14 August 2015
There’s been a hilarious meme on Twitter the past couple of weeks that follows in the footsteps of #OverlyHonestMethods: #FieldworkFail. If you’ve ever gone out in the field (i.e., not in a lab or office) to do your research, you know that there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. Particularly if you travel to remote locations, work with animals, or rely on finicky equipment to get the job done. (Or, in my case, when you work with volcanoes.) A number of media outlets picked up some of their favorite tweets, and I’m happy to say that two volcanologists made it on many of the lists: myself and Alison Graettinger, who’s a postdoc at the University at Buffalo.
The first time I hiked to active lava flows in HI, I melted the soles of my boots. Then I went through water and they shrank. #fieldworkfail
— Jessica Ball (@Tuff_Cookie) July 30, 2015
Her tweet came with a great photo, too.
I should have included explanatory photos with mine. Here’s the boot-melting hike in Hawaii:
And I believe the end of the boot-shrinking hike (after I had already gotten them wet):
When I went to REI to replace those boots, I had a very serious conversation with a sales rep about how well Vibram stood up to high temperatures. (Shopping for field gear is pretty darn fun when you’re a volcanologist. “How hot can I get these boots before the soles melt? Do these respirators filter hydrogen sulfide? Is this helmet going to hold up if I hit it with a rock?”)
Lest anyone think that the #FieldWorkFail hashtag contains only the extremes of misfortune, let me assure you that fieldwork definitely doesn’t look like one of those Discovery Channel shows. There are lots of often funny ways that things can go pear-shaped. And of course, it’s important to document them with photos.
Sometimes the porters who are cutting the path ahead of you are a lot shorter than you are.
Occasionally your field vehicle encounters serious rocks.
You shouldn’t necessarily trust your advisor when he says “it looks shallower over there.”
It’s really, really important to wear gloves on lava flows.
Choosing your outcrops carefully is also a consideration for pleasant field-tripping.
And sometimes, even if you are tough geologists, it’s worth it just to give up when the weather insists on obscuring the pertinent features in your mapping area.
For those who are interested in curated lists of the most glorious #fieldworkfails, here’s all the media coverage I could find:
- The Atlantic: Gluing Yourself to a Live Crocodile and Other Mistakes
- The Washington Post: Scientists share their funniest blunders with #FieldWorkFail
- Gizmodo: #FieldWorkFail Proves Science is a Horrifyingly Messy Process
- Good: #FieldWorkFail Lets Scientists Share Their Hilariously Less-Impressive Moments
- Imgur: Field Work Fails
- The Huffington Post: #FieldWorkFail Hashtag Tells The Hilarious Stories From When Science Goes Wrong
- The Guardian: Scientists share their embarrassing #fieldworkfail stories
- The Daily Mail: ‘I accidentally glued myself to a crocodile’: Scientists reveal most embarrassing #fieldworkfail mistakes on Twitter
It’s hard to beat “I accidentally glued myself to a crocodile”, TBH.