Characters in horror movies make terrible decisions. We easily recognize a common horror movie plot variation and can predict who the next victim will be. The same could be said about our research: bad decisions are easy to spot in hindsight or from the comfort of our couches, but for the uninitiated, here are some of the overlapping rules for horror movies and research. Note: some are really only helpful if we add the words “in the lab” to the rule.

  • Pay Attention to Your Surroundings. Horror movie characters never notice that the killer is right behind them or that the monster is hiding behind the bushes. We can do better. We have the added challenge of needing to be aware of our physical environment and the social and political environments we work in. Just like the characters in horror films, I turn around too late and realize I was blind to a serious hazard (or scientific limitation) that had been there all along.
  • Don’t Go Alone or Say “I’ll Be Right Back.” As soon as someone splits off from the group in a horror movie, I know they’re a goner. Going it alone in science and research can be a noble, but going against convention and the basic tenets of good science to make your own way could quickly lead to accusations of fabrication or falsification. Stay within the bounds and the killer won’t get you!
  • Don’t Touch Anything Strange in the Lab. Horror movies would be a little boring if the characters kept their hands to themselves. Like us, they just can’t help reaching out to touch that mysterious ring or creepy doll. Curiosity is at the bedrock of research, but just as the characters we scream at should not pick up the unusual-looking ancient book with the weird writing on the cover, we should make sure we know exactly what we’re handling before we handle it. Few researchers enjoy an unexpected trip to the safety shower.
  • Don’t Be a Jerk. I like it when the jerk gets his or her just deserts in a horror movie. It’s like karma. Why can’t we all just get along and be nice? Being a team player both in and out of the lab will help in a monster-related situation. It will also make you a better research collaborator too!
  • Don’t Sneak Up on Your Friends in the Lab. No one likes to be surprised in the lab, especially by a friend or colleague practicing ninja skills. Equipment is expensive and no one wants to repeat an experiment because they got the bejesus scared out of them.
  • Don’t Assume that the Monster is Dead. This could be applied in a number of ways, but let’s focus on concluding the project. Regardless of the monster we’re facing, please finish the job. Don’t assume that you’ve already completed or defeated it. Don’t take time to check the pulse either. Just cut off the head or otherwise finish the job. Or run out of there as fast as possible.
  • Don’t Do Drugs in the Lab. The person who takes drugs or drinks usually ends up facing the killer or monster early on in the movie. This is probably true for folks who use drugs or drink alcohol in the lab. It isn’t good practice in the conduct of research and should probably be avoided as it could render your findings unintelligible or at a minimum, illegible.

Do you have any rules to add to the list? Tweet us with your suggested rules or hit us up in the comments section.

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