Laughingstock, Sad Stock

Thanks to "ratatestes," scientific publishing has become a laughingstock — while Wiley's stock continues to weep value

I used to write and edit a lot of scientific research articles, media pieces, and summaries, most intensively in my late 20s when I ran a group of 20+ clinical medicine publications. As the senior person on the editorial team, I would approve everything before it went out the door, which gave me a lot of experience close-reading text, checking and rechecking consistency of claims and data, verifying layouts and illustrations matched, and so forth.

The work also taught me how to diplomatically discuss problems with authors and editors, many of whom didn’t at first believe someone in their 20s without a PhD or MD could find errors or contradictions in their work.

I could and did, and it was always satisfying when the light bulb went off, and they realized I’d found something they’d missed and saved them some embarrassment.

The team had a lot of fun editing some of the items that crossed our desks, often in the form of case reports. From the consequences of fecal dust to some “intimate” evidence of pizza dough, there were some classics that had us doubled over with laughter and making snide little jokes for weeks or months on end.

However, our job — once we stopped cracking each other up — was to find a way to thread that needle of keeping the resulting article scientifically and clinically accurate and informative, while occasionally sneaking in a wink to the audience to indicate that we knew something hilarious was being shared.

We couldn’t go too far, but we also didn’t want to seem oblivious.

So, even for someone who knows what it’s like to work behind the scenes on material that can be, at times, hilarious, it seemed unlikely the scientific editorial process and its outputs could fail so utterly as to become a laughingstock themselves, until . . .

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