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"It has not escaped our notice..."

In which readers are invited to nominate their favorite one-liner from a scientific paper

7 March 2005

In 1953, the following sentence appeared near the end of a neat little paper by James Watson and Francis Crick proposing the double helical structure of DNA (Nature 171: 737-738 (1953)):

"It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material."

Of course, this bon mot is now wildly famous amongst scientists, probably as much for its coyness and understatement as for the significance of its prediction (which indeed turned out to be true). The model Watson and Crick proposed, an aesthetically pleasing spiral staircase capable of coming apart like a zipper, had all the hallmarks of a blueprint to manufacture further copies, and the two men had undoubtedly realized this as more than a mere afterthought. This was, after all, an idea big enough to galvanize future molecular biologists into making wonderful discoveries about how our living cells tick, how our features are passed on to our children, and how diseases can develop when this process goes awry.

But the scientific literature is littered with examples of notable sentences. Some authors, despairing of the dry and technical style imposed upon them by the scientific establishment, attempt to break the mould and slip in something poetic or humorous when the copyeditors are not looking. Others, obviously feeling that the general standard of dryness has not gone nearly far enough, fill up their pages with a detached passive voice and as many specimens of acronyms and jargon as they can squeeze in. Such sentences, be they sublime or ridiculous, can enliven an otherwise plodding journey through a piece of scientific work. applauds these endeavors and seeks to recognize them here.

The quotes:

"In a way this is not surprising; after all, free radicals are the cost we pay for breathing itself."

- Leroi et al., 2005. Mech Age Dev 126: 421.

"The purpose of this review is therefore to reexamine the terms of a now nearly two billion-year-old agreement."

- Balaban et al., 2005. Cell 120: 483.

"It is highly unlikely that the peacock, upon encountering the peahen of his dreams, demurs to ponder the energetic cost of his outrageous tail."

- Meier et al., 2000. Nature 407: 796.

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