Off Topic Friday: Writer’s Block

We have all had the feeling of writer’s block, I am sure, at some time or other; that indolence brought on by procrastination, made worse by the silent condemnation of the blank page. Fortunately, this area seems well-studied, if, in fact, it probably would not help you in your despair. Which is probably what Dennis Upper was feeling when he tried and predictably failed to treat his writing block, thus creating, by the wisdom of Wikipedia, one of the shortest and if I may say so myself – highly amusing – academic articles to be published in a peer reviewed journal (which in scientific speak is equivalent to ‘Hey, people can now start to notice my work!’). Blank page or not, Upper’s work has been cited in numerous publications across the decades, even appearing in a study on a programme for determining RNA secondary structures where the authors state that (my italics): “Since its initial publication, no comprehensive description of the ViennaRNA Package has appeared”, which is basically the kind way of saying ‘the total interest in this programme practically amounts to nothing’ or, in other words, ‘nobody gives a [insert interesting word/phrase which simultaneously conveys intended meaning and sums feelings of satisfaction with linguistic artistry]’.

This whole fracas started by Upper has increasingly led me to think sarcasm may not be the lowest form of wit. The most recent addition being a replication of Upper’s work which was published in the same journal, ‘The Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis’, takes a similar tone of humour mixed with despair. Seriously, whatever Upper did to relieve his writer’s block seems to be pretty ineffectual. Perhaps a review is in order? Or a meta-analysis?

I suppose my summary of this long running joke is that writer’s block produces work which amounts to nothing, and that the only articles that were not hidden behind ‘The Great Paywall of Academia’ also seemed to convey the most information, with the added bonus of an entertainment factor.

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