February 15, 2005

Gregg Easterbrook is an idiot, and also an asshole

I know, what's new, right? I've never actually read anything he's written about politics. I only read his football column because he leaves politics out of it for the most part. Or if he does inject anything political into it, I just skip it (actually, I usually skip about 90% of the column - mostly, I just like to read what gets written about my favorite team, because I'm provincial like that).

Anyway, one thing he does is pepper the column with little rants about random, seemingly stupid things. Okay, nothing wrong with that. It's not like I don't do that here. However, most of the time, there actually are reasonable explanations for the things he complains about, but he's either not smart enough to understand that, or he's intentionally ignoring it in order to make himself look clever.

What really irritated me this week was the following:

Today's TMQ Is 6,678 Words and Has a Single Author, Which Makes Me 152 Times as Productive as an Author in Science Magazine

A running amusement of modern science and medicine is the practice of many people, sometimes dozens, signing their names to a research paper. This is done so that all signers can take credit for the paper on their CVs, and all get brownie points whenever the paper turns on in a citation index. When the list of authors is long and the article itself is short, the practice becomes comic. Check this article in a recent Science magazine, technical journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Listing 28 authors, the article is 1,225 words long -- that's 44 words per author! Either people put their names on this article solely for citation-index credit, or each of the 28 authors was assigned to write two sentences. ("Nigel, you write the introduction to the third paragraph. Gina, we need you for a transitional sentence in the conclusion. Phillipe, you supervise the adverbs…") Since no one believes for a minute that a 1,225-word article actually was written by a 28 people, why do prestigious scientific journals go along with this silliness?

For those of you not in the know, scientific authorship has nothing to do with the actual writing of the words. It's about who did the work that produced the data described in the paper. Authorship is not granted just so a person can "get brownie points." It's done to give credit to whoever did the work (which, incidentally, usually amounts to several person-years, as opposed to his column, which probably takes only a day or two, at most). In fact, most of the time, no one but the first and last authors has anything to do with the actual writing at all. Granted, 28 authors is a lot, even for a scientific paper, but we have no idea what the subject matter is. He conveniently gives no citation, only saying it's from a "recent" issue. I browsed the contents of a few of the most recent issues and didn't see any papers with that many authors, so I wasn't able to actually look at the one he's referring to. However, many subjects, particularly genomics, do lead to papers with huge numbers of authors because of the massive amount of work involved. (UPDATE: I just realized he did actually give the citation, but you can't read it unless you have a subscription, which I don't. It does actually appear that this is not a research paper, but some sort of policy statement by a group of ecologists, which would indicate that the "authors" aren't actually authors in the traditional sense, but more like endorsers of the policy statement. It's hard to be sure without knowing what it says. In any case, given that he calls this a research paper, and uses it as an example of what's wrong with scientific pubishing in general, it would seem that he makes no distinction between what this is and regular multi-author papers, so my argument still stands.)

So, does Easterbrook not know this, or is he just ignoring it because he knows most of his readership won't know it, and therefore will think he's really funny and clever? I honestly can't tell. At best, he's just an idiot who's too lazy to be bothered with a little simple fact-checking, and at worst, he's dishonest. Also, what really pisses me off even more is that the whole paragraph reads like the words of a bully who thinks it's funny to make fun of the geeks. You'd think an adult would be beyond that, but then, you have to remember his political persuasion, and you realize it's not surprising because bullying is standard operating procedure. *sigh*

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On 2/15/2005 4:49 PM, Blogger Dweeze said:

I think Easterbrook is a geek who likes to pretend he is a bully...

On 2/15/2005 5:23 PM, Blogger Jolene said:

Yeah, that sounds about right...

It actually occurred to me that maybe the whole thing is supposed to be ironic, and that I'm being overly sensitive, and that his worst crime is being really, really lame, but I don't know.

On 2/15/2005 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said:

This reply was co-authored by 80 different people. We each typed a letter.

Gothmog, et al (2005)

On 2/15/2005 8:39 PM, Blogger Jolene said:

Who knew I had so many readers?


On 2/16/2005 9:50 AM, Blogger Dweeze said:

Isn't that "snork", as in snorkasaurus? And why doesn't Goth have a blog? And why am I asking so many questions?

On 2/16/2005 12:08 PM, Blogger Jolene said:


1. I know of no such snorkasaurus. Unless we're talking about the cartoon The Snorks, in which case, the answer is no.

2. That is perhaps something you should ask him.

3. I often ask myself the same question. I do not know the answer.

On 2/16/2005 5:45 PM, Blogger Dweeze said:

1. It's a Flintstones thing. You wouldn't understand.

2. If he had a blog I'd ask him.

2A. Course, if he had a blog, I wouldn't have to ask him.

2Ai. Cause if he had a blog, the question would be moot.

2Aia. As opposed to mute.

3. It's a vain attempt to keep you entertained.

On 2/16/2005 6:02 PM, Blogger Jolene said:

1. Hey! I used to watch the Flintstones! I just forgot. (It was probably because of all the hard drugs I did as a child.)

2. If he had a blog, he'd blog in the morning, he'd blog in the evening, all over this land.

2A. That's true.

2Ai. That's also true. HOWEVER. You could turn the question around and ask him, why DO you have a blog? But that's sounds really accusatory, and you don't want to cause a big fight, so maybe you shouldn't.

2Aia. I'm glad we are clear on the distinction. Anybody who's not better go look it up, and don't come back until you do.

3. You're so vain, you probably think this blog is about you.

3A. It worked, by the way.


On 2/16/2005 7:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said:

1. I have nothing to add to this, being fairly ignorant about Snorks and the Flintstones, so I'll move along to

2. I don't have a blog.

2A. I never felt like I had much worthwhile to say. I'm not naturally loquacious, nor am I good at being a Talking Head.

2Ai. I don't need a blog, since I obviously get people to talk about me fine without one.

2Aia. I do much better responding to something than creating something of my own, and I have y'all's blogs to muck around in, for that.

3. I've also been most entertained. Who would have guessed we'd get so much fun out of Gregg Easterbrook being such an asshat.



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