Failing in the Field - Book review

za 21 december 2019

When I was in university we had a course about what it means to do proper research. I enjoyed this course very much. In my own words, research is tinkering around on an interesting problem, somewhat methodological, and being honest in communication with others about what you expected what would happen when you did your tinkering, what actually happened and what this might mean according to you. A lot of tinkering leads to uninteresting results, or lessons learned about things that went wrong in setting up the experiment.

In the current academic climate, it is almost impossible to publish papers or get book deals for those experiments where outcomes were uninteresting or something went wrong. That is why I was happy to find the book Failing in the Field by Kaplan and Appel. It describes a handful of field research experiments where something a human error caused part of the experiment to go wrong, and either the entire effort that was put in was wasted, or the researchers had to adapt to a new situation.

In my line of data science work, there are fewer humans involved compared to the field research in the book. Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable read, and a good caution to always monitor your experiments for things that might go wrong so that you can hopefully fix them in time.

Front cover of the book Failing in the Field