Liam Farrell - Being published is no big thing - or so I'm told

I have a confession to make; I've never had a paper published in a peer-reviewed journal.

There, I've said it, it's a weight off my chest. It might not seem a big deal to you, but when I was a young doc, having a paper published was the medical equivalent of a Porsche; if you hadn't been published you were a nobody. Petty and small-minded, I know, but my inadequacy has haunted me down the years; you can't escape your past. Though maybe it's time to move on; as GK Chesterton said, the past isn't what it used to be (though as William Faulkner said, sometimes it isn't even the past).

My friend Seamus was pigeon-chested, specky and prematurely balding, and was always the last person picked on the football team, even after the fat kid; his halitosis and crumbly fingernails were considered to be his best points. Socially he was kryptonite, and I was only his friend because he was also conveniently obsessive and never missed a lecture and would give me the notes; as Spinoza observed, all human behaviour is self-referential.

Then a miracle occurred; Seamus had a paper published in an Irish medical journal (something about the expectorating habits of sheep causing skin infections in farmers, Ireland was a sadly rural country then and anything involving sheep was taken very seriously).

In a flash his life was transformed and he was launched from mediocrity into the stratosphere. Suddenly he walked taller, stood straighter and a gaggle of awed acolytes would shadow him around the hospital corridors, hanging on his every word. The awed whisper would follow him: 'He's been published, you know.' Attractive women wanted to sleep with him, total strangers would send him over drinks.

Seamus thought he had discovered the elixir of life, but he had drunk too deeply; he was never able again to recreate the experience. The number of peer-reviewed journals began to multiply and the slicker and less scrupulous operators became skilled at adding their names to the increasingly common more-authors-than-cases papers. His crowning achievement turned to dross as what had previously been remarkable became merely pedestrian.

His fall was gradual yet inexorable, all the more tragic because he now knew what he had been missing; as Sir Andrew Aguecheek said: 'I was adored once too.'


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