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Production rate scaling devious plots

October 22, 2016

A large amount of the scientific literature on cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry uses the term “production rate scaling scheme” to refer to one of a number of computational methods used to calculate how cosmogenic-nuclide production rates vary geographically and over time. Of course, the word “scheme” is intended to have its fairly common scientific meaning of a formal mathematical procedure for carrying out some task, as one would refer to a numerical integration scheme or an implicit solution scheme. As most people are aware, however, that’s not really what’s connoted by “scheme” in the rest of the English language. An article in Physics Today from 2011 called attention to this with the following table:


This list is absolutely right on target. In the admittedly unlikely event that a non-cosmogenic-nuclide geochemist were to read the cosmogenic-nuclide geochemistry literature, they might legitimately be mystified as to why you had to choose one of several dastardly plots, whilst rubbing one’s hands together with an evil cackle, to compute nuclide production rates. I’m probably the worst past offender in this regard, starting with this paper, and I’m not proposing to give up terms like “positive feedback” that are specifically meaningful because they are derived from the presence of positive or negative signs in mathematical descriptions of the phenomenon, but the sad fact is that “scheme” doesn’t have a whole lot of redeeming qualities. It really does sound like a devious plot, and it doesn’t have any special meaning that’s not equally well communicated by simpler words like “method” or “procedure.” We don’t need it, so let’s not use it. Henceforth, I suggest just talking about production rate scaling methods, procedures, or possibly algorithms; of these, I think I prefer “methods.” If anyone has any better ideas, let me know, but “scheme” is now out as far as I’m concerned.


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