#80. Observe something and keep a record on a daily basis

IDEA #80. Observe something and keep a record on a daily basis—your weight, the temperature at breakfast, the number of cars parked on your block at a particular time of day, the number of times your teacher says a particular word over a two-week period…. Make a graph and look for patterns.

If scientific genius is “ninety-nine percent perspiration and one percent inspiration,” as Thomas Edison said, much of the sweat equity in progress has come from careful, regular observation and record-keeping. Extraordinarily, it is the highly disciplined management and analysis of disease records, rather than lab work with microorganisms, that has led to the understanding of the causes of many epidemic diseases, and the laws of planetary motion are a product of the detailed recording of planetary positions by Tycho Brahe; Kepler and Newton drew upon such records to derive mathematical principles, and Newton applied these principles to the study of gravity.

Modern science depends on detailed quantitative record-keeping, and much of the application of computers in science is in the service of developing statistical models. The young scientist who sets about the precise recording of observed data is, therefore, participating in a long and fundamental scientific tradition.

The fun of this activity, of course, is to begin to discern patterns. If the recorder makes a point of recording several possibly related kinds of data—temperature and barometric pressure, say, or the total number of goals scored in each game each day in a professional ice hockey league and the number of spectators in each arena—interesting correlations may appear. The task of the scientist, of course, is to determine whether these correlations are in fact the result of some natural or psychological forces or merely coincidence. The number of fish caught by Aunt Minnie each day may or may not have anything to do with what Aunt Minnie had for breakfast, but careful observation of these two phenomena might yield significant data.

As with any form of observation, regularity, precision, and the number of data points generated are the key to meaningful results, and so this activity also involves a certain amount of self-discipline before there can be any analysis. The more consistent the manner of the observation and recording, the more useful the data will be.

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