An Investigation Into the Causes of Hyperpedantism

Beyond his work in pedantry, Charles Ridley isaresearch associate in Chinese studies at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.

by Charles Price Ridley

It has been known from early times that scholars are frequently afflicted by a syndrome characterized by compulsive attention to minute details, hyperbibliophilia, and insomnia. Early investigators were of the opinion that this disorder was of psychogenic origin and resulted from the arrestation of psychic development at the anal erotic stage. This conclusion has long been felt to be inadequate, and a number of workers, calling attention to such secondary symptoms as the sallow complexion, general emaciation, and muscular atrophy characteristic of the scholar, have hypothesized an endocrine origin. However, initial research along these lines proved inconclusive.

In a unique experiment designed to demonstrate the presence of the postulated “pedantic" hormone, ten research scholars were subjected to textual stimulation.1 The stimulus objects consisted of unfootnoted papers chosen from the subjects’ fields of specialization. Immediately upon presentation of the stimulus objects, the subjects experienced a rapid rise in pulse rate and blood pressure. Each subject was permitted to document his assigned text for a period of one hour, after which blood samples were taken.

Microanalysis of the blood samples indicated the presence of a high concentration of a Pituitrin-like substance. In order to test the exegetogenic properties of this substance, two groups of scholars—an experimental group, and a control group treated with physiological saline — were instructed to write short papers on subjects of their choice. Scholars treated with the Pituitrinlike substance produced twice as many footnotes as did the control group and exhibited a pronounced tendency to footnote their already extensive footnotes. Further chemical analysis confirmed that the substance was closely related to Pituitrin, and it was tentatively designated as “pedantin.”

Several investigators using pedantin tagged with radioactive carbon have reported that high concentrations occur in the pituitary gland, and a recent histological study has pinpointed a small area of the pituitary, the “pars pedantica,” which is made up of glandular tissue and which elaborates pedantin. Additional radiobiological tests have demonstrated that many productive scholars suffer from frank hypertrophy of the pars pedantica, and that the severity of the affliction is in direct proportion to the eminence of the scholar in his field.2

On the basis of the experiments in textual stimulation, some workers have postulated the existence of a cortical pedantic center which, when excited, triggers the elaboration and secretion of pedantin. Extensive histological studies are now in progress, and it is hoped that the precise location of the center and its nervous connections with the pars pedantica can be ascertained in the near future.

Although opinion in the medical profession is divided, the majority of practitioners believe that hormonal therapy is the preferred mode of treatment for chronic hyperpedantism. The profession is in unanimous agreement that excision of the pars pedantica is to be avoided if at all possible, unless the presenting hyperped antisin is accompanied by indications of prepsychotic behavior or other severe and disruptive psychological states.3 On the other hand, it has been suggested that aspiring doctoral candidates be given a regular course of pedantin therapy in order to increase the tediousness, and consequently the scholarly worth, of their seminar papers and doctoral dissertations.4

Thus, present knowledge concerning hyperpedantism is still rather limited. It is our hope that future research will succeed in clarifying the remaining gaps in our understanding of this significant condition.

  1. The scholars participating in this study included specialists in the following disciplines: classical literature,5 educational philosophy,6 experimental psychology,7 comparative education,8 and Chinese history.9 Other scholars included experts in comparative primate proctology, metaphrastic linguistics, psychoentomology, the calculus of nonexistent functions, and tetrachoric factor analysis of Sioux courtship patterns.
  2. The function of the ablative case in Roman poets of the republican period.
  3. Comparative studies on the effects of classroom use of fluorescent and incandescent lighting on badminton scores in elementary school children.
  4. Mastery of Ping Pong ball pushing in mature pigeons as a function of traumatic prepuberal socialization experiences.
  5. The pencil sharpener as a means of cultural stimulation in disadvantaged nations.
  6. Styles of dress among imperial concubines during periods of dynastic decline.
  7. Scholastic eminence is determined by obtaining the “coefficient of productive scholarship.” This is the ratio of total publications produced (Tp) to duration of academic career in years (Cy);
  8. Only one case necessitating radical pedantectomy has come to our attention. The afflicted pedant was referred for medical treatment by the editor of a scholarly journal to which he had submitted a ninety-page treatise consisting of footnotes without an accompanying text. Subsequent to complete excision of the pars pedantica, the pedant ceased publication entirely, and shortly thereafter was forced to retire from university teaching. He has since made a satisfactory adjustment as an encyclopedia salesman.
  9. Preliminary experimentation has been conducted on graduate students dismissed from doctoral programs on the grounds of insufficient elaboration of footnotes. Four such “failures” were treated with pedantin (“Pedantules” — i.e., pedantin hydrochloride time capsules, USP) over a six-month period. Upon readmission to graduate study, they succeeded in maintaining highly satisfactory records. Relapse occurred in one case when medication was discontinued.