Posted by: Jeremy Fox | May 15, 2011

The best sentences a scientist gets to say

Some candidates:

“That’s a great question, which my next slide addresses.”

“The error bars are too small to be visible.” (one of the benefits of being a microcosmologist is that I get to say this a fair bit)

Then there are the sentences you wish you could say, but which you will never get the chance to say. Here are a couple of mine:

“Mr. Darwin, have you considered the possibility that species might change over time as favorable variants increase in number at the expense of unfavorable variants?” (to Charles Darwin in 1835)

Bob just called to congratulate me on my Nature cover article comprehensively solving the stability-complexity problem.”

Provide your own in the comments. 😉


  1. Since it is traditional to include comments that “Further work will be needed…” in the Discussion section of one’s papers, one of my “you wish you could say” entries would be, “This work solves the problem so conclusively that no further work will be needed. In fact, our lab is now switching fields….”

    • That would be awesome to say!

  2. Also, I’ve always been envious of those people who can legitimately say, “Actually, this IS [rocket science / brain surgergy].”

  3. I’ve been told a story about a very prominent scientist who is meant to have said, while arguing with an editor about a rejected paper, “Well, perhaps we’ll stop sending our work to Nature then!” As a threat.

  4. An Oikos paper from 1985 had as acknowledgements:
    “I thank the editors for critical comments which have had no serious effects on the text”

    (Oikos 44: 508)

  5. I couldn’t resist scholargoogling that…and I’ll be saving your time…

    Sorry Bertram. But that was a good one. Done at proof time ?

    Population Growth Rate as a Measure of Individual Fitness
    Bertram G. Murray, Jr.
    Vol. 44, No. 3 (Jun., 1985), pp. 509-511

    • Bert Murray was a prof at Rutgers when I was a grad student there, although I never got to know him well. He published frequently in the Oikos Forum section on philosophical and conceptual topics, particularly the meaning of ‘density dependence’. As a student I found his writings quite idiosyncratic; his concerns and views were clearly his own. But now that I’ve become a blogger, I’ve come to see that as a good thing. I doubt many would read my posts if I was merely repeating the conventional wisdom.

  6. In college I used to joke that the seven most beautiful words in the world are “I was right and you were wrong.”

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