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I Can Explain My Terrible Data: My Pipette Was Haunted

Daily lab log – 3/06/2020. Third day of JURKAT/Bromodomain inhibitor experiments. Certain events have transpired making this particular experiment…out of the ordinary.

Hello my glorious PI/overlord. Since I know you’re paging through this notebook wondering why my data looks so goddamn weird, I have a perfectly logical explanation. My pipette was haunted.

I promise I’m telling the truth – stop laughing! It’s not funny! (Sorry I had to run by the way, class was starting and yeah, I was a little spooked by the ghost that came out of my pipette tip.)

Let’s just start at the beginning. The cell culture room was, as usual, way too hot (Altschul really needs better air circulation). I gazed upon the splotch of cells I had managed to spill in the hood for the third time (sorry), wondering just why – WHY – this pipette seemed absolutely unwilling to just cooperate. It was one of the new ones we ordered (love the green color by the way) so I figured it was just me needing to get used to it, and I continued trying to wrangle it into submission. No matter what I did, it refused to hold anything in the tip for more than 30 seconds before expelling it onto the hood surface. I held the pipette with a fresh tip steady for a few minutes, trying to figure out what was wrong.

“Maybe it’s just these tips?” I thought to myself, but I had been through a solid two boxes (can you ask Nichole to order more? We’re running low) and they all did the same thing. I took the pipette out of the hood, ethanol-ed it real good, and inspected it.

My next guess was that it was something wrong with the plunger, so I thought I would try to press it up and down a few times – and that’s when the weird shit happened. And I will take this moment to reiterate that I AM TELLING THE TRUTH.

I pressed down, and the tip filled with gray smoke. Usually that’s when I would maybe stop, but suddenly I wasn’t in control of my hand anymore. I released the plunger, and when I pressed it down again, the smoke spewed into the room, way more than the tip could feasibly hold. It swirled around, threatening to knock the media bottles onto the floor, as I just stood absolutely dumbfounded. Finally, after what seemed like forever, it solidified into a figure in front of me.

And you’re not gonna believe me, but it looked a lot like Linus Pauling.

“What the hell are you doing here? What the hell were you doing in my pipette?” I desperately grasped for anything I knew about him from the few times he had come up in textbooks over the years. “Also weren’t you more of a chemist anyway? You’re in the wrong lab, the chem labs are a few floors down.” He chuckled a little before saying, “I have no interest in the chem labs a few floors down. I honestly had no interest in living in your pipette either, but I had to reach you somehow. I need to tell you something, something very urgent. I-“

His form dissipated into a puddle of gray smoke for a second before reforming. “Drat. Looks like I have less time than I thought. Listen, I have to tell you something. I…was wrong.”

I started to remember more about him the longer I stood there. A teetering media bottle finally crashed to the ground and evaporated in a puff of smoke. “Yeah, we’ve kinda known you were wrong about some things for a while. You were pretty goddamn racist, which most people with brains have determined to be less than acceptable. Also you would not give up the whole vitamin C thing – in case word hasn’t gotten down to the underworld yet, no, it does not cure cancer. You can give that one up now. But I’m not here to discuss your undying legacy, I have class in like an hour. Why are you telling me you were wrong? I clearly know!”

“Because you have to fix it. I obviously can’t anymore. But you have to tell them. Tell them I was wrong. All this praise gets exhausting in the underworld. All these undergrads at Oregon State praying to me so they can pass general chemistry – I hear it all, you know. I never get a moment’s rest! I can’t even sleep for a minute, much less for eternity. You have to tell them that I was wrong so they’ll finally stop. I’ve seen it – kids these days, they’re so quick to cancel anything that ever stepped a toe out of li-“

“Racism is a little more than a toe out of line, one would think. I forgot your little eugenics phase too – that’s definitely more than a toe.”

“You know what I mean. But I want it to happen. You tell them I messed up, they cancel me, and I can finally get a good night’s sleep.”

“You’re at the wrong university, pal. Jesus, don’t ghosts have GPS or something? You’re in New York City. It’s a loooong way from your alma mater. Also, I told you, we know you were wrong about a lot. I don’t think telling anyone – even if I did go to Oregon State, which I don’t – will change the ringing in your ears. They’re not praying to you because they think you were infallible. In fact, I don’t think they’re praying to you at all. I know I didn’t when I took general chemistry. To be honest, most of the time you came up I cursed your name. You didn’t hear that in the underworld?”

“Well if they’re not singing my praises, then what are they doing?”

“I think they’re…thinking. Thinking about you. Yes, some people are going to learn about the bad shit you did and promise never to think about you positively ever again. And honestly, I really can’t blame them. Some of the ideas you advocated hurt and continue to hurt a lot of people. Some are going to say you were a product of your time and focus more on the good stuff you did, like your work on how smoking is bad or your nuclear disarmament work. That work also still impacts a lot of people, even if we’re moving a little farther away from disarmament at the moment. I can’t blame them either. And some people only think of you as the person making their chemistry tests so difficult. Also can’t blame them.”

“Okay, how do I get them to stop? How do I get to sleep?”

“I don’t think you do. That’s the problem, you did so much that I don’t think we’ll ever, at any point in time, get to stop thinking about you. We’ll constantly be interrogating your legacy, trying to decide if the bad outweighs the good, if the good outweighs the bad, or if we should just let it go. We’re not going to get to rest, so to speak. Maybe it makes sense that you don’t get to, either.”

He paused for a minute. “I can’t simply…not rest. I can’t exist forever like this. And I suspect that, if we’re as linked as you seem to think we are, you can’t go on forever constantly weighing my legacy.”

“I’m not going to waste all my waking hours thinking about a dead man’s actions. I have classes to go to, I have homework to do, and I have a chem midterm on top of all of it. We have to keep thinking about this, but we can’t think about it all the time every day. It’s simply not possible. I personally don’t know what I think of you. I’m not going to ignore the more terrible ideas you had, but I don’t think I’m going to ignore the better ones either. But I have class in half an hour, and I think that’s a bit more pressing than your legacy.”

“So what happens to me?”

“I suppose you’ll just have to find out.”

He took a moment, smiled, and simply disappeared.

So now I think you understand why I had to leave all of a sudden. Writing this nearly made me late, so sorry for the nasty handwriting. I’m still not sure what happened to that dropped media bottle, it’s like it never existed. I don’t know if we’ll be getting more visits from Ghost Pauling again. I hope he gets at least a nap.

See you next week for repeating the experiment. And maybe next time, get some pipettes that aren’t haunted, hm?

-S.B.


The grizzled professor closes the lab notebook. It’s late, too late to still be at work, but he doesn’t care. He has bigger things to worry about.

A hint of a smile tugs at his face. And then he disappears into a puddle of gray smoke, melts through the floor, and is gone.

Def still haunted via Flickr

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