Research Gone Wrong

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Today’s savvy readers recognize when an author is distorting reality by plumping up sketchy material with well-meaning yet incorrect facts:

  • Stereotyped military personnel
  • Overblown courtroom drama
  • Detectives wielding revolvers that automatically eject bullet casings
  • Physicians who glibly provide their patient’s diagnosis to a stranger over the telephone

I come from a lengthy background working in healthcare, specifically laboratory science. I’ve done it all, working in all departments of a number of clinical laboratories. My guess is the average writer or reader, for that matter, doesn’t appreciate the complexity of seeing their blood sample flowing into a vacuum tube and several days later having an array of test results available for their treatment.

Several years ago I was reading a work of fiction written by an established, prestigious, award-winning author. I was dismayed reading one scene where a country physician, trying to save the life of a young, pregnant woman, authorized a transfusion of venous blood from her husband directly into her. I know transfusion medicine and I know this recipient would be sooooooooooo dead – in short order. Not only would the intermingling of different blood types cause catastrophic results, but any blood removed from the living, breathing body immediately begins an intricate and unstoppable reaction on the molecular level called the coagulation cascade. So blood clots would have certainly killed the patient. But this recipient survived to thrive and move on to cause other troubles.

This left me wondering:

  • How could the author’s research not have revealed the faulty facts detailed here?
  • How could any self-respecting publisher, editor, or fact-checker not have researched these details accurately?
  • How many other, less familiar, specifics in this story were inaccurate?

For the first time in my life wanted to “throw the book against the wall.” And now I’m thinking maybe my next writing effort should be a non-fiction book titled The Writer’s Guide to Realistic Laboratory Testing. What do you think?stethoscope


4 thoughts on “Research Gone Wrong

  1. Ha! I love this idea! I should suggest that my husband write a book entitled “Botany for Film and Television.” He is always checking out the vegetation and saying things like “Look at those trees in the background! That can’t possibly be Minnesota!”

  2. I like your book idea, Judith. Or maybe there’s one already–good to check before you write a book. So true that one research mistake makes me doubt the other “facts” in the book.

    Brigid, I just saw The Martian. I wonder how much is plausible. But it makes for a good story, like cloning dinosaurs from fossil DNA made a good story and a successful movie!

  3. When I, as the reader, go into a story expecting some magical realism or fantasy elements, I am not dismayed. But when I read historical fiction I assume the facts will be correct, even if some of the characters are fictional. So films that look forward are fun if they entertain through stretching things. Historical stories – not so much.

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