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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Multi-headed hydra of bad scientific writing

(I'm still a little bit paranoid/cautious about what to post on this blog.  So things that are borderline may get posted for a few days and then taken down, sort of like I did after T and I broke up)

I've been editing the most annoying paper ever.  It's not the worst paper ever; if it were I wouldn't have to edit it.  The science is ok, but the postdoc who wrote it is a huge pain in the ass.  He wrote it and gave it out to other people in the group to critique  So far, so good.  However, he never incorporated any of their suggestions or corrections.  He's not a native English speaker and that paper really needed help.  I realized what was going on and arm-twisted him into going through it with the sub-group.  When this happens, the manuscript is projected up on the screen and everyone who is working on related stuff will critique it, sentence by sentence. Before we started, some of the grad students took me aside and thanked me for making him do it, and asked me to be the 'bad cop' if necessary.   It took 5 hours and didn't even get to cover a lot of stuff.
Eventually, the paper made its way to my boss.  He took a stab at it but eventually got completely exasperated.  A lot of random mistakes and bad English had crept back in, which made my boss worry that even if he asked the postdoc to make corrections, it might not get done, or other stuff would creep in and necessitate additional rounds of editing. It was also full of vague claims and hype which needed fact-checking.  It was mushrooming into a huge job, so I got called in to do it. 
Like the multi-headed hydra in the monster movies, just when I chopped off one arm another one whipped up and smacked me in the face.  There were just so many mistakes that it was impossible to systematically correct them in just a few passes.  I couldn't see the forest for the trees. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why it took so long, but I think it ultimately comes down to the fact that this postdoc is an arrogant pain in the ass. I almost think that if I had been presented with a stack of data and asked to write a paper, it would've taken me less time than I ultimately spent on it.
It's really good I colored my hair recently, because I'm sure I have a lot of new grey hairs from this. 

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