2020-02-13 - 2020-03-11 | Research area: Other
Writing scientific papers is, arguably, the most important task in a scientist’s working life. Papers are the universal currency by which scientists are compared and evaluated. For most scientists, papers will be the only scientific legacies they leave behind. Unfortunately, scientific papers are imperfect records of scientific activity. Papers present a cleaned-up, simplified and reorganized version of the scientific process, leaving out any detail that might distract the reader from understanding the paper’s findings. In addition, although a paper is “true” when published, its truth diminishes with time, as new knowledge emerges that questions its claims. Finally, a paper can take on entirely new, unintended and possibly erroneous meaning, when it is cited by other papers. One might even say that words are put in its mouth!
Since June 2016, in an attempt to provide a more realistic documentation of the scientific process, I have conducted 153 interviews (+20 still in progress), each based on a famous paper in ecology, evolution or behaviour. In these interviews, I ask the lead author of the paper questions about: 1. the making of the study and paper; 2. the current validity of the paper’s findings and conclusions; 3. the impact the paper has had on subsequent research and the author’s own career.