Scientific Thinking LO21985

Leo Minnigh (
Fri, 25 Jun 1999 10:58:34 +0200 (MET DST)

Replying to LO21976 --

Dear John, dear LO'ers,

Thank you fro your reaction, John. The other day I was thinking on the
same lines as you:

> I am afraid that, with the pressure to publish and the unwillingness of
> journal editors (as Leo says) to publish observations without some new
> "theory" that comes from it -- and the longstanding unwillingness of
> journals to publish negative results -- my former advisor is not the only
> researcher who is dishonest.
> What can we do? I fear that the entire scientific community, and its
> culture, must be changed to correct this situation and I don't think I
> have the will to take it on. It's things like this that have made my
> "crap detector" such a well-used implement, and I don't like to be so
> cynical -- but I also don't want to build edifices of thought and practice
> on the "proof" of Dr. Jay Samuels that pictures enhance/don't enhance
> learning to read.

Yes, what can we do? A good question.
One possible answer.

I hope you have heard about the existence of: "Journal of Irreproducible
Results". It was one of the gems we had in our library, but unfortunately,
due to budget reductions and a tendency to define a better 'core'
collection, the subscription is cancelled now. (despite my strong and
enthousiastic plea to continue :-)).

It is a journal which exists already for more than 40 years and its main
characteristic is to ridiculise in a humouristic way the results of modern
'scientific thinking' (== jumping to conclusions). It also put the finger
on the 'selective data collecting'. But the papers in this journal make
extensively use of the very same method: just put forward all arguments in
favour of a theory, leaving all those that not fit. The results are
fantastic, it is realy top-humor.

So here we have the possible answer: make humor of it and do not start
arguments and becoming irritated. Battle the selective scientists with
their own weapons. It gave me much pleasure in the past, although it is
probably only fun for the author (the number of readers in the scientific
community of JIR is very limited).

During the times I was busy with my PhD (from 1974-1979), the geological
scientific literature was overwhelmed by plate tectonics. Every geological
observation was deformed in such a way that it fits this new hipe-theory.
I got the impression that also the referees and editorial boards of
scientific journals only were willing to accept manuscripts that made
extensive links to plate tectonics. (At present, this hipe is replaced by
a new hipe: mass extinctions on the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary, due to
meteorite impacts).

In our research group we became irritated as well, because of this
overflow of plate tectonics. Apparently there were others too, thinking of
the ridiculous hipe. One of them was a guy from Winthrop, Washington: John
Holden. Holden started a new society with a newsletter: the International
Stop Continental Drift Society (ISCDS). Holden was one of the scientific
'fathers' of plate tectonic theory. But he too, became surprised of the
'over-enthousiasm' of his scientific colleagues, pruducing a waterfall of

This ISCDS existed for some 5 years. And we had many, many laughs when the
new issue of the newsletter arrived in our mailboxes (you can imagine that
we became enthousiastic members of this society). It goes too far here to
go in much detail, but the humoristic initiatives of the ISCDS were

It was a great source of inspiration. And it gave us something special in
the way we were thinking. It inspired us too, to start writing
semi-scientific papers with the most unexpected theories using the
selective method of data collection.

Maybe John, this is the way to handle your crap detector. Trying to invent
new theories, based on selective data. It is something you do for your own
sake of health, hardly anybody else will understand you. But it creates a
lot of personal fun.

In an issue of the Journal of Irreproducible Results of last year, I saw
that John Holden is still in the editorial board of this journal.
Unfortunately, he has not answered my letters that I wrote to him in the
past years. I will remember his initiatives as a special period of my
life: we had a lot of fun.

So John, keep laughing. Modelling the crap - as was it clay - into new
sculptures is a hobby generating a lot of pleasure.

dr. Leo D. Minnigh
Library Technical University Delft
PO BOX 98, 2600 MG Delft, The Netherlands
Tel.: 31 15 2782226
Let your thoughts meander towards a sea of ideas.


Leo Minnigh <>

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