(Roughly) Daily

“I don’t think academic writing ever was wonderful”*…

Academic writing is famously abstruse. But, Stefan Washietl, founder of Paperpile, reminds us, it isn’t always so. As Rob Beschizza observes

Stefan Washietl collected the shortest scientific papers. Some are unvarnished mathematical proofs, some are humor to amusing or incisive ends, others are clever-dickery that shoves the conclusion into the abstract. All are wonderful!…

Accessible academia: treat yourself to “The Shortest Papers Ever Published,” from @washietl and @paperpile via @Beschizza in @BoingBoing.

* Stephen Jay Gould

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As we go for the gist, we might send voluminous birthday greetings to Constantine Samuel Rafinesque; he was born on this date in 1783. An autodidact naturalist, traveler, and writer who, in spite of work of variable reliability, substantially expanded knowledge via his extensive travels, collecting, cataloging, and naming huge numbers of plants and some animals. Among these are many new species he is credited with being the first to describe.

Years ahead of¬†Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Rafinesque conceived his own ideas. He thought that species had, even within the timeframe of a century, a continuing tendency for varieties to appear that would diverge in their characteristics to the point of forming new species. Accordingly, he was over-enthusiastic at distinguishing what he called new species.

Rafinesque wrote prolifically, and often self-published. His work varied from brilliant insightfulness to carelessness, and raised the eyebrows– and sometimes the ire– of his scientific contemporaries. Indeed, he so incensed John James Audubon with his belief that Audubon has included unnamed species in his sketches of birds, that Audubon pranked him, feeding him sketches of imaginary fish… which Rafinesque believed and included in his writings, where (for 50 years or so) they remained as part of the scientific record.

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