Death and the Penguin, science edition?

a.k.a. Musings about predictability in science

death-and-the-penguin-300dpiOne of my favourite books is Death and the Penguin, by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. The protagonists of the book are Viktor, a young writer who’s struggling to survive in post-Soviet Ukraine, and Misha, a king penguin, whom Viktor adopted from the local zoo after it went bankrupt and who now lives in Victor’s bath tub. To pay for bills (and frozen fish for Misha) Viktor accepts a job writing obituaries for the local newspaper. However, there’s a twist: the people he writes about aren’t dead – yet. Once he writes about their sad passing, they mysteriously die. For example, a senior politician he writes about, falls from a sixth-floor window: “was cleaning it for some reason, although apparently it wasn’t his. And at night.”, the editor of the newspaper comments.

Recently, I was reminded of this obscure plot in a somewhat surprising setting: as an avid listener to pretty much all Nature podcasts, I also follow Backchat, a monthly podcast produced by the Nature team, where they discuss some behind-the-scenes of various stories. One of the things I have found most fascinating is how (or rather when) some of the stories are written. Yes, you guessed it: they’re often written before they happen! Continue reading


On authorship and risk

I have a long-standing argument with a good friend about who should co-author a paper. The particular disagreement is about the role of someone, who has substantially helped to write and shape the story of a paper.

My friend argues that if you have:
–       consistently followed the course of a project
–       provided advice and guidance in group meetings and in one-on-one discussions
–       and also helped write the paper,
but have not done any wet lab experiments or actual hands-on analysis of the data,
then you’re essentially doing the job of the PI, and thus, should be a co-author.

Generally, I agree. But when push comes to shove I’m not sure I would include people with such involvement on a publication. So, for the last couple of months I’ve been pondering why, and finally think I’ve come up with an answer: it’s a question of risk. Continue reading