interpreting scientific statements

I got some of these several years ago in an email and thought they were funny, and as I’m writing another paper right now I thought I would post them, as well as adding a few that were missing.

There are certain phrases that pop up in the scientific community which might appear to mean one thing, but in reality mean another. It doesn’t take long reading any scientific paper to see these phrases come up again and again, and I’m pretty sure we’ve all used them. Just in case you ever see them, you’ll now know what they mean.

“It has long been known/It is well accepted…”
I can’t find the original reference.

“It is believed that…”
I think that…

“It is generally believed that…”
At least one other person thinks so too…

“Experience suggests that…”
I heard some guy somewhere say something that sounded pretty good, but I can’t remember who or where.

“It can be shown that…”
Somebody claimed they did this, but I can’t get it to work. I can’t find the reference anymore either, or I would cite that.

“Previous work has focused on…”
Everyone who’s looked at this before got it all wrong.

“Very little fundamental work exists…”
Google didn’t turn up any obvious results.

“Of great theoretical and practical significance/importance…”
Either I think this is interesting, or someone paid me money to do it.

“Typical/representative results are shown.”
The best results (or the only results) are shown.

“Three (or some other number) samples were chosen for detailed study.”
Only three (or some other number) of my samples made any sense, and I ignored the rest.

“The significance of these results is unclear.”
There’s an artifact in my data I can’t ignore or explain away.

“A trend is evident…”
You can kind of imagine a trend, but no statistical analysis will ever support it.

“The trend becomes more evident when…”
If you just look at it like this, you’ll see the same thing I do.

“The data seem to indicate…”
This is what it looks like, but I really don’t want to say it with any certainty.

“Thanks are due to Mr. Smith with his assistance with the experiment, and to Dr. Jones for valuable discussions…”
Mr. Smith did the work, and Dr. Jones told me what it meant.

“Results were inconclusive.”
The experiment didn’t show anything, but I can still publish it somewhere.

“Correct within acceptable error.”
Not very close.

“Correct to within an order of magnitude.”
Very wrong.

“A careful analysis of obtainable data…”
I analyzed what I could, which wasn’t much due to (computer failure, chemical spill, equipment malfunction, etc)…

“Data limitations did not allow the project team to fully develop the relationship between…”
Our experiment failed.

“Despite these limitations…”
We did some other stuff so we could write the report and get additional funding.

“Even though researchers experienced difficulty obtaining sufficient data…”
We think we did pretty good, even though our experiment failed.

“These results will be described in a subsequent report…”
Either I was in a rush to get this paper published, or my sabbatical is over and it’s someone else’s job to mess with the data.

“Additional work will be required in order to determine _____”
I have no clue what’s going on, and I don’t care to be the one who finds out, or I’m looking for additional funding.

“It is hoped this study will stimulate further investigation…”
If I cared about looking into this further, I would tell you. Let someone else see if they have better luck.

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