As a graduate student, more than thirty years ago, I enjoyed doing experiments so much that I would go into lab on Sunday mornings secure in the knowledge that I, my experiments, and whatever rock n roll that I wanted to blast would have the labs to ourselves until at least one in the afternoon. I would have been devastated to have that taken away from me. While I was thinking about how sad and angry I would have been, I remembered how many times I’d realized, in the middle of an experiment or at its conclusion, that its design was so flawed that nothing useful could come of it and how mad at myself I used to get for not thinking things through better as I was planning the experiment.
The combination of those thoughts led to the piece that I wrote for Current Biology (PDF). It’s a plea to experimentalists to do two things: 1) use their forced downtime to find every error in experimental design that they’d made over the last six months and 2) to enlist their colleagues as critics to help them do everything they can to make the first experiments they do, when research restarts, as well-designed as they can possibly be.
My argument is that if you spend the next two months sweating in experimental design bootcamp, you could increase the fraction of the experiments that work and use this enforced hiatus to produce a lifelong acceleration of your future research.”