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New book takes a humorous look at scientists’ “Fieldwork Fails”

  • Fieldwork Fails is an illustrated book about scientists’ failures in the field, as depicted by Jim Jourdane, an animator, illustrator, and storyboard artist who lives in France and has worked on animated TV series and children’s magazines in the past.
  • Jourdane came up with the idea last August, when he read an article about the #fieldworkfail hashtag created by Anne Hilborn, a PhD candidate at Virginia Tech who has spent many years studying cheetahs in the Serengeti.
  • Jourdane not only illustrates each fieldwork fail, but goes more in depth into the actual science involved in order to provide more context as well as an opportunity for his readers to learn something along the way.

You hear a lot about new and important discoveries scientists make in the field, but you don’t often hear about their failures. A new book aims to change that — but with the best of intentions.

There was the scientist who glued herself to a crocodile while trying to attach a radio transmitter, for instance. Or the one who melted the soles of her boots while studying lava flows in Hawaii, only to have them shrink when she later walked through a stream. Another scientist thought she was radio-tracking a bat, but was actually following the beeping of crosswalk signals outside Toronto.

Fieldwork Fails is an illustrated book that collects these and many more of scientists’ failures in the field as depicted by Jim Jourdane, an animator, illustrator, and storyboard artist who lives in France and has worked on animated TV series and children’s magazines in the past.

Jourdane came up with the idea last August, when he read an article about the #fieldworkfail hashtag created by Anne Hilborn, a PhD candidate at Virginia Tech who has spent many years studying cheetahs in the Serengeti.

“I found the idea great, and because I was coming back from four months traveling in South America, I didn’t have a job at the time, and was spending time developing my illustration portfolio,” Jourdane told Mongabay. “So two days later, I came up with a blog and some illustrations. I quickly received positive feedback from the fieldwork scientist community on Twitter, so I kept going.”

Jourdane contacts the scientists involved in each of the fieldwork fails he chooses to illustrate. “They helped me a lot to make this project happen,” he said. Jourdane not only illustrates each fieldwork fail, but goes more in depth into the actual science involved in order to provide more context as well as an opportunity for his readers to learn something along the way — in between fits of laughter, of course.

Speaking with the scientists, Jourdane realized they were also interested in portraying a more human side to science, as opposed to what Jourdane calls “the cold image of the lab scientist often shown in cinema.”

Jourdane says that it’s especially key for younger generations to have an image of scientists that they can more easily identify with. “When you’re, for example, a young girl interested by science, it’s easier to identify with a fieldwork scientist woman working in a forest observing animals than with the cliche of a scientist as an old man in his lab, cold or half-mad.”

He believes that scientists’ fieldwork fails make them more relatable by revealing “the inner part of failure” everyone has to grapple with. “I’m interested a lot by the idea of making science accessible, by making it fun and enjoyable. It’s not so different from the work of storyboarder or illustrator, where you have some information to give to the reader and have to make it fun, easy to absorb, and expressive. I like when a reader can have fun and, at the same time, has learned something.”

Here are a few examples of Jourdane’s illustrated fieldwork fails. If you want to grab your own copy of the book, you can head on over to Jourdane’s Kickstarter and pre-order one.

Illustrations by Jim Jourdane.
Illustrations by Jim Jourdane.
Illustrations by Jim Jourdane.
Illustration by Jim Jourdane.
Illustration by Jim Jourdane.
Illustration by Jim Jourdane.
Illustration by Jim Jourdane.
Illustration by Jim Jourdane.
Illustration by Jim Jourdane.