“How to Write Consistently Boring Scientific Literature”

kaj_sand-jensen.jpgBiologist Kaj Sand-Jensen, of the University of Copenhagen, offers advice to other scientists. He wrote a report:
How to Write Consistently Boring Scientific Literature,” Kaj Sand-Jensen, Oikos, vol. 116, no. 5, May 2007, pp. 723?7. It says:

“Because science ought to be fun and attractive, particularly when many months of hard work with grant applications, data collections and calculations are over and everything is ready for publishing the wonderful results, it is most unfortunate that the final reading and writing phases are so tiresome.

“I have therefore tried to identify what characteristics make so much of our scientific writing unbearably boring…”

This follows in the tradition of Alexander Kohn’s classic study “How To Make a Scientific Lecture Unbearable,” which begins:

At a symposium, meeting or congress when there are a number of speakers, there comes a moment when your name is called. A nice ploy to attract the attention of the audience to you at this stage, is to place yourself in the middle of the last row, so that when you are introduced as the next speaker, you raise the whole row, stepping on their toes, proceed slowly to the front and then start searching your pockets for a convoluted pack of your lecture notes. Next you extract from another pocket a package of slides with which you go back to the projectionist and enter into an animated discussion with him trying to explain which slide is first and which side up and instructing him: “And don’t forget to show slide No. 3 again after slide 7.” Then you go back to the lectern, and start searching for your reading glasses. If you find them they would probably be in an unexpected pocket. Next you proceed to “read the paper.” and we mean literally “read” it. This technique of delivering a lecture is defined by Prof. Sabin as “kissing over a telephone–completely tasteless.”

(Thanks to investigator Morten Ryhl-Svendsen for bringing the Sand-Jensen paper to our attention.)

UPDATE MAY 29, 2007: A May 25, 2007 article in the Regina Leader-Post presents the scientific community’s reaction to the study:

Albert H. Teich, a director at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, suggests the capacity to be dull is an evolutionary adaptation for self-preservation.

He says a recent study in Physics World found 90 per cent of all scientific papers are never cited and as many as 50 per cent are only viewed by their authors, referees and editors.

“If your article isn’t read or cited, it can’t be criticized or refuted, but you can still list it on your CV. And the longer your list of publications, the better your prospects.”