A worm of doubt has begun to creep in, to worm its wormy way toward the core, the sour apple core, of Tedworth Gribblesby. Toward the heart that beats in service to billions. Not just the heart, though, but also the hands. The hands that curve the curve, that point the point. Again and again, but now with a flutter of uncertainty.
Ted Gribblesby sees that he has an e-mail from the Journal for Unitary Nutritional Kinesthesia — presumably a decision on his latest submission. The very same alimentary research paper that has been featured on that podcast. That Quacking podcast.
Maybe those podcasters knew—somehow—that the paper was under consideration and they veered toward discussing not-yet-published research with the goal of scuttling its chances. Perhaps they even made some valid points about the substance.
It was Episode 177 that served as his initiation, that kicked off the wriggling of the worm, that insinuated itself so slyly into the Gribblesby world-view. It was Episode 177 in which Ted heard the soon-to-be-haunting voices say: “This research is in the Journal for Calorie Control Studies. Right off the bat, it makes me wonder if this could possibly be sound, objective work.”
“So what would you want it to be called instead?”
“The Journal about Calorie Control Studies,” the first voice answered. “Okay, even as I say it, I realize it sounds dumb.”
“Well, let’s try this on for size—the Journal of Calorie Control Studies. Does that strike you as different?” said yet another of the panelists. How many of them were there—three, four, more?
“Yeah. It’s not for the calorie control studies; it is of the calorie control studies.”
“Basically, what you’re saying is that, if we ever seem to be in danger of running out of research papers to roast, then we should look for academic journals that have ‘for’ in the title?”
“We’ve been at this for 177 episodes. I don’t think we’re in danger of running out.”
On the day of the eminent professor’s first inkling about QQG, the day of the near-miss, the day when his foul mood did not yet transform into a fowl mood, on that same day, halfway across the state from cousin Ted, surrounded by an arboreal patch of land, Augusta Gribblesby took out her familial frustration on some unfortunate brass piping. It echoed, it pealed, it drowned out line after line of the podcast she so often listened to while attending to the myriad and sundry tasks of a new entrepreneur. She did not even hear how close to home Episode 177 of Quack, Quack, Goose — so named because it was, in fact, about quackery — was hitting.
No, the only hitting she heard was her own wrench on the equipment of her own distillery. The whole point of the cidery was to provide enough cash flow to keep the old Gribblesby place in the family, and Augusta had the sense that Ted could be helpful if he wanted to—that he made a pretty good living off of other people’s nutritional woes. Instead, he had showed up to toss around accusations. Like the one about Augusta being in the pocket of “Big Beverage.” Whatever that meant. Ted’s branch of the family had always been odd ducks.
She swung the wrench, and let forth another clang.
EPISODE 177 22:05
“Even before we get to the abstract, we see that this paper was submitted on March 16 and accepted for publication on April 7,” Taliette John said to her co-hosts (Quack-hosts?) Jacinta and Rafe.
“Same year?” Jacinta asked.
“Yep, same year. A little bit of math—it was a peer review of 19 days. Seriously, almost three whole weeks.”
“Wow, I mean… wow,” Rafe said.
“Quality like this?” Taliette said. “You can’t expect to be done in only a… fortnight?”
“Did you just say ‘fortnight’?” Rafe asked. “This is not the Journal of Medieval Studies.”
“In that case, though, the peer review could have happened in a fortnight,” Jacinta said.
“Yeah, with the Journal of Medieval Studies, I would have had completely different fortnight-related expectations.”
“Hold on, are we talking about the Journal of Medieval Studies or the Journal for Medieval Studies?” Taliette asked.
“Guys,” Rafe said, “we have seriously spent 15 minutes talking about a preposition.”
Back on campus from his visit to Augusta, Ted’s fuming was, as yet, still of the intra-Gribblesby variety. For Augusta to have taken early retirement and sunk all her assets into a cidery — a hard cidery? Even worse, to be peddling the product under the Gribblesby name? Ted could hardly distance himself from it in any Internet web search. After all his toiling on nutrition scholarship, to have the public messaging muddied in this way? No, he preferred to eat his apples, rather than drink them, thank you very much.
Suddenly, a swerve of a scooter. Some swerving, scooting student. Swerving his scooter and shouting: “Professor G, you got Quacked!”
Ted barely restrained himself from shaking his fist at the young whipper-snapper and ordering him to get off his lawn. Not that it was literally his, but Ted had some claim to the quad, given all his years on campus, serving the greater good with public health research. Instead of capitulating to irritability, however, Professor Gribblesby channeled his kinetic energy into his signature gesture. A curve of the hands, a point to his chest. A billion people—so many to serve, whether they knew or appreciated it or not—funneled to one heart.
EPISODE 177 29:11
“The abstract here mentions that one of the key findings is about retailer efficiency. Now, Dr. Kang, would you turn to something called the Journal for Calorie Control Studies in order to get reliable research about retailer efficiency?”
“Statistical practices are either good or bad, and sound statistical practices ought to be the same, regardless of the topic they’re applied to. So would I say it’s a problem that the finding is about retailer efficiency in the Journal of Calorie Control Studies? Not necessarily.”
“I’m going to call you out right there,” Rafe said. “Diplomacy is all well and good, but I caught you saying Journal of Calorie Control Studies. Maybe that’s to cover the fact that, deep down, you know the statistical practices wouldn’t be solid in this actual Journal for Calorie Control Studies.”
It took an instance or two of non-scooter-borne tidings for Quack, Quack, Goose to seep into Tedworth Gribblesby’s consciousness. The more Ted listened, the more infuriating he found it. Especially their speculation about the reason for supposedly weak statistical standards in peer-reviewed medical and public health journals—attributing it to doctors spending all their time treating illnesses and injuries, learning how to set broken bones and perform -otomies and -ectomies. How patronizing! Not to mention, it spoke not at all to his situation. He was a full-time, university-based researcher. Therefore, ipso facto, his output was not the mere product of moonlighting. What did a bunch of improv comics and bit actors know about scholarly research anyway?
As for the consultants, brought in to try to lend the critiques some sort of legitimacy, Ted found them even more galling. Half of them were clinicians and should be back treating their fair share of patients. Instead, they took the infotainment route, patting themselves on the back that they were contributing to better-informed, more numerate citizens. Helping these supposedly funny people, despite how sophomoric they could be — worse than actual sophomores.
Yet he couldn’t stop dredging up old content, such as Episode 62.
EPISODE 62 5:14
“This week, we welcome a former colleague of Jacinta’s,” Taliette said.
Rafe rescued the stammering guest, who had served as the medical consultant on ICU Confidential—seasons eleven through fifteen. “You were too busy dealing with the show’s medicine to notice her casting? A role of four whole lines?”
“I have a very important question. Does anyone ever mis-hear neurology as urology?” Taliette asked.
“I’m going to admit,” said that week’s guest. “The answer is… all the time. It’s actually the worst part of being a neurologist.”
Rafe said, “A patient comes in, and you’re like, ‘No, pull your pants back on!’ The patient: ‘You’re a doctor. You’ve seen it all.'”
“That doesn’t mean I want to keep seeing it all.”
When noise had drowned out the author information during Episode 177, Augusta mistakenly assumed that she hadn’t missed anything worthwhile. Once she realized the facts about the episode, she went back and savored it. Savored it like a fine hard cider. She even found herself catching up on ICU Confidential—after having originally lost interest after about half a dozen seasons—and other programs with stray appearances by the QQGers. Of course, there was some chance that a riled Ted would be that much more dangerous to Augusta herself, but she chose to hope that he would be distracted.
Or, better yet, chastened. With a worm of doubt prompting a fresh look at the data, tweaks to the modeling, reassessment of conclusions.
However, that was still to come.
EPISODE 178 4:51
“This is a new thing for us—embarking on a series of episodes, all of which will have a particular co-author in common,” Taliette said. “What led us to continue in this vein is our having heard from one of the researchers whose work we talked about last week. You may recall our having had some fun with his name, Tedworth Gribblesby. He reached out to us, which is not that unusual; however, we want to give you, the listeners, a flavor of what made our exchange with him unique. Jacinta, why don’t you read the Gribblesby part?”
“Gotta give it that ICU Confidential touch,” Rafe said.
“There’s another reason why it seems like poetic justice, but we’ll get there in a minute,” Taliette said.
Jacinta cleared her throat and read: “‘I have attempted to search online for your academic or scholarly credentials, but these searches have yielded nothing. I thereby request, for the sake of public transparency, a list of any relevant degrees and publications, your conference track records, etc. My own C.V. is attached. I only hope the size of the file doesn’t cause your computer to crash.'”
“Ooh,” Rafe trilled.
“It went on from there,” Taliette said.
“I’ll say.” Jacinta rattled a thick-sounding stack of paper.
“The interesting part, though, is that he sent it to the pod’s e-mail account but addressed it just to Rafe,” Taliette said. “I wrote the response, and it went like this: ‘Professor Gribblesby, we respectfully disagree with your characterization of our program as peddling uninformed skepticism. For all of our veneer of silliness and laughter, we have a dual mission to educate as well, and we take both aspects very seriously. (The laughter is, in a sense, the spoonful of sugar that makes the educational medicine go down. However, knowing your past research interest, we invoke this metaphor with some trepidation.)'”
“Hashtag #BigSugar,” Rafe said.
Taliette continued, “‘If there are specific analytic matters that you wish for us to explore in more detail, we would be open to furthering that conversation. Please let us know. Kind regards,’ and I signed it with all our names, CCing all of us. His follow-up was addressed to Rafe and… John.”
“Did you turn around and write to him as ‘Gribblesby’?” Jacinta asked.
“Oh, that’s it,” Rafe said. “He didn’t want to pick on girls.”
Jacinta resumed her dramatic reading: “‘I note that you have not responded to my earlier question about academic credentials, which I now reiterate. I also want to bring to your attention the attached list of ongoing litigation against common-sense public health reforms. The litigation will be given assistance, and the reforms more generally undermined, if you continue to raise questions about the validity of the supportive research. Tedworth Gribblesby, Ph.D.'”
“Do you think he’s right about the legal concerns?”
“Hard to say. If only one of us had guested on a certain spinoff—ICU: Malpractice Cases.”
Ted posted the full e-mail correspondence on his blog, fully expecting the comment section to fill with enthusiasm about how he had so thoroughly gotten the better of those podcasters. Only, it was greeted with deafening silence.
Perhaps deafening silence is a necessary condition for worms of doubt to flourish. To worm their wormy ways past the billions of distractions. To approach toward the professorial heart.
EPISODE 179 2:42
“This week we tackle a working paper,” Taliette said. “Where one of the authors is—you guessed it—Tedworth Gribblesby. Maybe our guest can explain to us what a working paper is?”
“Sure, a working paper is a write-up of research that is far enough along that the researchers might post it on their website, present it at conferences and seminars, but it hasn’t yet been accepted for publication by a peer-reviewed journal.”
“So is this a cheat on our part? Will finding roast-worthy aspects of a working paper be like shooting fish in a barrel?” Taliette asked.
“Or more like a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?” Jacinta said.
“Or does it depend on whether the fish and birds are being harvested for food, and the relative nutritional content?” Rafe asked.
Augusta assumed that the noises Ted was making did not bode well for her. Mentioning the legal implications of QQG‘s content showed what was on his mind, and maybe he could make litigation into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Augusta had to find a way to go on the offensive before that could happen. Or at least before she had to again listen to his accusations about her fealty to “Big Cider.”
Of course, not so long ago, it had been “Big Beverage.” Which was it?
EPISODE 180 16:24
“Taliette John here—or, as some of you know me, just ‘John’—with a word from our sponsors. Even those of you listening on the premium service will want to hear this one. Because this week’s episode of QQG is sponsored by… Gribblesby hard cider. Do you find that the problem with apples is that biting into that crisp fruit and chewing it up is just so much effort? Maybe you have dental problems. Who. Knows. Well, get your apple-y goodness the efficient way, from Gribblesby cider. Available in the classic Gribblesby hard cider, and now there’s also Gribblesby non-hard cider. Or as a I like to call it, soft cider. It might sound like applesauce, but an even easier treat for you to share with your grandmamma, just like you did back when she was picking apples in the mini-orchard in the corner of the old family estate, chopping and blending them up for her beloved grandchild. Patting him on the head and calling him ‘Teddy Appleseed.’ Share those memories—isn’t that so sweet? Maybe you could even take a nip of Gribblesby hard cider on the side. Grandma will never know! Gribblesby’s.”
A worm of doubt has begun to creep in, to worm its wormy way toward the core of Tedworth Gribblesby. Toward the heart that beats in service to billions. Not just the heart, though, but also the hands and the eyes. The hands that curve the curve, that point the point, and the eyes that see. Seeing, at this moment, that Ted has an e-mail from the Journal for UNK — presumably a decision on his latest submission.
Ted has begun dabbling in some revisions to the analysis, and the new results are not entirely consistent with the manuscript as submitted. Perhaps it would be best to have an opportunity to revise, either as a condition of publication at this journal or—though it is unprecedented to wish it—prior to submission elsewhere after a rejection here.
He has so thoroughly convinced himself of the likelihood of this outcome that, upon opening the message, he is taken aback to see the words “we are pleased” and “accept for publication.” The paper is on track to appear in next month’s Journal for Unitary Nutritional Kinesthesia. Unless Ted himself scuttles it. Asks for a delay to incorporate the more recent data analysis. Undermines the public policy that depends on timely research. Muddles the messaging about healthy eating choices—undeniably essential to brothers and sisters and, if he’s feeling generous, even to cousins—all throughout the human family.
So many billions of people, so little change of heart.
Mae Ashley is a former Midwesterner, now based in Washington, D.C. Her fiction has appeared in The Charleston Anvil and Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and her earlier work in the types of journals that feature diagrams and Greek symbols.