The Devil’s dictionary, Aug. 10 update

See the complete Devil’s Dictionary of Scientific Words and Phrases here.




data  the scientific version of the art term “dada”: an international collective activity which promotes self-fulfilling public gatherings, demonstrations, the publication of journals, and the placement of urinals and snow shovels as art in museums, until a member of the public misinterprets their aesthetic intent and uses them for the purposes they were originally intended. (Thanks to Ted Johnson, Lawrence, Kansas, Professor emeritus extraordinaire!)

exaggerate  a standard statistical procedure applied to data that has been analyzed but revealed some slight inconsistencies or failed to live up to expectations. When an important item in a study has a bad day and underperforms, a scientist is allowed to add a small bonus to restore its normal ranking compared to the other values, as a show of confidence that it will do better next time. This has a motivational function, and should not increase the original score by more than 2 or 3 orders of magnitude.

cell cycle  the phases of events that define periods in the life of a dividing cell, named after the stereotypical segments in James Bond films: prophase (the action sequence before the Song and the opening credits, which are displayed against a backdrop of swimming, flying, or burning silhouettes of naked females); M phase (Bond visits the office of his superior and is reprimanded for some inappropriate behavior, after which he continues the behavior as if the discussion never happened); Q phase (in which he is given a wristwatch that turns itself into a helicopter, submarine, or releases an atomic missile depending on which button is pressed); interphase (during which you can buy popcorn); X phase (the parts you would like to see but don’t get to, so that the film can retain an “R” rating); hangover phase (also normally cut from the films, but is adequately covered in the following PubMed articles: Shaken, not stirred: did James Bond have an alcohol problem? and Were James Bond’s drinks shaken because of alcohol induced tremor?


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On-line etiquette for clones (with a few tips for zombies)



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I am a science writer at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, author of fiction and popular science books, an artist, and a professional musician who performs on the viola da gamba and Medieval and Renaissance stringed instruments. I edit manuscripts of all types and teach the full range of scientific communication skills. I am doing theoretical work in this subject - see for example

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