When It Smells , Hold Your Nose

Never make up your mind about someone's work until you've heard them under fire on a platform," an old university mentor, Alan Emslie-Smith, said to me many years ago. By stressing the importance of seeing scientists in the flesh, he was not criticizing the learned journals, their editors or their refereeing procedures. He was simply suggesting that the intuitive judgments we all make when reacting to politicians and automobile salesmen were equally appropriate in reacting to physicists and micr

Bernard Dixon
Nov 16, 1986

Never make up your mind about someone's work until you've heard them under fire on a platform," an old university mentor, Alan Emslie-Smith, said to me many years ago. By stressing the importance of seeing scientists in the flesh, he was not criticizing the learned journals, their editors or their refereeing procedures. He was simply suggesting that the intuitive judgments we all make when reacting to politicians and automobile salesmen were equally appropriate in reacting to physicists and microbiologists. Personal impressions, he insisted, were often more reliable than the printed word.

Alan didn't even mention the possibilities of cheating, "data massage," and wholesale fabrication of laboratory results, about which we have heard so much in recent years. He did impress upon me the danger that we may sometimes be misled by the apparent exactitude and rationality of the scientific literature. The time-honored format of methods, results and discussion can indeed...

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