Tuesday, December 06, 2005


The abstract for a scientific paper is kind of like the elevator pitch for the paper: it should make you want to read the whole paper or, failing that, at least give you an idea of what the paper is about, and the major results contained in the paper. Either way, it's supposed to increase the amount of information you have.

However, sometimes there are abstracts like this:

"We describe the use of the matrix eigenvalue decomposition (EVD) and pseudoinverse projection and a tensor higher-order EVD (HOEVD) in reconstructing the pathways that compose a cellular system from genome-scale nondirectional networks of correlations among the genes of the system. The EVD formulates a genes x genes network as a linear superposition of genes x genes decorrelated and decoupled rank-1 subnetworks, which can be associated with functionally independent pathways. The integrative pseudoinverse projection of a network computed from a "data" signal onto a designated "basis" signal approximates the network as a linear superposition of only the subnetworks that are common to both signals and simulates observation of only the pathways that are manifest in both experiments. We define a comparative HOEVD that formulates a series of networks as linear superpositions of decorrelated rank-1 subnetworks and the rank-2 couplings among these subnetworks, which can be associated with independent pathways and the transitions among them common to all networks in the series or exclusive to a subset of the networks. Boolean functions of the discretized subnetworks and couplings highlight differential, i.e., pathway-dependent, relations among genes. We illustrate the EVD, pseudoinverse projection, and HOEVD of genome-scale networks with analyses of yeast DNA microarray data."

This one achieves almost the opposite effect; it reads like something generated by SCIgen. It's like a finely-crafted mind virus that enters your brain via your optic nerve, scribbles over some perfectly good empty memory cells and fills them with gobbledy-gook. After reading it several times, trying to figure out what it meant, I feel like I actually know less now. It's sort of like Snow Crash, but for scientists.

Things like this shouldn't be called abstracts, they should be called obfuscats.

[Disclaimer: I haven't actually read the paper. For all I know, it might be a masterpiece of clear exposition and cutting-edge science, but with an abstract like that I suspect not many people will ever find out. ]


Blogger Corey said...

Damn you. Laughing out loud in a cube environment is nothing more than evidence that I'm not nearly as productive as I should be.

WTH kind of lead in sentence for an abstract is that anyway? =)

7:48 PM  

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