Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How ... odd

Recently I googled around to see if any new papers had come out on the genus Minthostachys, which was the main topic of my disseration. I actually had a website dedicated to this interesting plant group for a few years after my doctorate project, and only shut it down after starting this blog. A few of the more relevant pieces of information can now be found here under the tag Minthostachys (obviously).

Searching around now I found something very interesting. Google provided me with two PDFs, one of a student's thesis and one of what appears to be a manuscript based on the same thesis. The first paragraph of the manuscript is as follows.

Reading this, a strange urge overcame me to check one of my own papers, a review article I published two years before the thesis mentioned above was submitted. This is most of its first paragraph:

That is sure some coincidence! We independently arrived at precisely the same phrasing. Great minds think alike, I guess. A bit further into the introduction, the student's manuscript contains this somewhat confusing section:

Who is "she", for example? Perhaps my review article can clear that up?

Ah yes, that makes more sense (although I think I write better English now than I did then).

Now in all seriousness, I don't really consider this too grave an issue because, as I argued before, the natural sciences are not about writing originally but about producing original data. And most of the thesis as well as the resulting manuscript are heavily methodological, describing a biochemical analysis and its results. As long as the data are not made up or manipulated the precise phrasing of a scientific article is of secondary concern. (Which is also why I don't name names or provide links here.)

What gets me more is actually the sloppiness of its all. In the second case above the sentences simply don't make any sense. As another example, in the thesis there is a figure supposedly showing the study plant.

Several points: The study is about Peruvian Minthostachys mollis, commonly called "muña". The picture on the left is Argentinean Minthostachys verticillata, commonly called "peperina". How do I know? Because I took that photograph myself during field work for my own disseration near the town of Tafi del Valle. Not sure what that Revista Gener@ccion given as the source is but one way or another the image must originally have been copied from my now defunct website about the genus.

It is not clear what the picture on the right shows but it is not a Lamiaceae, much less a Minthostachys. My hunch is that we are dealing with a member of the Phytolaccaceae family. Anyway, these little things don't make me feel as if the author knows what they are talking about. And that is much more worrying than strangely coincidental phrasing of some sentences.

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