It’s always nice to see an old colleague in print, even if he is referred to as a “cootie scientist”. So I was glad to see NewScientist do an interview with Noah Fierer, who was in grad school with me at UCSB some years ago (reprinted in Slate here, with “cootie” substituting for the apparently too scientific “microbe” in the headline). What was really exciting is how much Noah’s work—which in part involves screening everyday environments like bathrooms and kitchens for their microbial ecology–fits the model of technology-enabled observational discovery that we discuss in Observation and Ecology. Noah notes how similar his work is to that of early naturalists—where they were discovering new species they could see and hear (and usually shoot) and trying to piece together their relationships—Noah and his lab are uncovering the hidden world of microbes and just making the first linkages to understand the ecology (not just the diversity) of the microbial world. Alas, Noah confided in me that he too has been beaten up by the “it’s just a fishing expedition” critique, which Aníbal and I take to task in Chapter 7 of Observation and Ecology. If you’ve ever heard this critique (most likely in a rejected grant application!) take heart—great scientists like Noah have heard it too! And if you’ve ever made this critique, what do you have against fishing expeditions? Most of the really important ecological discoveries started with scientists like Noah, who were curious enough to cast a line and observe what wonderful things get reeled in.