According to the study, published in February in Oikos, a highly respected scientific journal, the more beer a scientist drinks, the less likely the scientist is to publish a paper or to have a paper cited by another researcher, a measure of a paper’s quality and importance.The piece doesn't go very far in exploring what's actually going on here:
The results were not, however, a matter of a few scientists having had too many brews to be able to stumble back to the lab. Publication did not simply drop off among the heaviest drinkers. Instead, scientific performance steadily declined with increasing beer consumption across the board, from scientists who primly sip at two or three beers over a year to the sort who average knocking back more than two a day.
More important, as Dr. Grim pointed out, the study documents a correlation between beer drinking and scientific performance without explaining any correlation. That leaves open the possibility that it is not beer drinking that causes poor scientific performance, but just the opposite.Yup, it's leading to the drown-your-sorrows scenario. Now, our library subscription doesn't allow electronic access to the current year's of Oikos (an ecology journal) so I can't read the full piece right now, but here's the ref, in case you're luckier or heading to the library:
Grim, Tomáš. 2008. A possible role of social activity to explain differences in publication output among ecologists. Oikos 117, 3. 321-480.The title already suggests what most readers will have jumped to by now: This could easily be a real correlation, but a very indirect one. The NYT article aims to sell papers, so plays up the basically impossible view that beer drinking causes scientists to be less successful or that the lack of success causes more beer drinking. We have precious little understanding of the broader correlates of beer drinking and of scientific success. "Social activity" is a natural link to look into … more/less time in the lab, for example, likely correlates with both beer consumption and scientific success.
My thirst doesn't begin to compare with Grim's, but his sentiments sound pretty good:
In spite of his study, Dr. Grim, who said he would on occasion enjoy more than 12 beers in a night, is not on a campaign to decrease beer drinking among scientists. Why not? His answer: “I like it.”Mostly, I'm eager to hear what the Beer Drinking Scientists have to say about this.* I hope Grim gets an honorary membership or something.
*Granted, that blog hasn't had a post in almost a year, but surely they'll shake off the cobwebs and respond to this news.