Scientists are just like us: They buy things on Amazon. The difference is what they actually use their purchases for. That’s the basis behind science’s hashtag-du-jour, #ReviewForScience, in which researchers write reviews for everyday products—the way they really use them.
It all began with Scottish Ph.D student Robyn Womack noticing writer John Birch’s Amazon review for a tea strainer. But he wasn’t using the tea balls for straining tea. He was putting ants inside the balls to see how they behaved if you moved them between colonies.
The strainers worked well—four stars.
“I was genuinely online shopping for a tea strainer,” Womack told Gizmodo in an email. “I drink a lot of tea and since hearing that tea bags contain plastic, I’ve decided to try loose tea instead. Like any online shopper, I went to browse the reviews and thought zoology twitter might find the review as funny as I did!”
Zoological Society of London Ph.D student Dani Rabaiotti (originally behind the DoesItFart hashtag) noticed the tweet and encouraged other scientists to share their own reviews using the #ReviewforScience hashtag. And things blew up from there.
UConn Ph.D student Austin Spence uses tomato cages to catch hummingbirds:
Fríða Jóhannesdóttir uses a leather punch to collect DNA samples:
Entomologist Jules Bristow uses condoms to feed blood-eating insects:
And entomologist Cameron Webb uses a ladle to collect insect larvae.
Not all of the reviews are great, though. Ecologist Noam Ross’ power drill isn’t powerful enough to collect permafrost sediment cores. Two stars.
There are tons of others if you check out the hashtag. But Rabaiotti thinks these reviews can be useful as well as fun. She told Gizmodo in a DM:
I think is actually really helpful to share things that work for you as alternative equipment in science. Often scientists do such weird stuff that there isn’t actually a product manufactured for our needs—so we have to improvise! Sadly sometimes in scientific papers you can’t put ‘oh I measured my birds in a Pringles tube’ or ‘I put the bats in small cotton make-up bags’ so I thought Robyn’s original tweet was a great opportunity for us to share our own weird product use - what works and what doesn’t for your science.
Birds in a Pringles can? Yes, there a photo:
Womack herself used lots of weird things in her own lab. “We use ladies’ tights to keep mosquitos for our work on malaria vectors, and also temperature sensors (normally used in commercial kitchens) for measuring the temperature inside nests while female birds are incubating their eggs. But no tea strainers.”
Don’t let anyone tell you science isn’t a creative field.
Update 1/31/18 4:30PM: John Birch, writer on Women’s Rugby for Scrumqueens.com who lives in the UK, didn’t notice that his review had gone viral until I pointed it out to him. He told Gizmodo in a direct message: “Could all of you lot please mark the review as “useful,” as it will do wonders for my Amazon rating... God knows what my son will say... (it’s his experiment). He’ll probably disown me...”