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Academia can be weird

Worstall, T. (2013). ‘With all of Apple’s cash, why is it issuing bonds?’. Forbes, 30 April 2013. Available at (accessed 20 July 2023).
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Quite why bits of penny a page (that’s what I was paid, penny a page view) journalism get used as academic references I’m not sure. But such is modern academia:

I Want to Marry Rich: Why Cash Makes You a Desirable Partner
Christina Matz Carnes, Palash Deb, Jonathan O’Brien
First published: 25 July 2023


12 thoughts on “Academia can be weird”

  1. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    One of the original points of academic journals was as some kind of paper of public record. The record didn’t have to be accurate (science is usually a best approximation), it just had to be what was seen and thought at the time. You’d publish some observation, along with some conclusions about what the observation meant, and let the rest of the world have a go at them.

    The (welcome) expansion of scientific endeavour, along with the price of paper (literally) resulted in those published observations being reduced to “novel observations”, repetition of previous results became uninteresting, leading to a lot of science now based de facto on N=1. Well, N=1 isn’t data, it’s anecdata.

    The introduction of peer review meant the observation also had to be “interesting”, which increasingly, after Fisher won one of his fights with the rest of the world, came to mean a p value of less than 0.05 (as applied to life and social sciences, yes, I know physics, aka “the one true science” is different), whether the observation was interesting or not. The hazard of multiple testing combined with rejection of any result not meeting the majick arbitrary statistical threshold means an estimated half of all such papers are based on statistical fluke, the results at odds with reality.

    The inability to get a replication of such an experiment published, whether confirmatory or not, and despite the massive explosion in the number of journals competing for attention, means we are very much in the dark as to which 50% of such papers can be tossed, and which 50% might be the start of something interesting.

    That introduction of peer review also resulted in the academic journal (including journals like PNAS, that most people don’t know uncritically accepts member submissions) being elevated to the status of holy writ, in itself immutable, “The Science” and rendered immutable by the procedural rejection of all attempts to publish a confirmation or refutation of a previous observation, vide, the two ultimate winners of all internet arguments, even better than Godwinning someone, (1) “how many peer reviewed papers do you have proving that”, and (2) “here is a peer reviewed paper therefore you are wrong”.

    So, assuming Forbes has some degree of expected permanency, and isn’t just a web page that can be altered, or memory holed at will by a future Winston Smith, you have now entered the hallowed ranks of those who have uttered incontrovertible and ultimate truth. Congratulations!

  2. Well, yes – I also have my won peer reviewed paper. In a jouirnal with an impact of 0.3 I think which isn’t going to gain me a professorship any time soon.

  3. Sources and references can depend on individual experiences and memories. Something sticks in the memory, or is prompted to the surface, and either you remember it and find it, or go hunting for it and find it or something similar.

    For example, my MA dissertation (“What impact did intelligence have upon the arms race during the later Cold War (1968-1988)?”) cited a colleague’s Shrivenham thesis[1] on the Soviet doctrine of ‘удар’ (imperfectly translated as “shock”), and an obscure piece by a US friend I’d known for decades via Usenet on Soviet air-defence development[2] (Chris was delighted that someone remembered and cited his article…)

    I also cited a few discussions[3] from those Usenet days, because I was involved and remembered them; in a case or two, the posters had gone on to write their own books which also made good sources[4].

    But it’s very individual: the 1980s “GEC Review” is not exactly widespread, except that I worked there, knew and liked Gordon Osborne, so I was able to find his article on its propulsion system.[5]. Likewise, having been pointed at a stack of US Naval Institute magazines with “have a look through that lot for anything good about submarine warfare”, I ended up with a few articles from them that most wouldn’t have found[6].

    And while I’m patting myself on the back for all the esoteric stuff I did find… there’s much, much more I didn’t.

    [1] Dipper, T. (2004) A System Shock Approach to Modelling Clandestine Network Disruption. MSc thesis. Shrivenham: Royal Military College of Science

    [2] Manteuffel, C. (2006) An Enigma Behind the Curtain: The Tallinn Anti-Ballistic Missile System and Satellite Intelligence. Space Chronicle: The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 59 (Supplement 1).

    [3] Forsberg, S. (1996) “Stealth”: Some discussion… rec.aviation.military. 23 September 1996

    [4] Rasimus, E. (2003) When Thunder Rolled: An F-105 Pilot over North Vietnam. Washington DC: Smithsonian Press

    [5] Osborne, G. (1998) The ‘Spearfish’ Propulsion System. GEC Review. 13(3)

    [6] Rivkin, D. (1984) No Bastions for the Bear. Proceedings of the US Naval Institute. 110 (4)

  4. “[2] Manteuffel, C. (2006) An Enigma Behind the Curtain: The Tallinn Anti-Ballistic Missile System and Satellite Intelligence. Space Chronicle: The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. 59 (Supplement 1).”

    Seems soldiering must be in the blood…….

    “[5] Osborne, G. (1998) The ‘Spearfish’ Propulsion System. GEC Review. 13(3)”

    Who knew George had a back story…..

  5. Academia hardly featured in my schoolboy life. I knew of the ancient Scottish universities and I’d heard of the English universities (both of them). I had somehow heard of the Sorbonne and Heidelberg too. Leiden was mentioned in history class. I knew of MIT through the New Scientist. I knew of Yale courtesy of the Whiffenpoof Song.

    And, proud moment this, I later deduced that there must be a university called Harvard because of the expression Harvard Business School.

    Not bothering much about “academia” seems pretty healthy to me.

    P.S. Joke borrowed from Sir Humphrey.

  6. I was well chuffed when I first cited in the 1990s, I was doubly chuffed when I had my second citation about five years ago. I proudly added an extra section on my CV. 🙂

  7. I’ve cited Tintin in a peer-reviewed academic paper, and a 1960s travel book called “Travels of a Capitalist Lackey” about a man driving a 1930s Alvis through the USSR. And that was properly peer reviewed; it took nearly as long to deal with the review points as it did to write the article initially.

    I’ve also cited a notice on a board in a Dorset lay-by, referenced by means of a 6-figure grid reference.

    This might suggest the attitude that perhaps explains why I’ve no longer got a university post!

  8. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    I have acknowledged, but did not co-author with, Michael Jackson. Doing so was an in-joke, as he preferred to be known as Mike but was always called Michael in acknowledgements, as a wind up.

    There are not a few papers that acknowledge the two Messrs. James, namely Daniels and Beam. None of mine.

    All this tomfoolery is very much looked down on these days.

  9. BiFR, You mean you can’t put references to Orgone Theory and other such noble work in the references to see whether the reviewers actually paid attention?

    Pffftt… wusses.. 😉

  10. Bloke in the Fourth Reich

    Grikath, I have seen some studies of who just cites what other people cite by showing up the same errors in the citation. Anyone who’d actually read the paper would note the wrong year, author names, or page numbers.

    One of the best papers in the field, and perhaps of interest to Tim is Dennis Upper’s “The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of writer’s block”, in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, volume 7 page 497.

    There was a follow-up study which I can’t find at the moment.

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