The Moscow Rules - Science Edition: Part 3

May 02 2012 Published by under Uncategorized

If you look around for the Moscow Rules on the Internet, you’ll find several versions of them out there. The version I’m using is from the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.

To set the mood for rule number 3, today’s Cold War music is one of the best explorations of “Who’s side are you on?”

Everyone is potentially under opposition control.

Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to get your paper accepted or your grant funded. Standing between you and your mission objective... peer reviewers.

Not Reviewer #2, either.

If there is anything in professional science that is cloak and dagger stuff, it’s the peer review process. Almost all of it is shrouded in anonymity. Someone you’ve met someone at conferences several times, gone out for drinks with, has always had good things to say about your posters could easily be that maddening Reviewer #2 who wants you to run more experiments, hates your introduction, wants you to redo every figure and recommends your paper be rejected with extreme prejudice. If there’s a plus, it’s at least possible that someone you consider a bit of a prat might be the person fighting for your grant proposal at the review table.

Maybe Maurice Bowra said it best:

Scientists are treacherous allies on committees, for they are apt to change their minds in response to arguments.

Most people have friends: friends who are loyal, who will stick up for them and defend them against attacks. But the first loyalty that scientists feel is rarely to another scientist. A scientist’s first loyalties are usually to things like evidence, data, and analysis. We’re trained to take that stuff fairly seriously. You? You’re way down the list, bub.

In science, a friend might be the one dishing out your harshest criticisms. Be ready for criticism from any source.

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