A short story about my first article.

In 1958 I started work on my dissertation (it was in the USSR).

At that time my professor was 82 years old.

As I chose to work on problems of using mixtures of natural and man-made fibres for producing fabrics he told me: “I never had anything to do with man-made fibres but I’ll be able to check your work and to help you to write articles.”

I was very lucky to find explanation why in many cases addition of a stronger fiber to a weaker one (such as cotton) resulted in a weaker yarn. Then I developed formulas that allowed to calculate the strength of any yarn from mixtures of different fibres in different proportions. Then I found everything published in the world about experimental results and compared it with results of my calculations.

It was a very pleasant surprise to find that there was close correlation between the theory and real experimental data. The formulas worked.

I happily told my professor about it. He said that I must write an article about everything as soon as possible. He mentioned that the Soviet government wanted to prove to the world that our scientists were the best and that priority of many discoveries (like wireless telegraph) belonged  to Russians.

He added that after he reviews and approves the article he will ask for the meeting of the faculty. I’ll have to make a report and answer questions. After the faculty approves the article it will go to the magazine of all Soviet universities for publishing.

I wrote the article in two days. It took only five printed pages and I considered it very simple and straightforward.

My professor read the article during two hours and wrote down some notes. Then he said: “I did not understand anything. Please rewrite it.”

After I submitted to him the seventh version of the article he said: “Fine! Now everything is clear! I approve your approach to the problem, method of solving it and prove that your formulas ready for use in the industry! Let’s call for the faculty’s meeting.”

Next week I made a report and was ready to answer questions. All of a sudden one member of the faculty said: “There is nothing new here. I read it and much more a month ago in the book published by professor X.” 

I was about to argue that the book and my article were opposites but my old wise professor stopped me and said: “Why don’t we ask professor X  read the article and tell us his opinion during the next faculty meeting?”

In two weeks professor X visited the meeting of our faculty and during an hour criticized my article. He said that the theory was wrong, that all assumptions I made when I created formulas were unacceptable. He also said that he could not understand why there was so close correlation between data of researchers from different countries and results of calculations using my formulas.

All members of the faculty thanked him for taking time to read my article and let them know his opinion. After he left the faculty immediately approved the article.

The article appeared in the magazine in 9 months (after usual censorship). Only three more months passed and our librarian notified me that the article was fully republished  under my name in the West Germany’s magazine for the textile industry.

Later I met researchers from several countries who told me that they were working on the problem but stopped their work after they read my article and independently verified formulas.

There are several conclusions from this story:

1. When you write something or discuss something think about every word and try to make your thoughts understandable to others. Don’t assume anything.

2. When you are doing something in a new field remember that there are no experts in the field. Experts appear when the field is already not new.

3. Old wise people can make fast and very effective decisions.

4. Censorship and bureaucracy are enemies of science.

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