Monday, 30 September 2013

Pete and Scott publish a scientific paper

Writing scientific papers is not a natural ability, or, if it is than only for a fortunate few. Academic papers are a tortuous challenge as you write to explain what you did in as concise and precise a manner as possible, justify why what you did matters to the wider world and ultimately discuss the significance of the findings.  Such writing is by its nature an arcane technical exercise. There are scientists who can turn the sparest of language into a pleasing phrase but most of the time I’d happily let a machine do the writing. Nonetheless academic papers are the gold standard of what we produce, their status as peer-reviewed and eventually (maybe) accepted for publication furnishing them with a credibility and place in the cannon of science that is a privilege to be part of.  Pete and Scott have just had their first paper accepted. The sheer effort to write so exactly and economically came as a surprise to them. The need to check the precise format of references to meet a journal’s house style, the unexpected questions and encouragement provided by thoughtful referees, the increasingly picky arguments over the precise line widths on a graph...... all this was new territory for Scott and Pete and they should be proud. Suddenly their names are there, a unique addition, their own work, something that would not exist if they had not done it. These days academic papers are caught up in the wider pressures of rating research excellence, funding streams, and career CVs, but I can still remember the day my first publication was accepted and the shock and delight this caused me. It pays to remember that science is done by men and women, not just a string of names et al. So here is Pete submitting the paper a few months ago. Standing behind is Mike Deary, one of Pete’s supervisors, probably offering more advice which Pete is evidently ignoring.

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