If George R.R. Martin was a scientist


I’ve tried to be as general as possible, but there may be some very minor spoilers in this post for people who aren’t as far through the A Song of Ice and Fire series as I am (I’m about a third of the way through A Feast For Crows). So be careful.

Please feel free to add your own contributions to the list – but please, NO SPECIFIC AND/OR MAJOR SPOILERS!



  • All lab members would bear the sigil of their PI on their lab coats
  • The exact style of each author’s lab coat and gloves would be described in great detail in published manuscripts
  • Any tenured Professor could grant Assistant Professor status to students and postdocs who perform well in gruelling presentations and conferences
  • Plagiarism, data fabrication and other forms of scientific misconduct would be punishable by DEATH, with the sentence to be carried out by the first person to fail to replicate the original findings
  • Your favourite cell lines would be trypsinised just when you thought they were going to start yielding solid data; however, it would be possible to revive some lines from frozen stocks
  • The identity of all clonal lineages would be inferred from empirical observation, rather than via rigorous genetic testing
  • Some scientists who work with model organisms would be able to describe some of their findings from the model’s point of view, giving them an unfair advantage over other labs. This would be especially true of Canadian and Northern European labs, who would gain a further advantage by using transgenic diremice.
  • The shortcomings of the top glamour-mag lab in the sub-field would be described to you in great detail upon joining a new lab, making you hate them with all your heart and hope that someone else manages to scoop them. However, a few months into your project you would start to read some of their papers and learn that they actually have some really nice data, leaving you conflicted as to which lab you would like to see publish in Nature
  • There would be so many gene, protein, organism, method, and cited author names in each manuscript and grant that you would have to constantly refer to an Appendix in order to keep things straight
  • Each successive Aim in grant and fellowship proposals would become gradually more complex, dependent on the successful recall of the previous Aims, and reliant on magical thinking

(N.B. Two or three of the above scenarios may already be in play)


  • Approximately 5% of every manuscript and grant would be in the form of lengthy and (let’s face it) deathly boring verse or song lyrics. Most reviewers would simply skip these parts and move on to the meat of the text instead, but a significant proportion would just give up and go and read something else instead.

This may well be the geekiest thing I’ve ever written, by the way.

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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37 Responses to If George R.R. Martin was a scientist

  1. Love this!! Especially th conflict over which family to root for. Definitely am on side of the Starks at the moment but a storm of swords could sway me.

  2. Bob O'H says:

    Approximately 5% of every manuscript and grant would be in the form of lengthy and (let’s face it) deathly boring verse or song lyrics. Most reviewers would simply skip these parts and move on to the meat of the text instead, but a significant proportion would just give up and go and read something else instead.

    Wait, you mean Extraction of DNA and Genotyping sections aren’t already written in verse?

  3. Mel says:

    Love it!!! Maybe I’ll use my Canadian advantage and start me a colony of diremice. And wait, not everyone can tell what cell line is in a dish by observation alone? Labeling is for suckers!

  4. Laurence Cox says:

    IF J R R Tolkien was a scientist – the evolution of the species of Uruk-hai by hybridisation of orcs and goblin-men under anerobic conditions (1)

    (1) Tolkien described orcs being “bred from the heats and slimes of the earth.” In Peter Jackson’s films Uruk-hai are shown being bred in pits under Isengard.

    Sadly, this paper was rejected by a well-known weekly journal of science beginning with N and as a result Tolkien lost the Chair of Evolutionary Biology at Oxford and was forced to accept the lesser prize of a Chair in English Language and Literature. We may only speculate as to the direction of evolutionary biology had the journal editors been more far-seeing (or had access to a palantir).

    • Laurence Cox says:

      Note to self: use a spill-chucker, the word is (of course) anaerobic. This comes from being a physicist who hasn’t had to write this word for nearly 50 years.

      • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

        My belief is that this research was in fact continued in secret. There’s no other explanation for Stephen Harper.

  5. Ha! I immediately began to think of “If Tolkien were a scientist” scenarios, and then discovered by the end of your post that you (and, as it turns out, Laurence) had beaten me to it.

    My contribution was going to be along the lines of:

    “If Tolkien were a scientist, even simple experiments requiring travel from one end of the lab to the other would require a 17-page protocol to describe them. Video tutorials of these experiments would be produced by Peter Jackson, last for 6 hours, and cost 450 million dollars to produce.”

    Not an original idea in my head, unfortunately.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      I’d probably watch that, while I wait for The Hobbit to FINALLY come out. But it doesn’t sound as compelling as the movie trailer I saw in Nature this week, cunningly disguised as a research paper called “Diverse transitional giant fleas from the Mesozoic era of China”. I’ve heard that Andy Serkis is playing the fleas – can’t wait!

  6. Mike says:

    If Stieg Larsson was a scientist, all his papers’d have a 14 page section in the Methods fully describing each item of office furniture purchased from IKEA.

    No editor would dare touch a word for some inexplicable reason.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Heh – I haven’t actually read the books (I just watched the final Swedish film in the trilogy last weekend – I haven’t seen the Daniel Craig version though), but I’ve heard enough of this kind of thing from other people to put me off wanting to try!

      • Mike says:

        Save yourself the bother, just pick up the IKEA catalogue, then read the instructions to your coffee maker 5 or 6 times.

        I read the first two books, then watched the original 2 films. By the time Mrs F had given up on the 3rd book after a couple of chapters, we decided just to watch the 3rd film to put us out of our misery.

        There’s definitely a great story in there. A really great story. It’s just a shame no-one decided that it would be more obvious if they trimmed things down. Perhaps they were scared of editing it after he died. Never stopped Tolkein’s son though.

  7. chall says:

    Funny enough, this; “There would be so many gene, protein, organism, method, and cited author names in each manuscript and grant that you would have to constantly refer to an Appendix in order to keep things straight” is true for that man Dostojevski too 🙂 (and probably Tolstoj).

    As for my contribution to the GRR Martin thing, I’d add that at least one member of the lab would fail due to an attack from someone else in the same lab since “they had to get out on top and couldn’t consider other ppl”. Not too original maybe but…

    • Ha! I’d thought that about Tolstoy as well – I gave up reading Anna Karenina after one chapter for exactly that reason! 😀

      • Mike says:

        Martin´s version would just be called “War and War” though.

      • chall says:

        😉 I had some issues with the “Crime and Punishment” when the forth “nickname” came up. I’m sure it made perfect sense for the Russianspeaking people (my Russian school mate told me it was very obvious) but to me… ehh… not so much. And especially not when there was so many different people. Too complicated for little me ^^

        • Mike says:

          What? They were nicknames? That explains my continued confusion of who really killed who. Or not. I think. I’m confused…

          • chall says:

            Alexander => Sasha … like that…

            that’s not counting the whole “take the last name, shorten it and then make a little analogy and then boom; you have your nickname!” (granted, that’s how we can do things back home but as I said before, that makes sense in your own langauge… not in others… 😉

  8. …and of course: If George Lucas were a scientist, he’d be censured by his peers for going back and changing his results and re-numbering the pages of his lab book after the fact.

    • Cath@VWXYNot? says:

      Han published first!

      Any manuscript that described the genetic engineering of Jar Jar Binks would result in the offending lab’s animal ethics certificates being suspended for good, one would hope.

  9. bean-mom says:

    Love. this. post. Confirmation that I am not the biggest Martin geek after all =) (although my poor husband thinks so).

    Okay, I’ll bite. If George R. R. Martin were a scientist:

    1. All feeding conditions for cell lines and organisms would be described in exhaustive, loving detail, from the ruby-red color of the DMEM to the amber of the bovine serum to the shade and scent of, well, whatever it is that mice eat (I don’t know, I don’t work with mice or any whole organisms).

    2. Departments would serve much better food at their seminars and journal clubs. Lemon cakes, anyone?

    3. Department Friday happy hour would probably ROCK.

    4. Forget about the department softball team. We would JOUST for glory and grant money!

    5. In the game of grantsmanship, you win or you die. Oh, wait. We already do die, metaphorically speaking (careers ended, labs shuttered. . . ).

    If J.R.R. Tolkien were a scientist or wrote about scientists:

    A puny lab is locked in mortal struggle with fearsome competitors. Instead of waging conventional, “safe” science, the hero PI gambles all on an incredibly risky, nigh suicidal strategy. He chooses a lowly, untested grad student to bear the burden. Against all odds, the grad student’s project succeeds, the competitors are crushed, glory envelops the lab, and a new age in science dawns. But the ending is bittersweet, because the grad student has been so traumatized by his scientific struggles that he can find no peace in the lab, and departs the shores of academic research forever.

  10. bean-mom says:

    And thus would grow an entire industry of “science tourney support staff” =)”

  11. John the Plumber says:

    Bean-mom, do you work with dead < whole organisms. – Speaking of which, wouldn't it be more sumpathetic to use lemmings as the laboratory animal of choice to be < alive. Whilst it might be a misconception that lemmings like to commit suicide, I've yet to find a truly suicidal mouse, – On the subject of mortality, it's disappointing to learn from Mike that Stieg Larsson has died. As a dyslexic myself, I found comfort groaning at his sentences which he wrote with a hardened steel roller ball pen, puchased from the shop next door to Ikea, straight after he had bought his walnut topped desk with the oak legs, on his way to the library. The librarian, a most helpful blonde haired woman, dutifully sought the book he required, explaining that her hobby was knitting and that she always had two hardboiled eggs for breakfast at the Umqvist Cafe on Sodemalstrada. Now I feel guilty about the whole thing.

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