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Controlling the dinner party

In 1991, the following article appeared:

Feline Reactions to Bearded Men. Journal of Irreproducible Results (1991) 36, no. 3, pp. 16-18

Catherine Maloney, Fairfield University, Fairfield, Connecticut, Sarah J. Lichtblau, University of Illinois, Champaign, Illinois Nadya Karpook, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida Carolyn Chou, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Anthony Arena-DeRosa, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

We don't have to read very far (or do we??) to realise that the article is intended as a joke or spoof, making fun of the conventional scientific paper. But how do we know? The style is very recognisable as academic, the language very familiar - and we have probably all come across research, the point of which wasn't terribly clear.

See what you think about the way the authors reference their sources.

the way the authors reference their sources
A feline subject reacts to a photograph of a man with a full dark semicircular beard.

Cats were exposed to photographs of bearded men. The beards were of various sizes, shapes, and styles. The cats' responses were recorded and analyzed.

Findings of Prior Investigators

Boone (1958) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to clean-shaven men. O'Connor and Brynner (1990) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to shaven heads. Quant (1965) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to bangs [hair curled alongside the cheeks]. Seuss (1955) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to hats. Ciccone (1986) found inconclusive results in studying feline reactions to hairy legs. Other related studies (Smith/Brothers 1972, Conroy 1987, Schwartzenegger 1983) have since been retracted because the investigators were not able to reproduce their results.

Norquist (1988) performed a series of experiments in which cats were exposed to photographs of Robert Bork[1] (not pictured here), a man whose beard is confined largely to the underside of the jaw. After viewing the Bork photograph, 26% of the cats exhibited paralysis of the legs and body, including the neck. An additional 31% of the cats exposed to the Bork photograph showed other types of severe neurological and/or pulmocardial distress and/or exhibited extremely violent behavior. Because of this, we did not include a photograph of this type of bearded man in our study.

There are some clues, including the fact that every study produced inconclusive results except the ones which were withdrawn because they couldn't reproduce the inconclusive results! Also, other than the photograph from the study which is not included (paragraph 2), there is actually no literature about bearded men mentioned at all!

Notice how the first words or starting-point of each sentence is the name of yet another researcher. In fact, each sentence follows an identical structure: read them out loud and you can imagine how a thesis examiner feels, making their way through literature reviews that do this throughout.

More about the Journal of Irreproducible Results: Opens in new window

Compare the 'Feline Responses' text with the following example:

The 'skills' discourse itself has been critiqued from philosophical perspectives (for instance, Taylor, 1990), from the psychological perspective (Scribner & Cole, 1981), as well as from the educational perspective (Barton, 1994; Clanchy & Ballard, 1995). Reading, often described as a 'skill', is a higher order psychological activity according to Vygotsky (1962, 1978), based on lower order skills, but not necessarily divisible into them. A practice such as reading or writing, for Scribner and Cole (1981), consists of technology, knowledge and skills, with 'skills' referring to the application of knowledge in particular settings. It becomes problematic if the skill in question needs to be measured out of context, because writing, for example, 'can only be evaluated in terms of the purposes for which it is intended' (Barton, 1994, p. 167).

Education PhD dissertation, 2005.

Notice how the starting point of each sentence carries conceptual content related to the aims and interests of the thesis. This is what propels the review onward.

There will be times when you do want to emphasise the researcher him or herself see Forms of citation. Often, though, creating your own direction is more important.

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