Science in Practice

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Eric Falkenstein laments that protocol is a prerequisite to substance:

A paper not only needs to have a new point, but it must do so in a way that patronizes the methodology they all have uniquely mastered. A scientist is generally not someone who simply knows a lot about ‘x’, but also knows how his status tribe discuss such ideas. Whether its post modern philosophy or economic dynamics, the key is the methodology, because that is what defines who is relevant, because someone with good ideas, but who does not use your method, potentially trashes your human capital (eg, you mean my understanding of the difference between Brouwers’ and Kakutani’s fixed point theorems was wasted?).

He shares an anecdote from David Hakes, an economics professor at Northern Iowa:

When we submitted the paper to risk, uncertainty, and insurance journals, the referees responded that the results were self-evident. After some degree of frustration, my coauthor suggested that the problem with the paper might be that we had made the argument too easy to follow, and thus referees and editors were not sufficiently impressed. He said that he could make the paper more impressive by generalizing the model. While making the same point as the original paper, the new paper would be more mathematically elegant, and it would become absolutely impenetrable to most readers. The resulting paper had fifteen equations, two propositions and proofs, dozens of additional mathematical expressions, and a mathematical appendix containing nineteen equations and even more mathematical expressions. I personally could no longer understand the paper and I could not possibly present the paper alone.

The paper was published in the first journal to which we submitted.

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