My mini lab stapler went empty today. It’s small, so that happens a lot. As I refilled it I stopped to think about how many staples I’ve used in the course of my thesis research. The separate pages of the cognitive assessments, which I then staple to the myriad language assessments; the consent and debriefing forms - and the copies made for the participants; the checklists, the questionnaires. Sheets of raw data, across three days and doubled because there are two experimenters each taking notes. After that, more sheets: phonemic accuracy, duration analyses. Multiply that times each participant, times however many I’ve run thus far. It must be thousands of staples by now. Then I multiply that times every grad student in the country doing human subjects work. Then multiply that times all the other countries. Can the Earth’s crust can sustain the zinc and iron mining necessary to keep ahead of this incredible demand? I imagine the cost of staples skyrocketing, meth addicts breaking into labs to scavenge for the precious metal. Engineers will develop stem-cell cultures and grow biostaples in test tubes and on the backs of lab rats. But large-scale production will be years away and in the mean time, research across the globe will be curtailed because we simply won’t be able hold all of this data together anymore. I will inform my thesis committee that I had to put my project on hold until global supplies recuperate. They will graciously understand.
By the time I reach this apocalyptic conclusion my fingers have finished loading the delicate silver clips into the stapler. I take a few minutes to look up the etymology of staple, but I won’t bore you with the Old English details. The staple box says it holds 10,000 and it’s still about three quarters full. There’s a stack of folders full to-be analyzed data waiting for me on the table.