Wibble, Shite, and Theatrics

October 12, 2007

A commenter to my tutorial on Short Seminar Skillz characterized my suggestions as “wibble”, complained that “[i]f you’re relying on appeal to illusory authority then your science is probably shite”, and concluded that “[f]ortunately most scientists are interested in science, not theatrics”. This misguidedly dismissive attitude towards the presentation of your science–whether in seminars, grants, publications, or even casual conversation–can be very detrimental to the success of the science itself. This is because your ability to marshal the resources necessary to do your science requires convincing other people who allocate those resources that what you are doing is worthy.

The reason I tend to focus here on the non-scientific aspects of science is because it goes without saying that your science has to be outstanding. And everyone’s science is different. It’s a non-starter for me to use this platform to tell people how to conduct their research programs. But it’s useful for me to use this platform to engage the non-scientific aspects of science, because there exist general principles applicable no matter what your research program is about.

So let’s just agree going forward on something. Every single one of my posts–past, present, and future–is hereby deemed to incorporate by implicit reference the following statement: “Your science must be outstanding, and nothing I say should be construed as providing advice on how to turn shite into gold.”

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5 Responses to “Wibble, Shite, and Theatrics”

  1. drugmonkey Says:

    LOL. you are tapdancing quite nicely! I don’t know that “outstanding” is really the standard because it gets us into debates about impact factor, real-world impact and the like. “good”? “high quality”? “important”?

    why do you think it is that so many of (us?) our peers are bleating on and on about how the “best” science is not being funded while so much bad science is sucking up all of the cash?

    i’ve recently been through a complaint session or two in which these sort of ideas are advanced by people completely unapologetically and imo unexamined. why are people so blind, self-interested, arrogant, etc as to rely on “well the best science is what I think it is”? These opinions never, and I mean never, attempt to get into general principles of scientific design or approach. never into the “purpose” so to speak of science. never into the hard questions about how to assess “quality” in a way that is not self-interested and circular.

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  2. tva Says:

    Here is one proposal to improve quality of science. This is an editorial in Nature Medicine. It goes like this
    “let’s set a limit on the number of papers that scientists can publish during their careers.
    These are the basic rules: whenever you get your first academic job (that is, the first lab of your own), you get 20 tickets. Every time you publish a paper, you hand over one of them. Once you run out of tickets, your publishing days are over. As simple as that.”

    “The key question is: if you are unhappy with scientific publishing, would you agree to the 20-paper limit?”

    http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v13/n10/full/nm1007-1121.html

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  3. JSinger Says:

    I think this is a case of “good advertising kills a bad product”. If you have solid results and give a clear, focused, confident talk backed by well-designed slides, people will remember you as “the guy/gal who gave that great talk”. If you have lousy results or unsupportable conclusions and give a clear, focused, confident talk backed by well-designed slides, people will remember you as “that idiot with the…”

    If you mumble your way through way too many confusing, redundant slides and botch the questions at the end, no one will remember you at all.

    (Just this week, I read a paper, looked at the PI’s name and thought “Wasn’t that the idiot with the…three years ago?”)

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  4. drugmonkey Says:

    tva, this is a solution in search of a problem in my view. what a friggin’ straw argument. not to mention completely self-interested for a journal family that leans toward the type of paper that would represent 5 years of work for a sizable team of investigators….

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  5. tva Says:

    I personally thought it was ridiculous that Nature Medicine even had the nerve to publish such a bitter and unacceptable editorial. Apparently scientific editors feel they are underappreciated, and that the scientific commmunity is in error when it complaints that most professional editors are way over their heads. In any case, I did not want to distract from the original posting but I was so enranged when I read this piece of cr#p.

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