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Cover Quote: April 1991

“…Jean, earlier on, when you were explaining your insect work, the question of senior authorship, and why you thought it appropriate for a chemistry professor to add her name to a paper, you always said ‘we’.”

“What should I’ve said?’

“What’s wrong with the first person singular?”

“But we”—she caught herself and winced—“never do that in science. We’re taught never to do that in a scientific paper or talk—even in the absence of any coworkers.”

“But who’s that ‘we’? Whom are you addressing? Is it some ideal community of science? Or is it the royal ‘we’ of presidents or politicians or editors? I doubt whether it’s that simple. It seems to me that the nature of that ‘we’ has to depend on the audience. If it’s a lecture, you probably have a spectrum of listeners, ranging from your collaborators—your Celestine Prices—and students to your professional peers. To Celestine, you want to make it plain in front of everybody that you’re acknowledging her contribution. But what about the big wheel up in front, who one day is supposed to nominate you for election to the National Academy of Sciences? The one who’s supposed to know that you’re really the senior author? I bet, with him, the ‘we’ signifies something else. Here. the ‘we’ clearly means: ‘Never mind the mob, you and I know that it was really my idea’—”



- Carl Djerassi
Cantor's Dilemma, 1991
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