Where Papers Come From

By Neuroskeptic | April 16, 2011 8:55 am

The Scientific Paper (Publishus orperishus) is one of the most sought-after, yet elusive, creatures on earth. Though they’re a common sight in journals around the world, many dedicate their lives to the art of tracking down these rare beasts and trying to convince them to reproduce.

So, here’s a handy guide to the life-cycle of this creature.

1. Conception

Every Paper begins its life as a tiny seed, an idea, which worms itself deep into the brain of a host scientist, producing a pleasurable sensation. Ideas can appear anywhere, but certain places and environmental conditions are optimal. Coffee, sugar and alcohol are known to stimulate the germination of ideas.

2. Incubation

The most dangerous stage in the life of a young Paper. Once the initial buzz of the germinating idea has worn off, the infected scientist may well forget all about it, and before long it will wither away. Others become buried under the bulk of older Papers – even though, given a chance, they might have ended up as a much better specimen.

3. Birth

This can be the most painful part of the process. The scientist suddenly finds that instead of the fully-formed Paper they dreamed of, they have on their hands a messy Experiment which requires their full-time support and care. Crying and tantrums are very common. Some scientists – especially older ones – find the whole process so taxing that they routinely put their Papers up for foster care.

4. Adolescence

By this stage the Paper is growing rapidly; tables of results start to expand, faster than anyone ever imagined. This can be exciting, but as the Paper’s owner starts to consider sending it out into the wild with all the other papers, doubts and anxieties arise. Is the Paper ready for this? Will other Papers make fun of it? Some keep their Papers cooped up indoors for years, but this is rarely conductive to their growth and maturity. Others resort to “doping” with performance-enhancing practices.

5. Peer review

In order to be accepted into the community, each juvenile must undergo the stressful and sometimes vicious ritual known as Peer Review. Breeders say that this ensures that only fit and healthy Papers can pass on their genes to future generations. However, some argue that it is all too often a random and arbitrary process which favours external plumage over true strength.

6. Adulthood

The paper is finally finished, though it rarely looks anything like anyone imagined all those years ago. Now it must interact with all the other Papers, and so the grand cycle begins anew. Every Paper-fancier’s dream is that their Paper will go on to breed and raise many offspring of its own (“citations”).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: funny, papers, science
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05660407099521700995 petrossa

    you're funny. alas in all its jest quite accurate. The more scientists due to overschooling, the greater the pressure to push out papers to gain streetcred.

    It's not what you publish, it's how often you publish that counts on your CV.

    Try finding a decent plumber however….

  • veri

    lol, genius, i love it! especially the little feet :) should be made into a poster.

  • Anonymous

    Stage 2.5 Soul searching.

    Also known as the lit search. You may come out of this renewed and confident in the uniqueness of your idea and wanting to birth your paper. Or you may come out distraught, having found out that someone else has already written your precious paper, albeit with poor controls and crappy methods. Here you must decide if you move on to stage 3 or loop back to stage 1. Hey, it's better to find out early, right?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16203083806436919715 Bernard Carroll

    For a complementary look at the process from ground level, check out this video from the Zheng Alzheimer lab at Baylor. It's Lady Gaga in the lab. Some memorable lines here: “I want good data and a paper in Cell!”




No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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