The Tragic Saga of Echinacea Head CG2016 XD-9460

Here at the Echinacea Project, we have some pretty rigorous protocols to make sure that everything goes right. This applies doubly so when it comes to ACE — the process we use to make sure we count all of the achenes on every head (hence the acronym, Accurately Count Everything). The process starts when we harvest the head in Minnesota in August or September, and ends sometimes years later when we have classified the last xray, with rigidly defined steps in between. This process leads us to a data set that has a human error rate of less than 1%

This is a story about that <1%

In fact, I would argue that this is a story about the 1% of that <1%. A head that has not only 1 terminal error associated with it, but 3.

This is the story of CG2016 XD-9460.

My experience with this head, whom we’ll nickname XD, began when Tracie gave me a list of the necessary rescans for 2016. These are the heads that, for some reason, never had their achenes scanned. They can be particularly troublesome because usually their achenes are in 3 separate places as part of ACE protocol that normally comes after the scanning step. I had gotten XD’s achenes from 2 of the 3 locations, and went to look for its orange coin envelope — the envelope that contains most of its achenes.

It wasn’t in the first place I looked, where it should be.

It wasn’t in the second place, where it shouldn’t be.

Nor was it in the third, fourth, or fifth places I looked, where it definitely shouldn’t be.

In fact, it was no where I looked. After an upsettingly long and painfully fruitless searching process, I decided to check and see who had cleaned XD, and maybe that would give me a clue where the envelope was. To my surprise, I saw the label that should have been on XD’s orange envelope still on the master label sheet, and the words “head not here” written in the notes section by the volunteer assigned to clean it.

How then, did we have some achenes for XD if the head was never cleaned? How did we have achenes if the head was never here?

This is an insight into our ACE protocol. Even with our organization and attention to detail, things can go wrong in ways we could never predict. After I completed my detective work, here is what I believe happened to CG2016 XD-9460. This is the verbatim note I have left in our “missing scans” log. It is unusual for this log to contain more than 10 words about each head.

1:56 12/5/2018 MCL
XD-9460 has more than one error associated with it. This is my best guess as to what happened.

Error 1. On the day it was harvested, the harvester came to a plant that had two heads on the ground: XD-9460 and XM-9011. The harvester put both heads in the same bag and made a note of it. I believe that bag was labelled XM-9011

Error 2. When it came to cleaning, XM-9011 was cleaned normally, and no note of a second head was ever made. I believe only one head was selected from the bag (either 9460 or 9011), labelled as XM-9011, and processed, while the other was ignored.

Error 3. During randomizing 9460 was not skipped, despite having no seed packet associated with it There is a white envelope and clear baggie with achenes “from XD-9460” in it; however, seeing as that is not possible, they come from a completely unknown source.

So there you have it. A story that took up a few hours of my time, so I thank you for taking a few minutes of your time to read it. If you’re wondering what happened to the data from this head, it has been labelled as “lost in the field” and wont poorly influence our analyses (or torture our lab managers) anymore.

Have a good weekend!



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