I enjoy my job; it doesn’t pay as much as I would like, and I could do with a more regular set of hours, but it pays the bills, I’m good at it, and I get to work in my field, which is more than a lot of graduates of my generation can boast.
And yet: the downside of being paid to edit scientific papers is that you have to edit scientific papers, regardless of how boring, poorly written, or otherwise unreadable they may be. For every paper that I get to edit about using laser-armed robot drones to safely enter malfunctioning nuclear reactors, I have to edit some shit-ass paper about quantifying the degree of scuffing suffered in transit by logos on cardboard boxes*.
But no matter how dull or badly written a paper may be, no matter how limited the scope of its applications, at least I have always been able to take solace from the knowledge that, by working on them, I was advancing legitimate scientific research.
Until last night.
Now, given the sheer number of cranks who regularly spam my inbox with their demented “theories,” it’s remarkable that it has taken nearly a year for one of them to be submitted to me for editing. I suppose your average crank is content to just hammer out an article, stick it up on ViXra, and then mass e-mail a multicoloured, exclamation point-laden wall of text to the physics faculty at every major university in the western world. This gentleman**, evidently, stands out from the crowd in that he cares about the proper use of the English language and is willing to pay good money to polish off his work.
I am contractually obligated to not discuss this paper in detail. However, those of you who are familiar with the genre probably know, in broad terms, exactly what to expect: basically, an attempt to use poorly-remembered first year-level calculus to disprove modern physics. Now imagine that you actually have to read such an article, from beginning to end, whilst earnestly trying to follow its central argument and infer the meaning of its sentences, remarking politely upon its gaps in content.
At first, I regarded it as a challenge; and, for the first half of the paper, I was reasonably amused. Then, the author defined a variable as being the full range of thought that could be imagined by a Human Being, and all of a sudden, I felt profoundly disturbed in a way that I still don’t fully understand. I’m not sure exactly what changed just at that precise moment–I can only describe it as being like one of those dreams that starts off as a little bit weird or silly and then spontaneously turns into a nightmare–but in that instant, I felt like I was staring into an abyss of perfect chaos, and that, more than that, it was somehow looking back up at me.
Anyways, I took a few minutes to calm myself, and then finished up with the rest of the article as quickly as possible. It was a surprisingly freaky experience.
*This being, at the risk of sounding like a particularly embittered broken record, what our beloved Prime Minister calls “innovative research.”
**A practitioner of chiropractic medicine who feels his education qualifies him as a quantum cosmologist.