A research scientist sets out to explore the unexplored and unknown frontiers of science and technology in his or her domain of research. The primary attribute is to act responsibly and report findings with honesty. It is a common trait to report only those results that conform to a set pattern based on earlier observations and any deviations are overlooked or rejected. However, in the interest of science, it is not fair to reject unusual findings as they deserve due attention and re-evaluation before acceptance or rejection.
Common reasons for deviation of results
Some common factors that are responsible for the deviation of results are outlined here:
- Adoption of non-validated techniques or methods of analysis.
- Unapproved deviations from stipulated test procedures.
- Use of uncalibrated instruments and devices.
- Analysis performed by individuals with inadequate training.
- Changes in environmental conditions in laboratories during the course of analysis.
However, research is a unique activity and can throw up surprises at times even when studies are performed under strict controls. It is natural for researchers to withhold unexpected or unusual findings from research guides or senior managers for fear of ridicule or admonishment. However, unexpected results and findings often prove to be a blessing in disguise. They set up a chain of thought for investigations on lines which had been overlooked earlier. Perseverance often leads to opening up of new avenues of research, explanation of scientific anomalies or even new discoveries.
Some common examples
Absorbance of light
It is common knowledge that the absorption of light of a given wavelength is dependent on the number of absorbing species present in a given volume. It is natural, therefore, to expect a linear relationship between absorbance and concentration of absorbing species. However, the relation no longer remains linear beyond certain concentration levels due to interactions between absorbing species and solvent at molecular levels. A researcher would be tempted to discard observations above such concentration levels but an insight into the typical behavior of the absorbing species in the solvent medium is certainly helpful before outright rejection of such results.
Conductivity of materials
It is well known that the flow of electric current through a conducting material is in inverse relation to its resistance. This holds true at normal temperatures but some materials lose their resistance at temperatures nearing absolute zero and there is no impediment to flow of current. In other words, such materials become superconductors at such temperatures. This discovery could have been easily trashed by conventional researchers but the proper investigation into this phenomenon paved the way for advances in superconducting materials and developments of superconducting magnets for high-resolution NMR studies.
It is an accepted fact that an increase in temperature of the separation column leads to faster elution of sample components in Gas chromatographic separations.In addition, other parameters such as column material packing and flow rate of carrier gas also can influence the resolution of components of complex mixtures of closely eluting compounds. A chromatographer cannot rely only on the variation of a single parameter and has to rely on different permutations and combinations of different parameters to arrive at the right set of conditions to optimize separations. This requires a degree of patience and perseverance.
It can be summarized that a researcher should act responsibly as research is the basis of the advancement of our knowledge and improvement of the quality of our lives. Thus the key desirable attributes are highlighted in the conclusion to the article:
- Ethical conduct and honest reporting.
- Persistence to move on inspite of drawbacks and failures.
- Adherence to stipulated guidelines on use and disposal of hazardous materials.
Honest reporting of unexpected results and findings can contribute to the immense saving of time and efforts of other researchers engaged in similar research projects. However, always bear in mind that unexpected findings have the potential of opening up of new frontiers of research and development.