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Harsh Remarks

Sticks and stones might break your bones, but words could kill a scientific career? That's what University of California, Davis' Paul Knoepfler says, discussing scientists' insults toward one another at his blog. These disparaging comments, which range from snarky to downright conniving, "are sometimes brutal or fatal career-wise," Knoepfler says. "Inserting one or more of these into a grant critique or tenure review could be lethal, so use with caution."

Among the worst offenders, he says, are statements asserting that a scientist's research program is not very productive. "If you are only putting out a trickle of papers, other scientists will slap you for it," Knoepfler says. Further still, saying that a scientist "mostly publishes in specialized journals" or "mostly middle-author publications" is clearly derisive.

Another zinger, Knoepfler says, is pointing out that a scientist's former trainees are not landing academic research positions of their own. This particular insult, he says, it "brutal," implying that "as a mentor, you suck. You're attracting and/or guiding your trainees to be patent lawyers, glorified technicians, industry pawns, teachers, or worse, anything but independent PIs running their own labs."

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