Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

How Not To Publish A New Concept.

I apologize for the font-size in the last post. This was done from my laptop while on vacation, and for some reason, with different software, I got the wrong outcome. Sorry.

Let me now revisit my first paper for the last time. This paper was cursed by the referees: they accepted it without comment! Nevertheless, it is a paper that is an example of how not to publish a new concept, and it might be of help to young chemists to consider these errors, so as not to make them themselves. For those interested in the paper itself, see Tetrahedron 25 : 1349-1360 (1969).

The first error was that I put both the strain formulae and the means of explaining the dipole moments into one paper. I should have submitted two. The reason is, with two points to make that may be of value to different audiences, one of the points will be embedded in the paper, and the audience for that paper will never find it. I did not wish to be accused of not having enough material, or of unnecessarily trying to increase my publication count. That is silly thinking. There were a number of other papers out there relatively short on substance, and in any case, if both papers were submitted at the same time, let the referees/editor suggest merger.

The second error was that I did not state clearly, separate from the rest, what I had found. The basic point was that the changes of dipole moments were caused by enhanced electron density over normal alkanes, and the "compression" of the electron cloud present was proportional to the work done "compressing" the electron cloud. I relied on the fact that someone would follow what I had done by reading the paper, and by drawing the obvious conclusion from the table, but that is not good enough. If you want to persuade an audience, say it in the abstract, start the introduction with why you have to say it, say it in detail in the text, show it in the table, and say it again in the summary.

The title, "Ring strain and the negative pole" was, I thought, clever, because it related ring strain to the polarization field in the shortest space. Advice to young scientists: if you think of a clever title, try it out on some other scientists and see what they think. It may merely make them shake their heads!

Perhaps the biggest mistake was that I failed to explain fully what I was doing. The last thing I wanted to do was irritate "the real chemists" by labouring the obvious. What I did not realize was that what was obvious to me was not necessarily obvious to anyone else! I had taught myself physics, and I had bought the cheapest suitable books, which happened to be produced by Mir publications in Moscow. What I had not realized was that what was considered to be interesting additional information in Moscow was simply not present in the more expensive western textbooks. (I do not care what anybody says; for me, Landau and Lifshitz’ Mechanics is still by far the best book for learning about Lagrangian mechanics.) Accordingly, I assumed any physics in a textbook I could follow was well known, and I did not want to be accused of padding the paper with trivia. I thought that taking a divergence of a polarization field to get a pseudocharge (the pole) would be obvious. Obviously I should have said exactly what I was doing, but I was young and unguided. Worse, I did not want it rejected for being too long, which, of course, was all the more reason to submit two papers. I suppose also I was rather pleased with myself for finding a way to get an analytical solution that avoided insoluble partial differential equations.

So what happened? Apparently some chemists thought I was generating charge, which violates a variety of conservation laws. Of course I was not: I was merely trying to give an easier way of putting a numerical cause to the changes in the electric field that must arise when energy is stored in it. Since my undergraduate training in chemistry had given me no enlightenment to Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory, I should have realized it was wrong to assume everyone else would understand.
So, I hope young chemists might find something helpful from this. If nothing else, try to get someone else to read your paper and tell you what you said. That way, you will know whether it is comprehensible.
Posted by Ian Miller on Feb 17, 2013 10:18 PM Europe/London

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