I propose a toast — even at the expense of scientific productivity

beer.jpgAnd now, as the Pythons say, for something completely different.  I realize that this is a bit peripheral to the mainsteam content of this blog but (as another famous person said), “I’m the decider”.

In our profession of science, probably like all others, there is perennial argument about what determines personal productivity, how you should measure it fairly, and so on. Various metrics have been devised, books have been written, probably blogs have been started about this.  People have examined the role of gender, birth order, institution, culture, astrological sign (OK, I made that up), etc. But so far, to my knowledge, nobody has examined scientifically one potentially key factor: beer.

I am happy to say that this frontier has now been demolished, and the juggernaut of science has barrelled through, with the efforts of a Czech evolutionary ecologist by the name of . . . Grim. The study was conducted in — you guessed it — Bohemia.  Dr. Grim surveyed all researchers studying the evolutionary and behavioral ecology of birds (this is his own discipline so presumably he had drained a few glasses himself with many of the subjects and felt comfortable probing into the minutiae of their drinking habits) in the Czech Republic who had published at least one paper in a peer-reviewed journal outside the Czech Republic in the last 20 years.  He then inquired (delicately, one presumes) how many glasses or bottles of beer they drank per week. Finally, he obtained data on year of birth to control for effects of age on drinking frequency.  The whole study was conducted twice, first in May 2002 and then again in 2006, with the same subjects where available.

grim_fig_1.gifThe Grim finding (I’m sorry — that was inexcusable) was that the number of papers published, the total number of citations received, and the average number of citations per paper all declined significantly with quantity of beer consumed (see the graph at left).  These results were consistent across both 2002 and 2006 data sets.  And get this, you Bohemians:

“Generally, inhabitants of Bohemia (western region of the Czech Republic) are known to drink more beer than people from Moravia (eastern region of the country). This difference was confirmed for my sample of researchers: researchers from Bohemia drank significantly more beer per capita per year (median 200.0 litres) than those from Moravia (median 37.5 litres). Therefore I predicted lower measures of publication output for the former in comparison to latter group of researchers . . . Indeed, researchers from Bohemia published fewer papers per year, were less cited per year, and showed lower citation rate per paper per year.” (I have omitted the arcane statistical details)

To my mind, the message here is clear: ditch the beer and drink more wine!

[Original source: Tomáš Grim. 2008. A possible role of social activity to explain differences in publication output among ecologists.  Oikos. doi:10.1111/j.2008.0030-1299.16551.x]

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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7 Responses to I propose a toast — even at the expense of scientific productivity

  1. jebyrnes says:

    On the one hand, this study made me quite glad to be a resident of Sonoma county. On the other, one must question the direction of causation here. Does beer lead to decreased productivity? Or, as one labmate of mine pointed out, do people that publish more simply have less time for beer – and hence, may be less fun.

    Or, is it compensation? As another labmate of mine commented after reading the paper (surely this will be the most read paper in ecology this month) – “A tall cold glass always makes me feel better about lack of academic accomplishment.”

  2. Lars Gamfeldt says:

    Yes, this is a great study! Wish I’d thought of that. Will maybe perform a minor study among friends…

    /Lars

  3. Emmett Duffy says:

    Eric, You are correct. Clearly, there are lots of other confounding factors. There may even be some people at the top end who are highly productive and heavy drinkers. To me, the suprising thing is there is in fact a relationship at all!

    P.S. Are you THE Eric Holm, formerly of DUML and top-secret Naval operations? Perhaps your security clearance does not give you liberty to say . . . Anyway, nice to hear from you.

  4. Eric Holm says:

    Yes.

    Unfortunately, my attempt at ‘amusingly arch’ ended up reading more like ‘pompous.’ I’m still waiting for Mark Camara to supply the punchline, but then, this appears to be a family blog.

    And an interesting family blog Emmett. I’ve poked my nose in a couple of times after first arriving here through ‘The Intersection’ I think.

  5. Emmett Duffy says:

    No worries, Eric — I got your sense fine on the first run. Welcome — I’m proud to have, every now and then, a non-family member drop by!

    Matt, I remain confident that, together, we can build a brave new world where science and beer can forge into the future together in harmony — I’m preparing my presidential platform now!

  6. JasonR says:

    Mentioned this over at Bora’s post, but wanted to include it here too.

    There is a cryptic note on page 349 in my copy of Brusca & Brusca that reads:

    Nematodes are known from virtually every habitat in the seas, freshwater and on land. Some are generalists, but many have very specific habitats. One species is known only only from the felt coasters under beer mugs in a few towns in Eastern Europe.

    Brusca, R. C. & Brusca, G. J. 1990. Invertebrates. Sinauer, Sunderland, Massachusetts

    So perhaps some adept zoologists or ecologists are able to combine their alcohol consumption with their scientific studies. BTW, I couldn’t find a citation for this in B&B, so if anyone knows the source of the anecdote, please let me know.

  7. Emmett Duffy says:

    Excellent contribution, Jason! Speaking of the Bruscas, I remember seeing a year or three ago that Rick Brusca and one or more colleagues published a monograph of some isopod group from the Caribbean, in which every species was named after the characteristic rum of that particular island. I won’t read too much into that but I bet the collecting expeditions were a blast.