A Quite Interesting Approach to Refereeing

Last night I was struggling to compose a clue for the latest Azed Crossword competition (No. 2065) so I gave up and switched on the TV. I ended up watching an episode of QI, a popular entertainment programme in the form of a panel game, hosted by Lord Stephen of Fry. The title stands, I think, for Quite Interesting, rather than the active principle found in chinese medicine, which is an extremely useful word to know in Scrabble if you have a Q and no U.

Anyway, one of the features of said television programme is that if guests answer a question not only incorrectly but also in a manner that’s predictable, stale or  hackneyed,  in such a way that it matches a pre-prepared list of such responses, then a claxon sounds and a penalty of ten points is applied. If you want to hear the claxon…

Press Here

These forfeits are so frequently applied that it is by no means uncommon for the winner of the quiz to have a net score which is negative.

Anyway, watching this it occurred to me that it suggests a quite interesting way of livening up the business of refereeing  grant applications, especially since in these difficult times a good outcome of an application to renew a  geant might well be minus two PDRAs!

It’s quite easy to come up with a list of tedious clichés that you’re likely to find in a cosmology application, e.g. “We have now entered an era of precision cosmology…”,  “Generic inflationary scenario”, “inspired by string theory”, “assuming a linear bias”, etc etc. From now on I’m going to press the buzzer every time I read such a phrase and subtract the resulting penalty from the score assigned to the proposal.

However, it would be unfair to apply this idea just to cosmology proposals. In order to make it more generally applicable, perhaps my loyal readers might suggest, through the Comments Box,  similarly worn out, trite or banal terms appropriate to their own specialism?



22 Responses to “A Quite Interesting Approach to Refereeing”

  1. I think you are alluding to an inverse form of what is commonly known in business circles as Bullshit Bingo.
    One can also apply the rules of “Just a Minute” to documents and discussions. I’ve suggested this for board meetings in the past, but we couldn’t get Nicholas Parsons to come along. “As the Minute Walz fades away…”

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Ongoing. Tthe world’s worst word.

    • Monica Grady Says:


      • indeed – i found this term in 30/38 grant proposal from 2011. it typically appears only twice (the worst example had it four times). interestingly several of those grants which didn’t contain it were well regarded…

      • telescoper Says:

        With all these leaders, I think the AGP should try to ensure that there is at least one follower.

  3. Albert Zijlstra Says:

    I am sure this only happens in cosmology! And ‘String theory’ seems rarely used in astronomy grant applications these days and may have moved from the cliche to the suicidally brave. Referees looking for a killer killer may allude to it.

    • telescoper Says:

      Not just cosmology. Take, for example, “the heating of the Solar Corona”…or..”possibly a planet in the habitable zone”.

    • telescoper Says:

      I always think of “string-inspired cosmology” as the physics equivalent of nausea-induced vomiting.

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    “This research would fill a much needed gap.”

  5. Bryn Jones Says:

    My old research on galaxies got a mention on QI (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Olf4kSYUi8c ), although only through the Forbes-Kroupa poll.

  6. Monica Grady Says:

    btw – did you get your AZED clue definition completed?

    I have never felt the need to be string theory-inspired, but rest assured, I will attempt to include the phrase in my next world-leading proposal, going forward,


    • telescoper Says:

      Yes, I did compose a clue and posted it off this morning. Not sure it’s any good though. The word was DERMESTIDAE.

  7. One can almost always leave out the word “currently”.

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