Buzzwords competition

March 22, 2009

So this post is part cynical, part hopeful dreaming.

Have you ever wondered if there was an algorithm for a successful paper? By “successful” I don’t necessarily mean profound, correct, or well-written. What I mean is that people talk about the paper, people cite it, and people get excited (either positively or negatively) about it.

Is this kind of success good for science? Maybe not. But I bet it is good for career development.

I’m sure that success as defined here isn’t really due to some algorithmic process (just as I’m sure there is no good algorithm to get a #1 song), but I am convinced that there are precise strategies to increase the probability that a paper (or, indeed, a song) is successful. In the context of scientific grants these strategies are collectively referred to as “grantsmanship”. Some people are just good at this: you know who they are, they publish dozens of PRLs per year and are regularly headlining important international conferences 😉

What are these amazing strategies? Well, I really don’t know: I can see when someone is good at using these strategies, but I haven’t really been able to understand them…

However, there are one or two things that seem obvious: the ability to combine currently fashionable buzzwords in the title of the paper is a good one. Is this a good algorithm to get a successful paper? Surely not! Isn’t science about pure research, high morals, and a disinterested furthering of mankind’s collective knowledge?


Perhaps we can test this hypothesis? Read the rest of this entry »