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Diseased Science
”It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know
what sort of disease a person has.”— attributed to Hippocrates
Arturo Casadevall and Ferric C. Fang

We have recently observed a widespread affliction of scientists known as impact factor mania (1), also referred to
as impactis (2), for which there appears to be no cure. This
has led us to consider whether additional unrecognized
medical conditions may be unique or overrepresented
among scientists.
Ahypothesemia. Characterized by the absence of a hypothesis. Some scientists have hypothesized that this is a
problem (3). See also hypothesosis.
Amnesia Originosa. An inability to recall the actual
origin of an idea that one now regards as one’s own.
Afflicted individuals are able to present other’s ideas as
their own without guilt or attribution to the original
source.
Appendiceal Hypertrophy. A relatively new condition
that fırst became manifest when journals began to allow
supplementary data. Authors suffering from appendiceal
hypertrophy stuff their papers with supplementary data
irrespective of its relevance, perhaps hoping to induce data
overload and reviewer fatigue. Reviewers, in particular
those suffering from experimentitis infınitum (see below),
may aggravate appendiceal hypertrophy by demanding
additional information of uncertain value. Preventive
measures include charging extra fees for supplementary
data analogous to the taxes imposed on tobacco use.
Areproducibilia. The inability to obtain the same experimental result twice (4). This is not necessarily a problem for individuals who publish irreproducible results and
simply move on to leave other scientists to deal with the
problems (5, 6). However, recurrent areproducibilia may
impair scientifıc reputation as subsequent work by the
individual is not considered credible.
Borderline Probability Disorder. Afflicted individuals
may dismiss the potential importance of results with P ⫽
0.06 while unquestioningly accepting the importance of
results with P ⫽ 0.05 (7). See also signifıcosis.
CNS Depression. The feeling after one’s paper has been
rejected by Cell, Nature, and Science (1). The malady generally abates once the paper is published in a lower-tier
journal.
Dogmatitis. 1. Manifested by a courageous adherence
390 •

Microbe—Volume 9, Number 10, 2014

to one’s principles (benign). 2. Manifested by perversely
clinging to disproven ideas (malignant).
Editorial Dysfunction (ED). A condition experienced by
authors in which prolonged periods of unresponsiveness to
one’s submitted manuscript are punctuated by brief intervals
of false hope that fınally terminate in rejection.
Experimentitis Infınitum. A condition exhibited by
reviewers who always demand more experiments irrespective of the amount of data already provided (8, 9).
Also known as status revisicus.
Gelatophobia. The fear of getting scooped. Gelatophobia may lead to the premature emission of a manuscript to
a journal before it is ready.
Gotchalism. A disease of reviewers who think they have
spotted a fatal flaw in experimental design (10).
Honorrhea. An obsession with seeking or receiving
awards. Tends to become chronic. See Nobelitis. There is
no known cure for such individuals can never be satisfıed.
Hyperacute Rejection. A condition in which the rejection email arrives in your inbox before the confırmation of
submission (11).
Hyperpromotosis. The recurrent overestimation of the
importance of one’s own fındings and the zeal exhibited in
broadcasting one’s accomplishments are pathognomonic
signs.
Hypothesosis. Characterized by an inability to recognize that not all research requires a hypothesis (3, 12). See
mechanitis.
Impact Factor Mania. Also known as impactitis (2). A
condition in which the perceived value of scientifıc work is
based on the impact factor of the journal where the work is
published rather than the content of the work itself (1). A
highly contagious and debilitating condition for which
there is no known cure, although effects may be mitigated
by the DORA initiative (13).
Inflammatory Vowel Disease. Characterized by the recurrent excretion of irate letters to the Editor.
Irritable Brain Syndrome (IBS). Common symptoms
are alternating periods of flowing ideas and constipated
thinking. May be complicated by bouts of cerebral flatulence.

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Mechanitis. A condition exhibited by scientists who
misuse the words “descriptive” and “mechanistic” while
failing to recognize that careful description is essential to
science and mechanisms are relative to the vantage point
of the observer. The illness can be mitigated by reading
our essays on these topics (3, 12) several times a day until
symptoms subside. Prognosis is generally good although
relapses may be frequent.
Myiasis. A condition characterized by the repeated and
excessive use of the word “my,” as in my lab, my discovery
and my paper. The malady often coexists with priorititis (see
below). The etymological relationship to a disease involving
parasitic maggots is purely coincidental. Victims of myiasis
fail to recognize that any scientifıc discovery reflects the contributions of many individuals. Myiasis may have serious
long term debilitating effects because it irritates colleagues
and can lead to social isolation. Therapy is most effective if
administered by scientists of higher rank.
Nobelitis. A rare but debilitating condition afflicting
only the scientifıc elite (14). May be manifested by auditory hallucinations involving telephone callers with Swedish accents. Seasonal incidence is frequently observed with
rising anticipation in early Fall followed by prolonged
depression once the prizes are awarded and the afflicted
individual has not been selected.
Obstinatus ani (OA). A condition characterized by
stubbornness out of proportion to the available evidence.
See also dogmatitis. OA has notably affected individuals in
the fıelds of AIDS causation, climatology and vaccine research (15). The diagnosis of OA can be made by asking an
individual to state the evidence required to alter their
stance and observing the (lack of) response. There is no
known cure.
Obfuscous Incommunicado (OI). A condition characterized by the inability of an individual to express themselves clearly. Afflicted individuals speak or write only in
incomprehensible jargon-laden prose. The ennui subtype
is contagious and produces a sleep disorder of audiences.
Potentially treatable through courses and workshops on
scientifıc communication.
Obsessionis Curriculum Vitae (OCV). An unhealthy
preoccupation with the length of one’s resume. Variants
include obsession with citation count and h-index.
PNAS Envy. The sensation experienced when congratulating a colleague on their election to the National Academy of Sciences. Once affected individuals are elected to
the academy, the condition may progress to Nobelitis.
Polyauthoritis. An emerging disease involving manuscripts in which the number of authors exceeds the number of data points.
Priorititis. A condition characterized by a need for an
individual to make the case for his/her priority in a scientifıc discovery (16). Priorititis is frequently associated with

narcissism and may coexist with myiasis and amnesia
originosa. If untreated, priorititis can lead to bitterness
and social isolation.
Pseudohypoegotism. A condition characterized by insincere displays of humility. Afflicted individuals are
known to exhibit recurrent humble-bragging, as in “I’d
like to acknowledge the little people who really did all the
work,” “I am so humbled to receive this prestigious
award,” or “I felt so awkward receiving the prize from the
King of Sweden because surely there are many more deserving scientists out there.” Pseudohypoegotism is a generally benign condition with few consequences for science. However, pseudohypoegotism can be an irritant to
chronically exposed colleagues.
Publicititis. A condition characterized by insatiable
cravings for publicity and media recognition. Individuals
with publicititis may badger institutions and journals to
issue press releases for their work. Some authorities consider publicititis to be a variant of hyperpromotosis.
Retention Defıcit Disorder. The inability to recall anything from the lecture you just heard or the article you just
read.
Signifıcosis. Manifested by a failure to discern between
biological and statistical signifıcance (6). Individuals with
signifıcosis fail to realize that just because something is
unlikely to have occurred by chance doesn’t mean it’s
important (17). See also Borderline Probability Disorder.
Slime Disease. Individuals with this condition are observed to explain any biological phenomenon in terms of
biofılms.
If you recognize any of these symptoms, please see a
(real) doctor immediately. You may be a scientist.
REFERENCES
1. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang FC. 2014. Causes for the persistence of
impact factor mania. MBio 5:e00064 –14.
2. Van Diest, P. J., H. Holzel, D. Burnett, and J. Crocker. 2001. Impactitis:
new cures for an old disease. J. Clin. Pathol. 54:817– 819.
3. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang. 2008. Descriptive science. Infect. Immun.
76:3835–3836.
4. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang. 2010. Reproducible science. Infect. Immun. 78:4972– 4975.
5. Begley, C. G., and L. M. Ellis. 2012. Raise standards for preclinical cancer
research. Nature 483:531–533.
6. Prinz, F., T. Schlange, and K. Asadullah. 2011. Believe it or not: how
much can we rely on published data on potential drug targets? Nature Rev.
Drug Discov. 10:712–713.
7. Olson, C. H. 2014. Statistics in Infection and Immunity revisited. Infect
Immun 82:916 –920.
8. Ploegh, H. 2011. End the wasteful tyrany of reviewer experiments. Nature 472:391.
9. Williams, E. H., P. A. Carpentier, and T. Misteli. 2012. Minimizing the
“re” in review. J. Cell. Biol. 197:345–346.
Microbe—Volume 9, Number 10, 2014

• 391

FORUM

10. Walbot, V. 2009. Are we training pit bulls to review our manuscripts?
J. Biol. 8:24.1–24.3.

14. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang. 2013. Is the Nobel Prize good for
science? FASEB J. 27:4682– 4690.

11. Fang, F. C. 2008. On rejection. Infect. Immun. 76:1802–1803.

15. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang. 2009. Is peer review censorship? Infect.
Immun. 77:1273–1274.

12. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang. 2009. Mechanistic science. Infect. Immun. 77:3517–3519.

16. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang. 2012. Winner takes all. Sci. Am. 307:13.

13. San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment. http://am.ascb
.org/dora/.

17. Casadevall, A., and F. C. Fang. 2009. Important science—it’s all about
the SPIN. Infect. Immun. 77:4177– 4180.

Molecular Genetics
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©2014 American Society for Microbiology Press

392 •

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