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Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Most Useless Laboratory Report Ever Written

Tonight I am spending a sleep-deprived several hours cobbling together a lab report for my neuroscience laboratory course. I feel the need to vent a little, however, about the course. For one thing, it is very disorganized. I am constantly in a state of confusion as to what is expected of me, and, while I would normally think it was something I was doing wrong, when I talk to other students I discover they are just as bewildered. For just one example of the organizational incompetence, we have to turn assignments in to a website called to check for plagiarism. That is fine, but each course is set up with an ID code and a password to ensure that work you turn in goes to the course it is actually supposed to. However, it took me nearly fifteen minutes to actually register for the course on (and I was one of the fastest, I found out later, only because I thought "Wait, what if someone was a profound idiot?"). You see, the password that was chosen for our lab course consisted of three words (since I'm sure I'm not supposed to broadcast the password across the internet, let's just say the three words were "I hate reports"). On the course website where it tells you how to sign up for, the following instructions were posted:

Password: I Hate Reports
(note: passwords are case and space sensitive!)

Can you guess what the actual password was? ihatereports! After specifically reminding us that passwords were case and space sensitive, you would think they would actually report the password with the correct case/space combination...

Anyway, that isn't what I am really unhappy about with the course. What I am actually rather unhappy about right now is the fact that I am writing a report on data that is not my own. The course organizers decided that the data collected by the class didn't look particularly good, so it wasn't even good enough to have us use the entire class's data instead of our own (which sort of makes sense, since it does give a larger sample size for statistical analysis), but they then also handed us a data set provided by one of the professors. I'm assuming it is something she and her grad students at some point generated, but who knows? Perhaps they simply fudged the numbers and wrote down what ought to have happened. It just doesn't seem right. Yes, I realise that many of the experiments we do in this lab are fiddly and prone to wild error, but that is part of science. Providing students with a prefabricated set of data and asking for a report on that is simply a test in applied statistics (how many different ways can you use the student t-test on this data set?).

Well, I suppose I should stop complaining and get back to the drudgery of analysing my mysterious set of numbers.