritations” on my tongue.
Dr. Mao, when I called him, assured me confidently that they didn’t. His evidence? No patient who partook of those supplements ever complained of “minor irritations” on their tongue.
It was a dead end. I am sure even the good scientists experience those. Mistaken hypotheses come with the territory. Which is a good thing – you know for certain what it isn’t. Your mandate as a scientist: “Keep going.”
Because… and here’s the whole point…
There has got to be a reason I have “minor irritations” on my tongue.
I thought, “Maybe the gastro-intestinal ailment I went to acupuncture to treat is the culprit.” It was a promising possibility. There was an identifiable “Temporal Connection” – I’d contracted one malady, and shortly thereafter, contracted the other.
Yeah, but the condition did not happen the very next day. It was a viable hypothesis, but not time to write the New England Journal of Medicine.
“What else then?” asked the amateur, trudging scientifically forward.
That was “Isolatable Variable” – I had never had that before. And I was stricken with both of them around the same time. Still, it seemed a stretch to me to link a type of pneumonia with “minor irritations” on my tongue.
“Keep a’goin’, scientist. You are not there ye…”
Wait! Wait! I’ve got it!
While I was recovering from “Legionnaire’s Disease” – so around the time the “minor irritations” appeared on my tongue – Dr. M bought me a replacement printer, which, unlike the “Laser Printer” it was replacing, was instead an “Ink Jet” printer.
Latest Hypothesis: The ink from my new printer blackens my fingertips – which I had noticed that it had – I moisten my fingers, which I habitually do to turn the pages of the blog posts I print up in order to rewrite them – I experience an allergic reaction to the ink on my tongueal area and…
“Viola, Blab!” once again. Only this time with conviction. I believed I actually had it this time. Like some grizzled miner finally hitting the “Mother Lode”, I felt like dancing around the room.
The ink from the printer, I had determined, had led to “minor irritations” on my tongue.
Although I am planning to buy a replacement “Laser Printer” and am in the meantime assiduously keeping my fingers away from my mouth, as of this writing, the promising “Ink Jet” hypothesis has not incontrovertibly been confirmed.
The amateur scientist soldiers on, searching relentlessly for the definitive “Answer”. I could go to a doctor, I suppose. A doctor might actually know.
But I prefer it this way.
I’d feel better discovering it myself.
What the doctor actually knows…
I may not want to find out.
(TO BE CONTINUED, BUT IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION.)