What they say, what they mean

Today's scientist is no longer the absent-minded cosmic thinker, the entity has emerged as a brash species that believes in elbowing its way up

By N Raghuram
Published: Monday 15 April 1996

-- WHEN science becomes business, the winner is the one who publishes the most- Noticeably, as research publications became the primary determinant of success of a scientist in the market place, a'publish or perish'regime of practising science has been unleashed over the years. This has increasingly led to scientists racing to publish exaggerated claims with half-baked results or even cooked up data to cope with the 'struggle for existence'.

As the scientific community grapples with this justified 'survival of the fastest' syndrome on one hand, the proliferation of the publishing industry on the other hand ensured that there is a place for every one in the great scientific rat race. It is said that "for every research paper of a certain quality, there exists a journal of a suitable level of empathy". Gone are the days when everything that came from the scientist's desk was considered a faithful report emanating straight from an honest horse's mouth.

While cases of downright fraud are often caught - cornering the enlightened smooth operator red-handed - more subtle forms of manipulation to push through research papers are often not taken note of, or for that matter, debated at all. However, most practising scientists are well aware of this hide-and-seek game, and aspiring young scientists quickly master these tricks to acquire that extra edge over each other - members of the haloed community - to climb up the career ladder surreptitiously.

The following phrases would stand as an apt testimony to the case in point, and serve as a set of interesting examples of what researchers write and what they actually mean.
Glossary for research articles - strictly speaking They write: It has long been known that..
They mean: I haven't bothered to look up the original reference.
They write: ... of great theoretical and practical importance.
They mean: ...interesting to me.
They write: While it has riot been possible to provide definitive answers to these questions...
They mean: The experiments did not work out, but Ifigured I could at leastget apublication out of it.
They write: High purity...,, very high purity ... extremely high purity... superpurity.... speetroscopically pure ...
They mean: Composition unknown, exceptfor the exaggerated claims of the supplier.
They write: Three of the samples were chosenfor detailed study..
They mean: The results of others did not make sense, and were ignored.
They write: Handled with extreme care during the experiments.
They mean: Not dropped on the floor.
They write: Typical results are shown...
They mean: Only the best results are shown.
They write: Although some detail has been lost in reproduction, it is clear from the original micrograph that..
They mean: It is impossible to tell from the micrograph.
They write: Presumably at longer times...
They mean: I didn't take the time to find out.
They write: The agreement with the predicted curve is excellent.
They mean: Fair.
They write: Good.
They mean: Poor.
They write: Satisfactory.
They mean: Doubtful.
They write: Fair.
They mean: imaginary.
They write: As good as could be expected.
They mean: Non-existent.
They write: These results will be reported later.
They mean: I will get another publication then.
They write: The most reliable values are that of X.
They mean: He was a student of mine.
They write: It is suggested that... it is believed that..., it may be that...
They mean: I think...
They write: It is generally believed that..
They mean: I have such a good objection to this explanation, that I shall now raise it.
They write: It is clear that much additional work will be required before a complete understanding..
They mean: Idon't understand it.
They write: Unfortunately, a quantitative theory to account for these effects has not been forwarded yet.
They mean: If f had one, I would have published my paper in a better journal.
They write: Correct within an order of magnitude.
They mean: Wrong!
They write: It is hoped that this work will stimulate further research in the field.
They mean: This paper is not very good, but neither are any of the others on this miserable subject.
They write: Thanks are due to X for assistance with the experiments and to Yfor valuable discussions.
They mean: X did the work and Y explained what it meant.

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