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.


Hot Cup Lutheran said...

well my dear it depends on what sort of additive splash you put in each of your cups of tea, as you read 3 cups of tea, in 3 parts... sounds like a grownup version of goldilocks.

(yah fruther proof that science anything isn't for hotcup...)

Presbyterian Gal said...

tee hee hee. I'll bet that your comments even related to actual things in the book that you didn't read!

You are an improviser by nature.

Barbara B. said...

hot cup, hmmm.... I'll have to ponder additive splashes! :)

pg, the alternate possibility is that after I left the others said, "What the heck was she even talking about?!?!"

dust bunny said...

I had the book....I read the book.....I think there was a tent on the cover.....yeah.....a tent....a red tent. That's all I've got. I couldn't dry lab my way out of an unused petri dish.

Barbara B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Barbara B. said...

dust bunny, umm... sorry, there wasn't even a red tent on the cover

dust bunny said...


Diane said...

the red tent -- that was one of our book club books MANY years ago. we actually had a good discussion. I made everyone read the story of Dinah in the Old Testament, and we talked about where it was faithful to the Biblical narrative and where it -- ahem -- improvised.

I love your comments about "dry labbing!" sometimes I don't pace myself well and find myself speed reading the book club book.

and three cups of tea? I didn't finish it. oops.

Barbara B. said...

uh-oh... that might not be a good sign for me if you didn't finish Three Cups of Tea!!