Trade-off 1: Story vs. data

There are many things I don’t like about this article on research papers becoming too complex. Its stumpy paragraphs feel like bullet-pointed summaries without a connecting thread, one must never start with a declaration “Science is hard”, and the last line is well, cheesy.

Who is it too complex for? Other researchers? Probably not. My grandmother? Absolutely. But she can look up a ton of fantastic websites/blogs/magazines that break down all that complexity to more tangible stuff. The purpose of scientific journal articles is to communicate research, indeed often complex, in a way that’s comprehensive and robust. Yes, papers seem longer now than before but maybe that’s an illusion created by a caffeine-induced brain that reads papers all day every day. And given how fast technology is developing, of course there’s going to be more data and more papers and still more. Pat and I often talk about the struggle of catching up with existing literature, and envy Bill’s (our advisor) generation because they had fewer papers to read. And then we go spend hours in another treasure hunt for that one paper we really really need. It’s a never-ending cycle that I’ve grown used to, and perhaps I’m biased then for not agreeing with the article.

The article mentions “Matters – the next generation science journal”, something I hadn’t heard of before. *Minimise R window, google Matters, spend 20 mins* It looks like Matters publishes single observations, and only that. Their aim is to get “standard data, orphan data, negative data, confirmatory data and contradictory data” published, and this I like. I’ve already written about the lack of support for publishing “negative” data, and I understand the motivation to publish single observations, and the idea of linking multiple ones to build a narration is novel. But I’m not endeared to their slogan “Stories can wait. Science can’t”. I like stories, I like the stories that bigger papers tell, stories that are more complete. In fact, their product ‘Matters Narratives’ does just that – publishes a group of single observations “in a novel format”. So perhaps their heart is in the right place and they just need better execution. There are debates about the impact Matters might have on the dubious scientific publishing industry; their own advisory board member agrees there is currently “too much salami-slicing of publications into least publishable units on which scientists can claim authorship on seemingly more and more papers.” Nevertheless, the idea is appealing (in parts), the venture is new, let’s wait to see what happens next.

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About Divya

Predator-prey behaviour fascinates me enough to cross oceans. I wish I could read like Vicki the 'Small Wonder'. When I take a break from all the paper-reading, I read other things, mostly but not necessarily to do with science. I also wish I could write as much as I read, but clearly there needs to be an equilibrium whose stability I cannot guarantee. Also, I usually need the help of music to get me through all the reading and writing. See a pattern?
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