Overly honest scientists

By Aimee Whitcroft 15/01/2013 16

Ahhhh, scientists.  As I’ve mentioned before, they can, indeed, actually be amusing.

Shock, horror, etc… /waits for people to get back onto their chairs

Right, so, just quickly, two amusing topics from the last few days, both on the subject of being, well, overly honest.


overly honest cover letter

‘Tis a busy time of year for some, as people start to switch, or consider switching, jobs and/or careers. And so, from the Kiwihorizons blog, comes this impassioned cover letter asking for [x] scientific position in a new lab.

that time of career again

Dear prof so and so,
Through some obscure mailing list I found this position at your new lab. Because I will soon become unemployed, although not bored, and I work on exciting stuff just like yours, but slightly different, I will be the perfect fit for this position. Allow me to explain.
I have worked on a lot of different projects, but all were high profile and super relevant. I have done experiments at nanometer scale, but I know how to upscale to global and universal perspectives. For instance, my latest paper deals with why everyone has always been wrong in this field. Currently I am preparing many manuscripts on why my experiment was perfect.
I also did a lot of teaching. I had the student from hell, so I am fully prepared to lecture and supervise other hard cases. My solution to problematic students is to yell at them and cry in exasperation and give them more and more boring little tasks. I believe especially field-based learning is very important, and I have a proven track record of exhausting and exasperating students under abysmal climatic conditions. Please refer to my blog on that matter.
To summarize, my interdisciplinary approach and experience in cutting edge technologies will allow me to totally change the environment of your lab. Furthermore I am a pleasant person to work with because I bake lots of cake to share. If you invite me for an interview I will bring my famous chocolate geological layer cake.
Dr. Nina

Superb stuff, and, as is the way of such things, true enough to be very, very funny.

Thanks to @enniscath for sharing this one :)



Yep, if you follow sciencey people on Twitter, you will have come across this. Hell, even the Telegraph has reported on it by now, but just in case :)

A scant week ago, a neuroscience postdoc by the name of Leigh put out a tweet with the hashtag #overlyhonestmethods.

the tweet which started it all

And then the internet (well, a small bit of it) exploded. Scientists began to make confession after confession*. Some, you’d probably need to have had some experience in a lab to understand. Some not. They’ll make you cry, laugh, feel resigned, or go get another coffee and realise you’re not going to get anything else today.

Go on, read ‘em :)

I’ve put a small selection below, and io9 also made the best collection of them I’ve seen yet.

Have fun!

UPDATE: See #overlyhonestreviews for even more fact-based scientific hilarity (thanks for the heads-up, @TheAtavism!)


* Remember PostSecret? Like that, but way nerdier.

16 Responses to “Overly honest scientists”

  • I must say, that I think reviewer 1 (mentioned in the Simon Garnier tweet) really seems to get asked to review a lot of papers. O_o

  • Indeed. Perhaps it’s because they review so MANY papers that their recommendations are crap?


  • Hey… that’s me!

    Overly honest methods was fun, but one of funniest things is that it took off outside science-land when, really, it’s just a rehash or the sorts of things we joke about after work or a lunch time. Must be a lesson for sci. comm. in there :)

  • Hey… that’s me!

    Overly honest methods was fun, but one of funniest things is that it took off outside science-land when, really, it’s just a rehash or the sorts of things we joke about after work or a lunch time. Must be a lesson for sci. comm. in there :)

  • BuTful

    BM & AW do you describe me? I rejected 80% of journal manuscripts I reviewed last year and have already rejected the first for 2013! Why do these editors keep sending me such rubbish!

    Seriously…. here is what one of the authors of a paper I rejected should say if they were being honest:
    “We got rejected by XXXXX so we ignored everything the referees said and just submitted to another journal.”

  • David – a point I made elsewhere (on G+, where a Very Serious Conversation then ensued) was that this was a great piece of science communication because it helped to demystify scientists, turning them into people rather than automatons.

    And I’m not even vaguely surprised that this took off in the [geekier, often] circles of the public – it’s a charming insight into daily life as a scientist, and hell, everyone loves humour, right?


  • John,
    I’ve had one completely moronic referees report (for a paper which was accepted on the basis of two other referees report) and I’ve also had a paper rejected because of some quite fair criticisms by referees.
    On the other side of things as a referee I’ve recommended one paper to be accepted as it was, recommended another have minor improvements made, while with another I suggested significant changes be made.
    Such a variety of situations can arise which is why I think it is great when journals use at least 3 referees.

  • John,

    A question for you – is there a common factor in the papers you reject? Are they not doing enough research? Are they badly written?

  • Michael…I know the feeling, I’ve had such referees before myself which is why I take refereeing seriously myself. I have thought about common factors myself – misusing stats is prominent (virtually all the papers were for medical journals). Several, including for the sopposedly #1 Critical Care journal were poorly conducted “me too” studies that had big claims based on small sample sizes. About 2 or 3 outof 2o are so poorly written it is difficult to understand what they vare saying.

  • @John

    I think the problem isn’t the rejection rate per se, but the nature of the reviews. Like most, I’ve had thoughtful and valuable feedback from referees who have rejected my paper. The acceptance rates in journals isn’t anywhere close to 100%- it’s typically well below 50% (at 5-20%).

    I think the frustration Garnier describes in his tweet isn’t about rejection, but that the referee made an utterly irrelevant and uninformed report. I don’t wish to be too detailed; but I did have one referee in a report state that he/she wasn’t aware of the statistical methodology I used, but knew it was wrong based entirely on his guesswork at what it was…

  • @Brendon

    yep – been there, had that. Very frustrating.
    Sometimes, though, I find when a referee has got it wrong it is because they have misunderstood something in the manuscript. When this happens I (now) assume that I have failed to communicate clearly and look for ways in which I may improve the manuscript. I have managed to improve several manuscripts this way!

    Thoughtful feedback is very valuable – it is my #1 aim when I referee.

    Have you run across prejudice in refereeing? What do you think about open refereeing?

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