Methods matter?

IMG_4893Alanna Speaking. I have a confession to make. When I read a scientific paper, I (almost always) skip the “Methods” section. Those seven letters are a signal to flip the page, an introduction to the driest, least impactful part of the paper, necessary to writers and publishers, but certainly not to me.

During the week we spent sampling in the Bighorn Basin, Zoe and I found ourselves transported into Methods. Every decision we made, every stroke of the sweep net, photograph and weather call had the potential to affect the results. We agonized over when to sample, when to rear, whether to put more ice packs in the coolers to keep the insects from eating each other or add another towel to keep them from freezing to death. I was on high-alert through every choice I made – which roads to take, which soup to buy. We transported about 900 live alfalfa weevils across the state in paper grocery bags, blasting AC to the back of the car. For three nights before our trip home, I slept next to the bags, and dreamed about the wiggling green bodies inside.

Within the next couple of weeks, we’ll find out whether our weevils survived to pupate, becoming either adults or hosts for parasitoids. I am anxious just thinking about it. In real-time, the methods are anything but peripheral; they are in constant focus.  The effort we put into each decision gives me faith in the scientific process. If, as an intern, I am this invested, this stressed out about the integrity of our research, most scientists probably are, too. All the more reason to read the methods next time.


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