June 4, 2011

Am I not in on a joke?

I use Google Reader to stay abreast of the goings on in my favorite scientific journals.  When going through my feed, I sometimes come across journal articles that boggle my mind, usually from one or two specific journals (which will remain anonymous in this post, though your guess is probably right).  My initial hint that I should immediately skip over a paper is if there is a question mark in the title.  The first rule I learned when starting to write in a scientific manner is that one must never, never use a question as a title.  Instead, one must convey their findings in an articulate statement.  As I was taught, making your title a question was "the easy way out" and was discouraged.

But I digress...  Some of the papers that I come across (and I see mocked on Twitter) just seem like jokes.  I tell myself that there must be some scientific reasoning behind the hypothesis in the study (if there is one) and that I'm just not up-to-date in the field to know what's important.  Still, there are other moments when I'm just rather awe-struck at what has been published.

One article that I remember was retracted due to the controversy behind its methodology and importance was about the first written record of influenza, as mentioned in the Bible.  While I'm not really one to judge the importance of others' research (what have I published in the last two years?  Nothing?  Oh, okay...), I can see why many would find this "research" distracting from truly important research.  Further, since this is a journal pertinent to my field, I can also see why some would think that a paper like this would lower the general impression of the journal.  I would feel slightly uneasy publishing in this journal knowing the qualify of the articles it has published in the past.

Still, I see articles similar to this Biblical influenza paper all the time.  And it makes me think that maybe there is some universal publication joke that I'm just not getting.  Are these papers published to slant the academic community toward some small fragment of comedy?  I doubt it.  Based on the titles, their affiliated institutions, and their content, I would say that these papers are just fluff, scientific nothingness packaged into a pretty little paper.  But why are the journals risking their reputations to publish this fluff?

And these are the papers that several hundreds (and thousands!) of people read precisely because they're funny, or ridiculous, or just plain stupid (maybe this is why the journals publish these papers!).  Now, I ask, who's the stupid one?  The authors who created and published the "ridiculous" studies, the reviewers that allowed the research to pass, or the masses of people that spent too much time scoffing and belittling the research?  Or is it me, the one who spent too much time composing this post about the papers and the readers?

Yeah, I think that I just answered my own question there.

No comments:

Post a Comment