The Sassy Scientist – Empty Promises

The Sassy Scientist – Empty Promises

Hugo is trying to refute some hypothesis postulated by a rival research group, yet he is unable to actually unearth the factual evidence behind this claim. Frustrated by the lack of transparency, he groans:

How is it possible that I come across unhelpful references in peer-reviewed papers?

Dear Hugo,

The publishers don’t care. Not really. As long as alumni jot down some names and an annum in brackets crumpled within an eloquently worded yet nearly illegible sentence, it’s fine. Bring on the citations. Mind you, they’ve finally tightened the loop hole to prevent you from just propping your statements up with some ready-to-go citations; they’ve brought it down from the size of the Caspian Sea back to the size of Lake Superior. In case you didn’t know; it was previously alrighty-tighty to just throw in a couple of personal communications or references to submitted papers. Could you imagine that such references were not the pinnacle of transparency? We all talk to each other freely and openly anyways, right? On a daily basis (or maybe a weekly basis in case you’ve got a departmental conference, or some ouchies). So we should all know what personal communication really means; facts that are known to everyone in the community. And that submitted paper is also going to be published. I don’t care about the staggering rejection rates, my reference is getting published. Just. Trust. Me.

At the current (need for) speed of publishing it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE to provide relevant citations anyway. Especially if you’re dealing with those piping hot topics; why should I have to wait until some poxy editor FINALLY decides to publish my perfect paper until I can reference it? I know it’s perfect. My co-authors know it’s perfect. Everybody else should just accept that it’s perfect. There’s no escaping it. Who needs peer review? I imagine that they’ll come to that conclusion too when they’ve read that upcoming chapter in the ‘Seminal Works Of Earth Sciences’ I just dumped on the pre-print server. So, I’ll just reference it that way. Or I could reference my conference abstract. You know, that one I scribbled 10 minutes before the deadline nine months before the actual conference. And the topic or claims of which nobody has really confirmed or refuted since its acceptance. Both these options are fine, right? Right? ….

NO! NOOOOO, they really aren’t. Transparent and proper citation means that you should only cite published pieces of text (papers, book chapters, reviews etc.). Assuming that this means a decent peer-review has been performed, and the proper checks have been made. It’s not good enough to just count on DOIs. It’s a simple fact that not every researcher has crossed all their t’s and dotted their i’s before pre-printing/submitting. You probably know some of them yourselves (just think it over). Moreover, we’ve all had our moments thinking that we have just given unmistakable and conclusive evidence proving our hypothesis, whilst it only takes one snarky yet shrewd comment to doubt ourselves. And maybe even realize we’re not on our way to the Nobel Prize… That’s why proper and consistent referencing is paramount. Sure, even peer-reviewed papers are not perfect, and can contain inconsistencies, circular or flawed thinking and unproven hypotheses… at least they were peer-reviewed. Sure, we all cherrypick our favorite papers, and have our own (oftentimes subjective) preferences, but this cannot mean you can freely cite anything. Any wild claim. Any improperly substantiated hypothesis. Even when it’s made by some world-renowned scientist. Even when it’s made by some of your co-authors/colleagues. Even when it’s made by your friends. Just don’t cite it. Cite properly.

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: This post was written without the need for proper referencing. Phew!

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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