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Saturday, June 25, 2005

How Not To Write & Publish a Scientific Paper, Second Ed.

In the 1st ed., Heather of HWL pointed us to a Heritage Foundation paper on oral and anal sex among teenagers by Rector and Johnson (real names, by the way). The main battle here is whether or not teenagers who take virginity pledges are more likely to engage in risky sexual activities.

Before getting into the real point of this post, here's my favorite part of the "abstract":

Finally, this paper finds that although virginity pledgers are less likely to use contraception at first intercourse, any differences in contraceptive use between pledgers and non-pledgers disappear very quickly.

It's probably the most important conclusion out of the whole paper, and they spend the entire time complaining about biased media coverage. On top of this, Rector and Johnson can't even forge a scientific paper correctly. They should have read this book.

Here are my main "stylistic" critiques of the paper that don't overlap with Heather's:

Scientists will rarely use a degree or title in the author list, e.g. "Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D."

And it's generally accepted that an author will go by a single name througout her/his career. On my first paper, my middle initial was left off, but that was an oversight, and I always think of it as a big deal. The first author here, Rector, seems to have let his middle initial jump in an out arbitrarily throughout his tenure at the Heritage Foundation.

Abstracts are almost always a single paragraph without line breaks. Some fields are different than others, so this one may not count.

I've never seen an Executive Summary in a scientific publication. This is what happens when self-styled policy makers try to do science.

Whatever it is, it isn't a scientific paper. I'm not sure I want to go any further. I might be inspired to do a third edition; maybe not.