”It depends on what you want to do with it”

Note to self: ”It depends on what you want to do with it” is the stereotypical answer to questions about method and data analysis. Ask what genetic analysis software you should use to do X, how you should filter the variants you’ve detected from sequencing, whether to mark duplicates on your aligned reads, what a genetic parameter estimate means … I just wrote a version of this answer in an email. Mea maxima culpa.

Admittedly, it is probably often the technically correct answer, but it’s also useless without qualification. It always depends. Everything is everything-dependent. Goddag yxskaft. Moreover, I suspect that it often means ”I don’t know” or ”it doesn’t matter” — but you can’t say that, can you? That would sound unprofessional.

Here is what to ask either the supposed expert who blurted out this non-answer, or yourself if you are about to: What are the alternatives? A couple will do to give an idea of what the field of solutions and answers is like. What does it depend on? An idea of why one want to choose one alternative over the other will do. What do we need to know? Sometimes we need preliminary data, a huge modelling effort … or just that I go read some papers before I say anything more.