In previous posts I have looked at Greed and Sloth, Gluttony and Wrath and Lust and Envy. My final installment of the Seven Deadly Sins of Publishing ends with Pride. Perhaps my own hubris has blinded me while writing this. Nonetheless I will push ahead.
Pride. “An excessive admiration of self.”
Pride is the root of all sin. For authors overweening pride in a manuscript is often a combination of all the other sins. Pride leads one to think that the manuscript’s importance is self evident. So much so, that its importance may never be written down, but simply asserted by the author. Feeling that the manuscript stands on its own and needs no further explanation is problematic. Readers (and reviewers) are hardly omniscient and should not be expected to read an author’s mind. What an author is doing should be clearly spelled out. But pride can be blinding and this manifests itself in two ways.
First, the manuscript is either not asking or not answering a research question. While the manuscript may have bright and shiny new techniques (see Lust) and fresh data, unless it is linked with a clear, theoretically motivated question, it will make little sense. This will be clear to a reviewer. But pride in the technique or the data can be blinding and cause the author to ignore detailing how the analysis ties in with a research question. A result without a motivating question is an anecdote.
Second, the manuscript does not engage a relevant debate. Again pride in technique may lead the author to ignore the fact that the debate was settled long ago. Often this is due to an author carrying out the analysis, isolating a finding, and then doing a cursory job of finding a literature that might fit the finding. This usually means missing the fact that others have already made important contributions to resolving the question. It is painful to learn from the editor or a reviewer that, while the empirics are competently executed, the question was long ago resolved and that the manuscript has re-invented the wheel.
As with all of the sins, pride can be overcome with humility. Researchers know their own work better than anyone else. Being honest about weaknesses in your work is a crucial part of the process of science. Recognizing, rather than covering up, those weaknesses is important for generating knowledge. Realizing that what you are doing is building science, rather than advancing your career, should provide a healthy dose of humility.
I have learned about these sins both the hard way (my own mistakes) and by reading thousands of manuscripts over the past four years. I don’t pretend to be the ultimate authority on publishing, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. However, if this description of sins to avoid gets you to think more carefully about your work and how you present it, then it should make for better science. It might even help with publication.