We Jam Econo

In 1985, punk band The Minutemen released an album entitled Project: Mersh, which was a self-conscious, tongue-in-cheek attempt to make a record that was marketable without necessarily bothering to make it any good.

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The Minutemen were to say the least peculiarly idiosyncratic characters and their lyrics and interviews were peppered with their own insider lingo. For example, “jamming econo” referred to their preference to operate cheaply as a band, and their landmark record “Double Nickels on the Dime” was so titled in mockery of Sammy Hagar’s cheesy declaration “I Can’t Drive 55.” As I understand it, they felt Hagar sadly needed to prove he was wild somehow since he was too cowardly and/or lacking in imagination to be wild musically. Having no such hangups, The Minutemen proudly drove “Double Nickels on the Dime.”

“Mersh” was their term for “commercialism” in music: formulaic in approach, superficially alluring and ultimately hollow. In his wonderful book Our Band Could Be Your Life, author Michael Azerrad explains it this way:

“By mimicking the ‘mersh’ form and yet destined to sell few records, they were making a point about music  biz chicanery: Any band could sound like this if they had enough money, but that wouldn’t mean they were any good.”

I’m sure you’re wondering what the point of all this is.

I am inspired to tell this story about The Minutemen because of my increasing impression that there is a convergent formula for a segment of Glam neuroscience that fits well with my understanding of what it means to be mersh. I’m not going to single out examples, but feel free to do so in the comments! To me it is typified by the kind of study that has many authors from multiple labs, with each one contributing one or two panels. Such papers often do this apparently to create the illusion of a “comprehensive” and “mechanistic” “story.” Unfortunately, they also more than occasionally rely on a logical framework wherein putting two observations next to one another means they are related. Yet these papers have appeal and get lots of attention.

In my ongoing mission to port the logic and language of punk rock to science, I propose that these papers henceforth be derided as “mersh.” Neuroscience needs more Minutemen and less Sammy Hagar.

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