A team of scientists has received a 12.6 million dollar grant to format their references correctly. PI Thomas Banders is ‘very excited’ about the news: ‘In this time of budget cuts, this grant really is a fantastic opportunity. It allows us to spend most of our time on what is every scientists’ true passion: abiding by arbitrary formatting restrictions and figure formatting guidelines that mostly made sense when the printing press had just been invented.’
Banders’ team made a breakthrough in 2008 when they were the first team to publish a paper where more time had been spent on formatting the references than on writing the paper. “When we broke that barrier, after four resubmissions to different journals with completely different formatting guidelines, we realized we were onto something big. With this grant we can explore what happens when we collaborate using incompatible versions of Endnote, use a group-wide customized bibtex file on a fragile server, study the relative merits of square versus curly braces, examine the importance of mentioning issue numbers and explore how to best shorten journal titles so as to be both unrecognizable and unintelligible.’
Banders says they will not limit themselves to existing formatting guidelines. “We believe that we can really push the boundaries of reference formatting, and are working on a whole new set of guidelines. We want people to use alternating italic and boldface for odd and even references, cite all methods papers in helvetica neue bold, every prime letter should be highlighted in beige and underline and the reference list should be alphabetized by the fourth letter of the surname of the senior author. Also, the reference list should be submitted separately as a WordPerfect document. We’re convinced this new system will improve the content of the papers tremendously.’
Researchers around the world are happy about the renewed interest in reference formatting. ‘Science history is written around hero figures like Newton, Curie and Einstein, but we shouldn’t forget who they depended on: A large supporting team of scientists who spent 40% of their time formatting their papers according to arbitrary guidelines’.