I am sharing a room with my co-presenter, who had no idea what I meant when I said I was having a Barbie moment. Do you remember the talking Barbie who said “math is hard!” There was outrage about her existence, about manufacturers sending impressionable girls the message that they couldn’t handle math, but do you know what? Sometimes math is hard.
I keep thinking about cross-stitching a motto for my office wall: Science Is Hard And Messy. Before I was trained as a researcher I envisioned science as a much tidier undertaking, but the reality is that you can have a beautiful hypothesis that your data utterly fail to support, or effects that go in the wrong direction entirely. And don’t get me started on the human foibles that complicate matters further, like certain unnamed people who give spreadsheets names like “really for real the right version.” (That would, alas, be me.) When I started my doctoral program, data management — naming variables and spreadsheets in transparent and clearly documented ways, and storing them safely in sensible places — wasn’t on my radar as a thing a researcher needed to handle, but it is critical for the efficient functioning of a lab. It only gets messier over time.
Last week I went looking for some data that I know for a certainty I obtained in 2013. And...no dice. Those results might have been living on a laptop that went belly-up, or they might have been deleted by malicious gnomes bent on expanding human ignorance and folly, or I might have stashed them on the university server in a place I can no longer find. I do not know. It’s not an emergency, but it is an annoyance.
Our presentation went fine, although our collaboration is different from the other research that’s being presented here. I think we are the only people from our discipline here at this interdisciplinary meeting, which is fine but also a little weird. We met an applied statistician last night who had a recommendation for a strategy to tackle a vexing problem in our most recent paper. I am waking up before 4 here (did you know Phoenix is on West Coast time? I thought it would be on Mountain Time instead but it is not), so I’ve had time today to start reading about zero-inflated distributions.
I am here to tell you, friends, that sometimes math is hard.