Friday, April 11, 2008
dry labbing the red tent
Back in undergraduate days I was introduced to the concept (and some might say art) of dry labbing. The urban dictionary defines "dry lab" in this way:
To dry lab is to make up data in a scientific experiment, as opposed to observe or experiment in order to obtain it. Usually this is done in response to pressures to finish the experiment by unethical researchers.
e.g. It was getting past 4:30, so Kagame decided to dry lab her experiment in organic chemistry by plugging in plausible figures.
I'll admit to my rare (and I do mean rare) participation in dry labbing in inorganic chemistry. And I would agree that the word "unethical" can "usually" be used in regards to dry labbing, but one can argue that there are certain scenarios where the ethics are not cut and dried. In any event, scientists can tell you that a bad dry labber is oh-so-easy to spot whereas the work of a really skilled dry labber looks authentic.
Some months ago I ran across a book that I thought just might be the literary equivalent of dry labbing. The title was intriguing: How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, written by Pierre Bayard. In actuality, the book is less a "how to bluff" tutorial and more a satirical consideration of the implications of non-reading vs. reading in our culture.
Bayard's book (and the ol' college dry lab concept) came to mind last night when I attended a book club meeting. The book club, associated with the local Methodist church, is a new one (this was just the second meeting), and it was organized by a couple of friends of mine (who invited me). The book being discussed was Diamant's The Red Tent. Here's the deal. I didn't finish the book. Didn't especially like the book. I only got about half way through because I kept procrastinating with reading it. I know, I know. It has been a HUGE book -- loved by many. But it just didn't grab me; what can I say?
However, true to Bayard's book, that didn't stop me from joining in on the discussion and making witty, even profound observations on the novel. (You'll have to trust me on that "witty" and "profound" business ... And not ask anyone who was actually there.)
So next they are reading Three Cups of Tea. I have higher hopes for finishing that one.