Anyone who has read Chapter 13 of my book knows that I have a hobby-horse: the accuracy of metabolic rate measurement, especially in the metabolic phenotyping systems that are so widely used in the biomedical field. Now I’ve taken steps to make some of my (and others’!) misgivings known.

It’s really frustrating to watch otherwise capable researchers in the biomedical field flock to use the same black-box metabolic screening systems that others used before because, well, everyone uses them.

Of course there are good reasons for this situation. There’s a natural wish to use systems that have become accepted in the field, even if the underlying reasons may not hold up to close examination.

Yet a metabolic phenotyping system built for traceability and transparency can be used just as effectively by someone who doesn’t know or care how it works. The difference between that and a black-box system (which shares the lack of any requirement for understanding) is that if someone wishes to understand the behind-the-scenes operation of the system built for traceability and transparency, including all its corrections, assumptions and calculations, then that understanding is possible.

But it isn’t easy to convince scientists to move to transparent, traceable systems. Which is too bad, because important decisions can be made on the basis of data produced in questionable yet untraceable and unauditable ways. Rather, scientists are attracted to the familiar. Here’s my humorous take on this herd reaction: