2456: Types of Scientific Paper
|Types of Scientific Paper|
Title text: Others include "We've incrementally improved the estimate of this coefficient," "Maybe all these categories are wrong," and "We found a way to make student volunteers worse at tasks."
In this comic, Randall describes categories of scientific papers with somewhat humorous generalized titles.
Breakdown of papers
|Paper Title||Explanation||Visual Description|
|We put a camera somewhere new||Papers of this type include images of previously unseen regions, or sometimes provide new points of view for familiar ones.||Includes a large figure, likely an image captured with the camera.|
|Hey, I found a trove of old records! They don't turn out to be particularly useful, but still, cool!||Papers of this type describe how the author discovered a collection of records—documents, ledgers, or the like—and a description of them. If the records had been useful, the author would presumably have written a different research paper.||Small figure may show the most interesting fragment of the records.|
|My colleague is wrong and I can finally prove it||This title refers to the occasional rivalries between scientists within a field, which can push them to seek proof that they, and not their colleague, are correct. This search for vindication, rather than truth, can lead the researcher to overlook significant flaws in their research, and can also make for tedious reading.||Like the two previous types, this one is laid out in two-column format with occasional section headings. Unlike those types, it has no figures.|
|The immune system is at it again||The human immune system is notoriously complex, and there are countless papers in medical fields just describing its strangeness. While it is best known for preventing and battling infections, it can also overreact or even turn against the body that it is supposed to protect. The title may convey exasperation with the amorphous nature of this study subject.||Two-column format, no figures.|
|We figured out how to make this exotic material, so email us if you need some||Researchers often attempt to create materials with unusual physical characteristics. When they succeed they will often write a paper describing those characteristics. The humor is in the second clause of the title ("email us if you need some"), which reminds us that the researchers now possess some amount of the material in question and may not have a use for it. Sometimes the only reason for trying to create the materials is that they are peculiar or novel in some way, with no consideration of whether they might have any use apart from demonstrating the novel property. However, some other people might find that property very useful... and may lack the ability to make the substance for themselves.||Two-column format, no figures.|
|What are fish even doing down there||The tone of this title expresses the researchers' amazement at finding fish in unexpected places, such as an active volcano crater. This type of article will describe what the researchers were attempting to do when they discovered the fish, and what it was about the environment that made the presence of fish so surprising.||This one-column paper does not appear to have any headers, implying a longer, free-flowing format.|
|This task I had to do anyway turned out to be hard enough for its own paper||The author may be glad to have been able to turn mundane "housekeeping" activities, that don't normally do much to enhance academic reputations, into an actual opportunity to be cite-worthy.||This paper is also one-column but it contains section headers.|
|Hey, at least we showed that this method can produce results! That's not nothing, right?||One of the struggles of the scientific method is that many experiments will not produce the results scientists desired or expected. In this case, the authors seem to have worked on their problem and been left with no citable proof of their efforts. Given the "publish or perish" imperative of academia, the authors may be writing up anything they can.||Two-column format, no figures.|
|Check out this weird thing one of us saw while out for a walk||Sometimes scientists serendipitously encounter noteworthy phenomena even when they're not actively engaged in research. Sometimes the phenomena are not noteworthy but the scientists write about them anyway.||Two-column layout. Includes several large figures, likely close-up photographs of the weird thing. There are no headers, as the paper may have little background or methodology, just observations.|
|We are 500 scientists and here's what we've been up to for the last 10 years||Some papers summarize the work of big research teams. Since the discoveries are a team effort, and since any level of participation helps to advance the project, the papers have many authors listed.||A huge portion of the page is taken up by the presumably 500 authors' names, above the main horizontal bar.|
|Some thoughts on how everyone else is bad at research||Similar to the "my colleague is wrong" paper, but in this case applied to far greater swathes of the community by the author(s) of this (possibly unfocused) tract. Usually this type of paper is listed as a "systematic review".||No header sections, possibly because these particular thoughts are in the form of an essay or letter without an accompanying investigation. Formatting this article as a single column with large blocks of text could also be indicating a slightly unhinged rant by someone who—wrongly—perceives themselves as unjustly marginalized.|
|We scanned some undergraduates||Initial research is often done at universities, so when human subjects are required, it is common for researchers to recruit undergraduate students. (This practice is often criticized, as it introduces a selection bias, which can make the results difficult to generalize to the entire population.)||Two-column format with figures.|
|We've incrementally improved the estimate of this coefficient||Often scientific research, e.g. in cosmology or physics, will work with an assumed constant value that is known to be only an "educated guess" of the actual definite value, or an inclusive range. However accurate/certain this is, further experimentation or observation may further narrow down the uncertainty involved to a statistically significant degree. An improvement to one of these constants also improves the accuracy of every single calculation that uses it.
Even if these improvements may seem trivial to those outside the discipline (e.g. narrowing down a seemingly esoteric value from 99.99% certainty to 99.995% certainty), they are probably understood as significant achievements by those aware of the effort needed to obtain such diminishing returns, and the authors are probably very excited to have done what they did.
Another possible interpretation of this title is that it refers not to cosmological constants but to an exponent in algorithmic complexity, for example the 2014 paper that proved that the complexity of matrix multiplication is at most n^2.3728639 in place of the previous upper bound n^2.3729.
|(Only referenced in Title Text)|
|Maybe all these categories are wrong||In some field that relies heavily upon classification (e.g. phylogenetic biology, or the Standard Model in physics) sometimes observations arise that cast doubt on the previously established ideas. It seems that this may have happened here, hopefully with a suggestion of how to reimagine the situation.
The article may have been written with with a sense of euphoria (the chance to present a paradigm shift in thinking, to rewrite the textbooks) or pessimism (it demonstrates only the failings in current thinking, without any obvious solution).
|We found a way to make student volunteers worse at tasks||As noted above, research at universities is commonly performed with undergraduates as subjects. This research often requires the subject to perform a task under various conditions (e.g. with or without bright lights flashing in their eyes), and in one of the conditions they will perform worse than they do under the other condition. This demonstrates that the conditions have an effect, which is a positive result. Normally this type of paper is phrased as "the effect of X on Y", but the heading given here is also accurate.|
- Types of Scientific Paper
- [An array of 4 rows with 3 scientific papers each, is shown. We see the first page of each paper, but only its title is legible. Headings are shown as black lines, paragraphs of text are shown as several squiggly lines and figures are shown as empty white rectangles. Titles are as follows:]
- We put a camera somewhere new
- Hey, I found a trove of old records! They don't turn out to be particularly useful, but still, cool!
- My colleague is wrong and I can finally prove it
- The immune system is at it again
- We figured out how to make this exotic material, so email us if you need some
- What are fish even doing down there
- This task I had to do anyway turned out to be hard enough for its own paper
- Hey, at least we showed that this method can produce results! That's not nothing, right?
- Check out this weird thing one of us saw while out for a walk
- We are 500 scientists and here's what we've been up to for the last 10 years
- Some thoughts on how everyone else is bad at research
- We scanned some undergraduates
- Originally, this comic's title text misspelled "volunteers" as "volunters".
- Another comic, 2012: Thorough Analysis, similarly categorizes or mocks research papers.
The comic inspired many derivatives, changing the paper titles to be more relevant to specific fields.
The hashtag #TypesOfScientificPapers on Twitter includes many of these.
There is a generator.
There is a moodboard compiling hundreds of them.
Some examples include:
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