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My lab:
I'm still at the luxury resort "Il Ciocco" for the Gordon Conference on Genes and Behavior. Over my poster and after lunch, David Glanzman of UCLA provided me with a piece both of advice and of mentorship that I thought I just have to share.
I'm currently having a really hard time of finding a good presentation format for my most recent results. Without going into any detail, these results are pretty clear-cut and straightforward, but their implications may seem to some in the field rather radical or provocative.
You can see two of my recent failed attempts on Nature Precedings (here and here).

David likened writing a scientific paper to a bullfight, with the author as the matador and the bull as the editor and reviewers. In a bullfight, it is of outmost importance that the bull always keeps his head down, so it cannot see the matador. In this way, the matador can always escape. To aid the matador, the picadero and the banderilleros begin by wounding the bulk of muscles in the neck of the bull, making it painful/impossible to lift its head. If the banderillas are not placed properly and the bull can raise its head and see the matador, chances are high that the matador will be gored.
Similarly, when writing a scientific paper, one always has to make sure that every statement is placed firmly in the neck of the bull. If it gets it's head up, your paper is toast. Don't misplace any banderillas by offering editors/reviewers possibilities to attack your paper. Present the data with as little interpretation as possible. If your data is clean and straightforward, there's nothing to attack. However, if you have the best data in the world and one of your interpretations misses the muscle in the neck (e.g. rubs a reviewer the wrong way), it'll raise its head and gore you. No matter how much you're thrilled by the implications of your work, save it for a review paper. Reduce the amount of information around the data to the absolute bare minimum and the reviewer will have only very little surface for attack. If any interpretation lands in the wrong place of a reviewer's head, he/she will try to make the data look bad.
I'm very grateful to David for his fantastic analogy. This advice may seem so obvious and clear that maybe you wonder why this is even worth mentioning. For me, this way of writing is very, very difficult. After all, it's the theory and the insight our data provides which keeps us going. And all of this needs to be held back at a time when you just want to scream it out to the world, because you're so excited and thrilled!
Maybe I'll have to compensate for this restraint I now have to exercise by blogging some of the implications while I'm re-writing the paper.

Now if only I had Hemingway around to help me with that bullfight... smallgrin.png
Posted on Thursday 28 February 2008 - 16:34:00 comment: 0

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