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Cheap Thoughts on Science

 

Scientific Publishing

 

Scientific journals must remain the preserve of articles capable of affecting the consensus of the scientific public. Books are the place for opinions, speculations, and fanciful accounts of ricocheting planets. The publisher has only to convince enough buyers to cover their cost of publication. In a free society with a vigorous press, there is little danger that an important idea will not get a fair hearing.
     Alan Cromer, Uncommon Sense: The
     Heretical Nature of Science (1993)

 

Work, Finish, Publish.
     Michael Faraday

 

We have a habit in writing articles published in scientific journals to make the work as finished as possible, to cover up all the tracks, to not worry about the blind alleys or describe how you had the wrong idea first, and so on. So there isn't any place to publish, in a dignified manner, what you actually did in order to get to do the work.
     Richard Feynman

 

To study, to finish, to publish.
     Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac

 

Carefully read the editor's rejection. It may in fact be a request for resubmission after major changes. The editor doesn't want to appear generous because that would encourage you to resubmit a poorly revised manuscript, and he would feel obligated to accept it. A little humor helps: A politician says "yes" if he means maybe, "maybe" if he means no, and if he says "no" he's not a politician. An editor says "no" if he means maybe, "maybe" if he means yes, and if he says "yes" he's not an editor!
     Tesfa G. Gebremeddhin and Luther G. Tweeten, Research
     Methods and Communication in the Social Sciences

 

[Authoritative-sounding statements in scientific journals should not always be taken literally. I. J. Good has made a collection of them:]
It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding . . .
     I don't understand it.
Unfortunately, a quantitative theory to account for these effects has not been formulated . . .
     Neither does anybody else.
It is hoped that this work will stimulate further work in the field.
     This paper isn't very good, but neither is any of the others on this miserable subject.
It is suggested . . . It may be believed . . . It may be that . . .
     I think.
The most reliable values are those of Jones.
     He was a student of mine.
It is generally believed that . . .
     A couple of other guys think so too.
          I. J. Good, An Anthology of Partly-Baked Ideas (1965)

 

Four stages of acceptance: i) this is worthless nonsense; ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view; iii) this is true, but quite unimportant; iv) I always said so.
     J.B.S. Haldane, Journal of Genetics 1963, 58, 464

 

I have chosen for my title a question: Is the scientific paper a fraud? I ought to explain that a scientific 'paper' is a printed communication to a learned journal, and scientists make their work known almost wholly through papers and not through books, so papers are very important in scientific communication. As to what I mean by asking 'is the scientific paper a fraud?' — I do not of course mean 'does the scientific paper misrepresent facts', and I do not mean that the interpretations you find in a scientific paper are wrong or deliberately mistaken. I mean the scientific paper may be a fraud because it misrepresents the processes of thought that accompanied or gave rise to the work that is described in the paper. That is the question, and I will say right away that my answer to it is 'yes'. The scientific paper in its orthodox form does embody a totally mistaken conception, even a travesty, of the nature of scientific thought.
     Peter Medawar, "Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?" (1963)

 

What is wrong with the traditional form of scientific paper is simply this: that all scientific work of an experimental or exploratory character starts with some expectation about the outcome of the enquiry. This expectation one starts with, this hypothesis one formulates, provides the initiative and incentive for the enquiry and governs its actual form. It is in the light of this expectation that some observations are held relevant and others not; that some methods are chosen, others discarded; that some experiments are done rather than others. It is only in the light of this prior expectation that the activities the scientist reports in his scientific papers really have any meaning at all.
     Peter Medawar, "Is the Scientific Paper a Fraud?" (1963)

 

Much of a scientist's pride and sense of accomplishment turns therefore upon being the first to do something — upon being the man who did actually speed up or redirect the flow of thought and the growth of understanding. There is no spiritual copyright in scientific discoveries, unless they should happen to be quite mistaken. Only in making a blunder does a scientist do something which, conceivably, no one else might ever do again. Artists are not troubled by matters of priority, but Wagner would certainly not have spent twenty years on The Ring if he had thought it at all possible for someone else to nip in ahead of him with Götterdämmerung.
     Peter Medawar, "The Act of Creation" (New Statesman, 19 June 1964)

 

The Graveyard Principle: To be behind one's time is permanent death. To be ahead of one's time may be temporary death. But Confucius say: dead is dead.
     Tony Rothman, Instant Physics: From
     Aristotle to Einstein, and Beyond (1995)

 

REVIEW: This paper should be greatly reduced or completely oxidized.
     Frank Vastola