Posted by: Jeremy Fox | March 5, 2012

Craziest thing you’ve ever done for science?

So, just to keep y’all entertained as I continue cranking away on other tasks: what’s the craziest (or oddest, or most grueling, or etc.) thing you’ve ever done for science? Answer in the comments.

I write a lot about theory on this blog. This post is really for all you “muddy boots” field ecologists, since any modeler who says “I once wrote code that took 6 hours to compile” is just going to look silly. 😉

While you consider your answer, here’s some music to inspire you:


  1. As a mosquito guy, I sometimes have to put my blood in to my work. Running hunndreds of mosquitoes through two generations in the lab using my arm as dinner was a bit of a pain, but I got good data from it – so it was worth it in the end.

    • Yup, that’s crazy. And all you mosquito people do this, right? So really, you’re all crazy. 😉

  2. […] was going to be my thing.* My subsequent course of action is the answer to the Oikos blog question: what is the craziest thing that you’ve done for science? I needed to think of a way to finance my B.Sc. and so it seemed obvious (to me) that this should […]

  3. OK, I’m a modeler, and maybe all the field people will laugh at me, but I can’t accept that I’m shut out of this! For the research I’m presently writing up, the data analysis involved running 2,419,200,000 separate regressions. It has taken a couple of months just to analyze the data. I had to purchase two new hard drives to hold the dataset.

    • Ok, that’s crazy. 😉

      • Thank you. I feel validated.

    • Yep. Made my jaw drop.

    • So, those regressions are all Bonferroni-corrected, right?

      Just kidding, I know you’re not doing regressions on real-world data, but it was amusing to imagine how low the corrected alpha value would be.

      • :-> Mostly they are on independent sets of observations. For any given set of observations, only four regressions were done.

  4. Craziest intended thing: I went to the Serengeti to do a pilot project; the project required me to drive around to get a sense of where the wildebeest were on the landscape. However, I had never learned to drive a manual transmission, never having had access to a car with one to learn on. So I found myself in the middle of the African savanna with an old, barely functioning Land Rover — with the steering wheel on the left, the driver’s door held closed with rope, and three pedals at my feet instead of two. (Not to mention the differential gears that allow for off-roading.) My advisor’s field assistant was way too busy to teach me to drive shift-stick, so I self-taught on Serengeti’s pot-holed dirt paths while looking for wildebeest and trying very hard not to get stuck. (Cell phone coverage is spotty there and if I’d gotten stuck in a mud hole, say, I’d likely have been on my own to figure out how to get out.)

    Craziest unintended thing: I almost walked into a black bear just outside a rural field station in Minnesota. It was 10pm and I had just run out to my car to bring some stuff inside. After I locked my car door, I started back to the front of the house and saw a shadow move; it was pitch black with no moon, and only a little light from the windows making it possible for me to see the shadow. I thought it was a raccoon until I got closer and saw it was way too big to be a raccoon. I backed away when I realized it was a bear. The bear continued around the house. I then remembered that I’d left the house door open. (After all, I really was just running out to grab something from the car!) As time passed, I imagined my phone call to the station manager: “Uh, sorry, I let a bear in your field house…” Eventually I saw the bear wander off around the other side of the house; it hadn’t gone inside, thankfully. And I remembered to keep the door closed after that.

    Craziest tech-type thing: I once found an 8-inch floppy disk in the back of a drawer at my old employer’s. This was in 2001. (Couldn’t find a drive, though, so I never learned what was on it.)

    • Wow, that first one is actually seriously crazy, as opposed to funny crazy. I’m glad you’re still with us!

  5. Mere days ago, I went digging for sand crabs on a beach filled with Portuguese men-o’-war:

    • Wow, that’s quite the photo!

  6. I drank lizard blood! The sample tube was plugged, and it was my last sample tube, so I thought that if I sucked on it a bit, it might dislodge the blood clot…

    • Eww.

      Protip: for most statistical analyses, a single missing sample is no big deal. So you don’t need to go to such lengths to make sure every single sample gets processed. 😉

  7. There was a chemistry major when I was undergrad who got into trouble for throwing a chunk of raw sodium into a lab sink, just to see what would happen. Of course, it basically exploded. I consider that “doing something crazy in the name of science” because “I wonder what would happen if I did X” is kind of the starting point for all science.

  8. Wow–between this post and the follow-up on eating your study organism, we’ve gotten close to 1000 pageviews just today! Clearly I should dial back on all the philosophical naval gazing and give the people what they want: a chance to brag about all the crazy things they’ve done and gross (or in Jarrett’s case, gourmet) things they’ve eaten in the course of doing ecology. 😉

  9. Just 6 hours for a code to compile?! I want one of those! I wrote a code that took more than 60 hours to compile, and now I’m working with one that takes around 2 weeks (per species, per plot); the point is that a reviewer suggested that it would be “great” to make some changes to the model (so that the code now would takes circa. 3 years to compile). Now I see what long-term ecology is. Hope this is stupid and silly enough…

    • Ok, that’s crazy, but not as crazy at the 2.5 billion regressions guy.

      • I win! I win! :->

  10. Mmmmh… touché; I quit…

  11. […] eat disgusting/dangerous/fatal species? Where’s the excitement in that? Plus, the “craziest thing you’ve ever done for science” thread is being dominated by modelers and programmers who’ve fit billions of […]

  12. I travelled from Copenhagen to Greenland with a bag full of fox shit. I happily told the customs and asked if they wanted it or wanted to check it – they didn’t. I don’t know if that is more crazy than sitting weeks looking for seeds in the shit after that.
    I also made an experiment on seed dispersal with a dog in forests where I had to comb the dog in a big bathtub between every transects that we were traversing. I got many people wondering what I was doing.

    • I’ve asked folks if I can take the surface T of their dog when I’m making measurements with my infrared thermometer in a local metropark. They find this somewhat amusing until I tell them that their black lab’s coat is 143 degrees F.

  13. I was standing in the woods in the Sierran backcountry, writing down data and heard the telltale sign of a bear crashing through the woods, coming toward me. I froze behind a tree until he was pretty close then jumped out from behind the tree. I have yet to see a bear move so fast. Scared the hell out of him.

  14. I almost fell down a cliff:

    But I got my voucher.

    • Oh, or maybe it was the time I sampled in a burnt forest full of bison? (But there was great stuff in their droppings!!!)

  15. Dove in the Galapagos with my earring tangled in my BCD! I told the story on video here:

  16. […] and the limits of detection. Ben is a graduate student with Andrew Hendry. He won the “craziest thing you’ve ever done for science” thread by doing a simulation modeling study, the results of which required 2.5 billion […]

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