Scientific publishers are killing research papers


If I were to summarize the ideal scientific paper in four sentences, it would look like this:

  • Look at this cool thing we did.
  • This is how we did the cool thing.
  • This is the cool thing.
  • Wasn’t that cool?

We like to think that the standard format (not to be confused with the Standard Model) was beautifully followed in days of yore. Nowadays, of course, it is not. Because things always get worse, right? In reality, scientific papers have always looked more like this:

  • Look at this cool thing we did, IT IS REALLY COOL, BE INTERESTED.
  • This is how we did the cool thing (apart from this bit that we “forgot” to mention, the other thing that we didn’t think was important, and that bit that a company contributed and wants to keep a secret. Have fun replicating the results!).
  • This is the cool thing.
  • This thing we did is not only cool, but is totally going to cure cancer, even if we never mentioned cancer and, in fact, are studying the ecology of the lesser spotted physicist.

Call me cynical, but missing information in the methods section, as described in the parenthetical in item two, really, really bugs me. I think it bugs me more now than it did ten years ago, even though I’m no longer the student in the lab who’s stuck with filling in the missing methods himself.

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