[Alternative] Research Definitions

for folks with a sense of humor

I compiled the following from tidbits that I encountered during graduate school. Some of these observations were on one of those anonymous sheets that were passed around in a time before e-mail expedited the process. I shared these with students for the humor and as a means to emphasize that doing science is another human effort with all that involves. When colleagues heard of the list, they sent some additions, which I credit below.

I encourage students to increase the amount of “primary sources” they read in scientific literature as undergraduate education progresses. To aid that effort, I provide the following definitions of phrases that appear frequently in technical writings. This list has been widely circulated over the years, and was probably compiled by some anonymous genius who evidently read too many scientific papers. Some Hamilton College geniuses have also contributed. Thank you ! Suggestions for other “translations” are always welcome ! Prof. S.A. Miller

It has long been known --I haven't bothered to look up the original reference.

It is believed -- I think.

It is generally believed -- A couple of other guys think so too.

Of great theoretical and practical importance -- Interesting to me.

A survey of the earlier literature -- I even read last year's journals.

Preliminary experiments have shown -- We did it once but couldn't repeat it.

Extremely high purity -- Composition unknown except for the exaggerated claims of the supplier.

Accidentally stained during mounting -- Dropped on the floor.

Handled with extreme care during mounting -- Not dropped on the floor.

Typical results are shown. -- The best results are shown.

The most reliable values are those of Jones.-- He/she was a student of mine.

Correct within an order of magnitude -- Wrong.

Three of the samples were chosen for detailed study -- The results on the others didn’t make sense and were ignored.

These results will be reported at a later date. -- I might get around to it sometime.

Presumably at long times -- I didn’t take the time to find out.

While it has not been possible to provide definite answers to these questions -- The experiment didn’t work out, but I figured I could get some publicity out of it. Besides, it’s publish or perish!

It might be argued that -- I have such a good answer for this objection that I shall now raise it.

This suggests that  -- No proof exists, but I like the idea. (the late Prof. J. Davis, French)

It is clear that -- I can prove it, but don’t ask me to do so. (Prof. J. Pliskin, economics)

It is clear that much additional work will be required. -- This paper is not very good, but neither are any of the others on this subject.

Thanks are due to Sam Schmidlap for technical assistance and to Linda Glotz for valuable discussions. -- Schmidlap did the work, and Glotz explained it to me.

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This page last Modified: January 2008