Tuesday, November 14, 2006
N Rays and Me
I recently reviewed a paper with my name on it. I was appalled at the scientific merits of the paper but I didn't ask that my name be kept off of the paper. I decided that it didn't matter. First off, I didn't think anyone in their right mind would publish the paper. Secondly, I need a publication. This is my line of work. I have to be published to show that I'm trying to fit in.
Which brings me to the subject of N-Rays. My zero readers will be familiar with the N-Rays era of scientific progress. In 1903 French scientist René-Prosper Blondlot discovered N-Rays. The Germans had discovered X-Rays so many scientists at this time were looking for undiscovered regions on the electromagnetic spectrum that could make them famous. The problem with N-Rays was that they don't exist. For a short while they did however, in the minds of physical scientists in the early 1900s. One day an American scientist named Robert W. Wood travelled to France to have Blondlot show him N-Rays first hand. The experiment required the use of a prism. When the lights went low Dr. Wood slipped the prism into his pocket. The experimenters still "observed" their N-Rays. Dr. Wood reported his own experiment and that was the end of N-Rays.
Back to my paper. It won't get N-Ray type attention. There were over 300 N-Ray papers published. If this one is published it will be the last on the subject. It contained a misunderstanding of what a mutant is, a couple false statements and some selective data handling. The main points were all forgone conclusions that I was never allowed to test. Still, none of it matters. Real scientists should be able to spot all of the problems, if they care enough to do so. Dr. Wood noted that the slit of Blondlot's N-ray spectrometer was 3 mm wide, yet Blondlot could detect changes in spectral intensity on the order of 0.1 mm at his focal plane. The paper with my name on it has similar lapses in reasoning.
And so I say to the world that this is how science is done. We all know that this paper is mostly bullshit but we need publications. We aren't conducting scientific misconduct, just horrible science. Like David Baltimore before us, we know it doesn't matter in the big picture. It's just another paper. I sent in my comments pointing out the bad science and the false statements but I didn't request that my name be taken off the paper. I got a letter back thanking me for the comments. No one will know. Hee hee. My zero readers will appreciate this fact.
P.S. Rene Blondlot still has a street named after him in downtown Nancy as the belief that he had made a major discovery persisted.