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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 63  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 1--3

Applying the Ockham's razor… or the Hickam's dictum?

Sanjay Behari 
 Department of Neurosurgery, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India

Correspondence Address:
Sanjay Behari
Department of Neurosurgery, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh

How to cite this article:
Behari S. Applying the Ockham's razor… or the Hickam's dictum?.Neurol India 2015;63:1-3

How to cite this URL:
Behari S. Applying the Ockham's razor… or the Hickam's dictum?. Neurol India [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Dec 11 ];63:1-3
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Everything that you wanted to know but were hesitant to ask a neuroscience journal editor

Why do I publish? Is it only for getting the next promotion?

Scientific writing as a means for career progression is an inescapable reality. But is it only for that purpose that one writes? One's inner self longs for expression and realization. To have one's unique idea, inspiration or a lifetime of work validated, appreciated, and finally adopted by peers for the betterment of patients' health is the greatest source of satisfaction. The sublime gratification that one gets on seeing one's work in print and the readership it commands surely overrides any desires for material gains. The validation also serves as an immense inspiration for further endeavors. Even rejection of an article with comments from others in the scientific community is a learning experience that helps in introspection and further self-improvement.

Barks et al., in the book "RUMI Bridge to the soul" wrote, "Great architectural forms like cathedrals and mosques, precarious Himalayan monasteries, standing Stonehenges, inviting amphitheaters, and pyramids all reveal longings in the human soul, the ways it loves to express itself and simply be, under open sky, near a river, against a cliff. It may be naïve to say so, but architectures speak of the joy the soul is here for." [1] Scientific writing, like architecture or any other creative process, perhaps manifests this very "longing in the human soul, the way it loves to express itself and simply be…". [1]

Then why don't I publish?

Gottlieb in the book "Learning from the Heart" stated: "To let go of something one has always believed in requires a leap of faith…trust in something that is unknowable. I think the task for all of us is to have faith in our own resilience. When that happens, we are exposed to many more possibilities." [2] Articles submitted to a neuroscience journal undergo a rigorous review process. To submit one's hard work, and findings to the scrutiny of others with the possibility of modification or even rejection does require a leap of faith; a test of one's own resolve and confidence. When one does make the jump and is successful in the endeavor--it reinforces manifold the confidence in one' s ability to submit his or her original work to a larger readership. This is predominantly because acceptance in a neuroscience journal not only validates one's writing skills but also a unique idea or a concept.

When the benefits are so obvious, then why doesn't one publish? The first is the feeling of inadequacy in not being able to translate succinctly and communicate original thoughts and ideas in written words. More importantly, the fear of being judged often overrides the inherent desire to take a new initiative. As Dan Brown stated in the book "The Da Vinci Code," "Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire." [3]

Why are "patient confidentiality" and "ethics in publishing" important?

Hippocrates stated, "Inside each patient is a doctor who can heal him. There is another side to that. Inside every healer is a wounded patient who needs care. And unless all four of us are present, there's a lie in the room."

Gottlieb elegantly wrote, "In therapy, as in any relationship, we need balance, integrity, and honesty…I sit with my patients knowing that they can contribute to the meaning of my life in a very large way. In return, I offer them companionship and compassion during a rocky time in their lives. I also offer them a heartfelt desire to understand their lives, a commitment to sit with them through whatever comes up in their lives or mine. If my life is about understanding what it means to be human, those people I work with are my trusted teachers." [4]

There are two critical differences between the medical literature and fictional writing. The first difference is that in a medical journal, the characters written about are real people replete with human feelings and sufferings. Exposing the identities of these real people (who form the subjects for scientific writing) for public consumption is the surest way of subjecting them to further misery and personal embarrassment, which surely is not the writer's intention. The second difference is that in fictional writing, the reader may identify with a character, appreciate the writer for his/her writing skills, and then forget all about it without further thought; medical literature, however, stays forever and its conclusions are applicable to generations of real people. Therefore, the real people that feature in the journal's manuscripts need to be extended the courtesy of ethical publishing practices.

Discussing pharmaceutical products or devices without declaring the royalty received constitutes a conflict of interest. Manipulating numbers and results in an article may cause disproportionate emphasis on wrong treatments, thus endangering patients. Reproducing more than 50 words from another article without acknowledging it and copying photographs that have already been published elsewhere without prior written permission constitute plagiarism and a copyright violation, respectively.

All these violations may have a serious consequence on the health management of people who are real, like you and me. A role-reversal between a patient and a doctor may only be a moment away; today's doctor is tomorrow's patient. Need one say more?

How impactful is the impact factor? Why should I quote articles by my colleagues working in the same area and give them unnecessary prominence?

The impact factor of a journal is a ratio: The numerator is the average number of times the articles published in a particular journal in a particular time period were cited and the denominator is the average number of articles published in that journal in the same time period. [5] A higher impact factor determines the relative importance of that journal in a particular field.

For an individual writer, getting published in a journal with a higher impact factor is beneficial as it garners more focus and attention for his or her work. Quoting articles from your own journal, the journal in which you are most likely to publish your work, enhances its impact. This, in turn, increases the readability and the value of your own article. An added benefit of a higher impact factor is that your preferred journal attracts more articles. This gives the editors more freedom to choose more impactful articles that are more likely to be read and cited. This positive feedback further enhances the value of the journal as well as your article published in it.

Scientific work is not conducted in isolation. Acknowledging the work of other groups in one's own country indirectly fortifies the genuineness of one's own scientific work. It improves awareness of readers from across the world regarding not only the scientific pursuits prevalent in a region or country but also authenticates the work in consideration. It proves, based on other publications emanating from the region (and being quoted by you), that your article is based on robust data and findings about diseases prevalent in the area.

What is the editor's role in a neuroscience journal?

Nietzche once said: "What is great in man is that he is a bridge, and not a goal." [1]

The role of the editor is not to judge, it is to be a bridge to promote access between the scientific workers/writers and the readers. The bricks, mortar, and cement of an editor are the numerous reviewers, technical and language experts, layout artists, and publishers who give shape to the bridge and present the writer's work in a form that facilitates a comfortable journey for the reader. The role of each component of the bridge is vital to its existence. The timing of systematically organizing each of its component parts is critical to its strength. An editor who cannot plan his steps, a reviewer who delays or obfuscates, a writer who is adamant about always having his say, and a publisher who is not amenable to changes and suggestions, all have a significant impact on the bridge that is under construction.

Why does this journal contain so many articles that are of NO interest to me as a reader?

The editor should not have an influence on any of the articles being published in a neuroscience journal. After all, scientific writing attempts to portray aspects of the omnipresent and ever existing universal truth in nature. This task is easier said than done. The character of the journal is inexorably linked to the personality of the editor. The reason is not hard to determine. The greatest dilemma that confronts a neuroscience editor while making the final choice between articles is whether to apply the Ockam's razor…or the Hickam's dictum?

Ockam's razor refers to the principle that "simpler hypotheses are generally better than the complex ones." [6] Applying the Ockam's razor to a scientific journal is to prefer and accept straightforward articles as opposed to those dealing with more complex issues and explanations because the former are better testable and falsifiable… and more importantly, readable.

The Hickam's dictum, on the other hand, states that at no stage should a particular complex scientific explanation be excluded solely because it does not appear to fit the principle of scientific parsimony propounded in the concept of Ockam's razor. [7] After all, every original neuroscience discovery is a continuous flow of systematic hypothesis testing and modification. It is often statistically more likely that complex postulations and hypotheses better explain the myriad manifestations of neuroscience that an article attempts to address.

Therein lies the editor's dilemma…to strike an effective balance between the simple straightforward articles (that the majority of readers identify with) and those addressing basic and seminal neuroscience questions (but with a limited readership) that are more difficult to understand. What a reader imbibes and assimilates is a reflection of one's own thoughts, personality, and background. Thus, a triumvirate conflict exists between the choice of majority of readers (with the position: What is the point in reading a scientific journal if one does not understand its head or tail!); the choice of those working on the frontiers of neuroscience or hereto relatively unknown areas (with the position: What is the point in reading a journal wherein no article reflects original and basic scientific work); and the influence of the reader's background in imbibing what is presented. The editor walks a tightrope trying to strike a balance among the three. This, of course, leads to the inevitable question: Why on earth has the editor of this neuroscience journal included so many articles that are of NO interest to me?

What is the point in having a new editor from the next generation if he does not introduce radical changes in the journal? Shouldn't the "staid maid" be transformed into a "beauty queen"?

Every tall edifice is built on the rock-solid foundation created by one's predecessors. A journal is based exactly on the same principles. The outstanding work and policies of the previous editors that provided balance and respect for the journal should be the basis for further improvement. The insights gained over years of experience should never be disregarded or overlooked. Nevertheless, change is the only constant in the universe. Several new features have been introduced in the journal. Some of these are:

A new cover page: This includes creative as well as scientific photographs from neuroscience writersThe first impression: The moods and feelings of the photographer while taking the creative photograph on the cover page; the relevant geographical facts; as well as the camera specifications will be highlightedTimeless reverberations: We look up to the thoughts of our senior teachers for inspiration and guidance. In every issue, the thoughts and philosophy crystallized from years of experience of revered and distinguished leaders in the field of neuroscience will be presentedCitadels sculpting future: The features of departments of various disciplines of neuroscience in the country will be showcasedThe quest: A basic topic, especially focused on residents, will be coveredPathological panorama: The pathology and immunohistochemistry of a clinical entity will be discussedCENTS: Concepts, Ergonomics, Nuances, Therbligs, and Shortcomings: A technical article that illustrates the methodology, indications, merits, and shortcomings of a procedure will be includedThe fourth dimension: A short summary of seminal publications in neuroscience from premier scientific journals published in the months immediately preceding the date of publication of the current issue will be presented.

According to the law of thermodynamics, any closed system breaks into a state of entropy unless energy is supplied to sustain it. This is your journal. It has seen more than 50 years of existence and is growing from strength to strength. Its unique character and greatest virtue lie in being one of the very few journals that focuses on the interdisciplinary aspects of clinical neuroscience. It needs your vital energy for its sustenance and progress!


1Coleman B, Arberry AJ, Ergin N. Bridge, poem, awareness moving through. In: RUMI Bridge to the soul. Journeys into the music and silence of the heart. New York: Harper Collins; 2007. p. 1-8.
2Gottlieb D. But I keep holding on. In: Learning from the Heart. New York: Sterling publications; 2008. p. 22.
3Brown D. The Da Vinci Code. New York: Knopf Doomsday Publishers 2009. p. 349.
4Gottlieb D. We, the wounded. In: Learning from the Heart. New York: Sterling publications; 2008. p. 137-8.
5Available from [Last accessed on 2015 Feb 12].
6Available from [Last accessed on 2015 Feb 12].
7Available from [Last accessed on 2015 Feb 12].