My comments can range from none to numerous, depending on the topic and first author, but if something has my name on it, I almost always want to see the text before it is submitted for review and possible publication. The one exception involves abstracts written by a particular long-time colleague, but even in that case we almost always discuss abstracts we are co-authoring. On a few occasions, someone has submitted a really bad abstract with me as co-author and has not sent the text to me in advance. A bad abstract is one in which the text is (a) wrong, and/or (b) poorly written. In one case, by the time I saw the bad abstract, it was too late for me to do anything about it. I wasn’t the advisor of the student who wrote the bad abstract, nor even at the same university, but it wouldn’t have mattered; the advisor didn’t see the bad abstract in advance either. The student explained that no one had ever mentioned that co-authors should be given a chance to see and comment in advance on items submitted for review.

I was very angry. Only with great difficulty did I restrain myself from sending the student a sarcastic list of other common sense things that one should do. In a more recent incident, a former student — who does not write well and never has — submitted an incoherent and error-filled abstract with me as co-author. We spent many many years trying to solve his apparently intractable writing problems, but he clearly didn’t even run a spell-checker before submitting the abstract. Was that overconfidence, laziness, or delusional behavior? I don’t know, but the problems went deeper than just spelling errors; some of the statements and conclusions were bizarre. Am I being a perfectionist and a control freak? My opinion: no on one and yes on two, though regarding my control freakiness, a more accurate term is quality control freak. I don’t really think my reputation for good science and writing would be damaged by a lousy (co-authored) abstract every now and then, but I’d rather avoid the experience if possible.

I previously wrote about a situation in which a highly flawed manuscript was submitted without my seeing the submitted version, and that was very embarrassing. The manuscript was rejected and was never resubmitted in improved form, and now the project has moved on without me. Because the first author, a former postdoc, screwed up, I probably lost my one chance to be part of a publication for a project that I helped initiate. I have another colleague who tends to submit manuscripts after receiving what my co-authors and I think of as an initial round of comments, expecting to see one more version before final submission. Fortunately the submitted versions have been pretty good, so I have been more startled than upset by his precipitous submissions. Quite often I review or edit a manuscript that has a co-author whose work I respect and know to be of high-quality, but who cannot possibly have read the manuscript submitted for review.

A situation of exactly this sort came up just this week. I was asked to fix the English in a manuscript whose first author is not a native English-speaker. I could not help but notice, however, that every co-author is from the UK, so I asked the first author why my help was needed. The answer: the co-authors refuse to take the time to read the paper, but are insisting that their names be on it anyway. In the recent case of the bad abstract submitted by my former student, he has more at stake than I do. He is an early career scientist; this is not a time to be careless with work submitted for review. A colleague with whom I discussed this situation told me I should let my former student make his own way and succeed or fail depending on his ability to do good science and communicate, or not. That is, perhaps I should not have intervened to fix the abstract and should have let it be reviewed in its original submitted form. I agree with that advice in general, but in practice, it’s easier said than done, especially with a former student and especially if I am a co-author.

You can’t get yourself kicked out of school or even the class or it won’t work, (obviously)! Don’t bring a pencil, paper, your books, or anything that might assist you in learning. Be sure to be tardy, but not too late. Four minutes ought to do it. Don’t overplay your hand. Do, however, bring a couple of really stinky breakfast tacos and start to eat them. First period works well for this one, especially if your teacher emphasizes with your economic plight and lets you eat in his room. Take your time and spill some salsa on the floor and desk. Don’t ask, but just get up and go to the bathroom to get some paper towels to clean up your mess. Mash up a bunch of towels and get them soaking wet, but make sure that you have about twenty feet of dry towels dragging behind you. When you return to the room, march in as proud royalty, clean up your mess, smearing water and salsa everywhere but eventually actually cleaning up the mess. Don’t make it too messy because they janitor will get called in to mop it up and no one wants that.

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