Thursday, January 25, 2007

These are my peers

When you read in the papers "Scientists have discovered..." perhaps you have wondered how they make that declaration. Do scientists go up on a mountaintop with a test tube and scream "I have found a new way to treat herpes!"? Actually, the whole scientific process is controlled by something called peer review. That's where Professor Awesome (or more likely, Prof. Awesome's grad student lackeys) writes a paper on their research, and submits it to a journal where important findings are published. The journal can range in prestige from Science and Nature to the Journal of Obscure Rocket Science. The editor of the journal takes the paper and gives it to Prof. Awesome's "peers", or other researchers in the same field who may or may not hold twenty-year grudges against Prof. Awesome. They produce a list of comments/questions/complaints ranging from "You have violated two of the three laws of thermodynamics, you douchebag" to "I would rather you use navy blue in your graph than royal blue." The negotiations go back and forth until either the the editor accepts or rejects the paper. It usually works out well, and bad papers tend to get killed or at least demoted to crappy journals that no one respects.

So where am I going with this? Well, when Professor Awesome is asked to review one of his peer's papers, he usually will just give it to his lackeys to read for him. Some professors give old students papers to help review even after they've graduated. At least my adviser still does. Typically the papers are not too bad, unless you get Revenge of the Shit English Translation Paper.

Highlights from this paper out of an obscure Chinese university:

"Many toxic organic pollutants to people health are existed in explosive wastewater."

"The explosive industry is one of the important pollutants."

"The removal rate increased with the oxygen excess rising. But the oxygen excess was not larger better."

I think they just pushed the whole 20-page paper through Babelfish or something.


Anonymous said...

"explosive wastewater" = genius

scumbag said...

those wacky gooks and their tomfoolery.

Booty J Patrol said...

So it's true then -- being a professor really is the glorious no-work job everyone says it is. You put in your dues as a grad student, and then you get to torture your own grads. What a brilliant system. No wonder the majority of the world's longest running institutions are Universities.

slappy said...

Actually, the main job of a professor is to beg outside sources (industry, government) for money. Then you use that money to get grad students who produce research that you can take to outside sources to convince them to give you more money. In theory there's a strategic planning function that they play to guide the grad students in the right direction, but that is of varying focus/effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

Is there anything I CAN believe in anymore?

slappy said...

You can believe in the National Renewable Energy Lab: I've met a lot of people out there and they do some good work. With any luck the next two years will give them more funding.

FRITZ said...

I had explosive wastewater after eating at Doc Margarita's (TM).

By the way, that is not a real Mexican restaurant. I just made that name up. I'm trademarking it, because it rocks, and now I must own a Mexican restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Some of the Awesome profs even steal work that is actually worth publishing and put it under their own name. Lazy Dicks.

scumbag said...

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miss kendra said...

babelfish is my babydaddy.

slappy said...

Crap, I think Scumbag got taken by the pod people!

jamwall said...

quit spamming us scumbag. i know you gotta pay for your drugs, but geez!

amera hearts said...

what's up with scumbag's comment?!?!?!

slappy - i could be a scientist right now. i was going to grad program was biomolecular structure and design. which involves the use and determination of atomic-level structures of biologically important molecules, with aims that include understanding the relationship between structure and function, predicting three-dimensional structures of biomolecules, and designing new molecules.

no joke. but i dropped out because i didn't want that to be my life forever and the student and facilty around me did not have lives.

now i have a shit job with a weird boss. sweet. just what i wanted!

slappy said...

Amera: Like protein folding? I have a chemist friend who has dreams of getting involved in that. Which school?

I have noticed that chemistry grad students as a whole are less happy than chemical engineers. I don't know why.

Have you considered kicking your boss in the junk?

amera hearts said...

slappy, maybe it's because we have no lives and work hard all through out the day? we are stuck in little rooms with machinery, it actually doesn't sound so bad.

i'm dropped out of grad school. did i mention that? the school is the university of washington "u-dub" as the locals call it.

kisses and have a good weekend!

slappy said...

Ah, U-Dub. I had a friend up there for grad school in computer science.

At MIT it seemed the chemists worked 6 or 7 days a week, but chemical engineers mostly did 5 (maybe a third worked 6 days a week). Bastards.

A good friend of mine did bio grad school for a year, decided it sucked, and left. Worked out for her.