Recently, in writing a letter nominating someone for a scientific award, a colleague and I wrote something like “It’s difficult to convey just how strong a candidate Dr. So-and-so is.” Which is not a letter-writing approach I would recommend. There are in fact words that can convey just how strong a candidate Dr. So-and-so is, and you should write them. Which we did, of course–our letter didn’t actually rely on the bald assertion that Dr. So-and-so is too awesome for words. But still, that sentence could be considered a minor violation of the standard advice that I (or anyone) would give about how to write a reference letter.
Hence my question: is there scientific advice that you give to others, or teach to students, that you don’t follow yourself? Or only follow sometimes?
Here are some of mine:
- I don’t use reference management software, even though I advise my students to do so. My reason is sheer inertia. I even bought a copy of Endnote last year, but haven’t taught myself to use it yet. It turns out that I cannot force myself to use something just by spending money on it!* I am good at many bits of sciencing, but frankly I suck at forcing myself to learn new technical skills that I would be glad to have learned once I learned them. I don’t mean that as a humblebrag, it’s just the truth. We all have our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and that’s one of my weaknesses.
- Until recently, I didn’t use R Studio. Or even the R scripting window. I either used the command line**, or used R Commander to operate R with drop-down menus and push buttons, or else I wrote my code in Word and then copied and pasted into R.*** You’ll be glad to know that I just started using R Studio and now regret not using it years ago.
- I tell my students not to bullshit about the purported applications of their fundamental research when writing papers or grant proposals. But like most everyone, I do it myself.
- I blog, but I wouldn’t advise anyone else to. More precisely, I think it’s unlikely that my own good reasons for blogging will apply to most other people.
So, about what bits of science do you say to others “Do as I say, not as I do”?
*Because now I feel like I’d be committing the Concorde fallacy (aka sunk cost fallacy) if I spent time learning to use Endnote that I didn’t really feel like spending. Thus illustrating that awareness of logical fallacies doesn’t necessarily make you “rational” in any useful sense.
**An undergrad who worked in my lab and took intro biostats with me once saw me do this. Her eyes got really wide and she said “You taught us never to do that!”
**We now go to a live shot of every reader of this blog.