A Short, Animated Film Shows How a Scientific Article Gets Published: “Excitement, Baby Steps and Reams of Rejections”

When peo­ple say things like “the sci­ence is set­tled” or “the sci­ence has changed,” researchers tend to grind their teeth. Sci­ence can come to a broad con­sen­sus, as in the case of the coro­n­avirus or cli­mate change, but it isn’t ever per­fect­ly set­tled as a bloc on any ques­tion. We pro­ceed in sci­en­tif­ic knowl­edge not by attain­ing per­fect knowl­edge but, as Isaac Asi­mov once wrote, by being less wrong than those who came before.

And sci­en­tists advance in sci­en­tif­ic pub­lish­ing, as Aeon writes, not with cer­tain­ty, but with “excite­ment, baby steps and reams of rejec­tions.” As we see in the short film above, The Researcher’s Arti­cle, by French film­mak­er Char­lotte Arene, get­ting one’s research pub­lished can be “a patience-test­ing exer­cise in rejec­tion, rewrit­ing and wait­ing,” demon­strat­ed here by the tra­vails of physi­cists Frédéric Restag­no and Julien Bobroff of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Paris-Saclay.

Even before sub­mit­ting their find­ings, the sci­en­tists must care­ful­ly fit their work into the tra­di­tion­al form known as the “let­ter,” a doc­u­ment of four pages or few­er that con­dens­es years of research into strict­ly suc­cinct para­graphs, graphs, and ref­er­ences. The “let­ter” is “one of the most pop­u­lar for­mats of arti­cles in physics,” say the physi­cists, not­ing the major Nobel prize-win­ning dis­cov­er­ies to appear as let­ters in recent years, includ­ing the Hig­gs’ Boson pub­li­ca­tion that won in 2013, com­ing in at only two pages long.

Sum­ming up “a mas­sive amount of data,” short sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles then go on to prove them­selves to their respec­tive fields through a ref­er­ee­ing process in which three anony­mous sci­en­tists read the work and rec­om­mend pub­li­ca­tion, revi­sion, or rejec­tion. This process can go sev­er­al rounds and take sev­er­al months. One must be per­sis­tent: Restag­no and Bobroff were reject­ed from sev­er­al jour­nals before final­ly get­ting an accep­tance.

After this sig­nif­i­cant invest­ment of time and effort, the authors may have a read­er­ship of maybe twen­ty peo­ple. But crowd size is not the point, they say, “because research is made up of all these small dis­cov­er­ies,” con­tribut­ing to a larg­er pic­ture, inform­ing and cor­rect­ing each oth­er, and going about the hum­ble, painstak­ing busi­ness of try­ing to be less wrong than their pre­de­ces­sors, while still build­ing on the best insights of hun­dreds of years of sci­en­tif­ic pub­lish­ing.

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read the Short­est Aca­d­e­m­ic Arti­cle Ever Writ­ten: “The Unsuc­cess­ful Self-Treat­ment of a Case of ‘Writer’s Block’”

The Short­est-Known Paper Pub­lished in a Seri­ous Math Jour­nal: Two Suc­cinct Sen­tences

The Emper­or of Japan, Aki­hi­to, Is Still Pub­lish­ing Sci­en­tif­ic Papers in His 80s

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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