Science & Technology

The Shortest Scientific Paper Ever Published Literally Contained No Words

As hard as it can be to get through a dense scientific paper filled with academic jargon, it's probably just as hard — if not harder — to write one. Perhaps no one knows that better than clinical psychologist Dennis Upper. We guarantee his 1974 paper will be the easiest one you have ever, and will ever, attempt to read.

I've Got A Blank Space, Baby

In the mid 1970s, Upper tackled the annoyingly persistent plague all creatives know and hate: writer's block. Apparently, scientists struggle with putting pen to paper too. Upper decided to apply the scientific method to the issue of writer's block to see if he could treat it in himself. Unfortunately, that meant combatting writer's block by, well, writing about it. Predictably, it didn't work out.

But hey, for a scientist, no results can be results in themselves. His paper "The unsuccessful self-treatment of a case of 'writer's block'" is completely blank, save for the title, journal, references, and comments by a reviewer. The study was published without revision in distinguished Journal of Applied Behavioural Analysis in 1974. It is officially the shortest scientific paper ever published.

The reviewer's comments, however, are the main attraction of this document. "I have studied this manuscript very carefully with lemon juice and X-rays and have not detected a single flaw in either design or writing style," wrote the anonymous reviewer. "I suggest it be published without revision. Clearly it is the most concise manuscript I have ever seen — yet it contains sufficient detail to allow other investigators to replicate Dr. Upper's failure. In comparison with the other manuscripts I get from you containing all that complicated detail, this one was a pleasure to examine. Surely we can find a place for this paper in the Journal — perhaps on the edge of a blank page."

Short And Sweet

Upper isn't the only abnormally concise scientist on the block. Don't believe us? The entire abstract of a 2011 study is a whole two words: "Probably not."

This 1966 article is the shortest known paper published in a serious math journal, and it's all of two sentences.

How To Read An Academic Paper

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Written by Joanie Faletto October 19, 2017

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