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William L. Siler, Ph.d.
09-28-1994, 12:20 AM
Dear Colleagues:

Yesterday, I posted a reply to a message sent to me by Dr. Mike
Murphy. I forwarded Mike's message to the list at large at the
same time. Unfortunately, the forwarded message was returned
undelivered leaving you with a reply to a message you had not
seen. I apologize. The attached is Mike's original message:

Bill

A comment on sloppy data. There seem to be some protective
reaction on poor equipment and unknown methods, both are
addressable. If there are equipment restrictions in the
experiment, it should be characterizable in terms of resolution,
accuracy, bandwidth, etc. Those restrictions should then be taken
into account when the data are analyzed and presented - you can't
draw conclusions that are not supported by the data. Less precise
equipment can be used to draw a certain level of conclusion at
any time and, if the experiment is designed with those
limitations in mind tasks/steps can be planned that are not as
severely affected by the equipment limitations.

There is no defense for methodology as a cause for sloppiness. If
the procedure used is not a standard one it should be described
in the publication along with the justification for adopting it.
If it is proprietary, then no claims based on it should be
presented until the process is protected and can be described.
Perhaps part of the problem is that it takes time and thought to
be a good experimentalist and too many researchers are under too
much pressure to adopt good practice consistently. Or to
carefully pass it on to students. That would be the 'good' side,
the other would be that people are just too lazy to be both
knowledgable and careful. I don't believe there is any such thing
as a truly 'turnkey' experimental system, but I sometimes sense
- particularly on this list - that people are trying to take such
an approach. You have to understand the measurement system and
software packages if you are going to use them effectively and
accurately. I hope laziness is not even a minor problem.

later

Mike Murphy
memcm@lsuvax.sncc.lsu.edu