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posted Aug 21, 2017, 4:49 PM by Vondriska Lab

Pretty early on it was decided there had to be a strict limit on the number of times you could go back and help yourself. And you had to list all of these sojourns clearly on your curriculum vitae, replete with vectorial time stamping, making it clear which degrees were taken first (in the now defunct, but still intuitively useful, unidirectional sense of time). In the not uncommon situation where exams or experiments actually came out worse the second time round, which version was to be considered current had to be stated.

Each reversion, as they became known, had to be logged with departure time/place, recall time/place, time spent re-doing dissertation work (‘time’ is used here in a reference-free context…like how counting to three before jumping off the diving board has no meaningful orientation within the 24 hours of a day, rather only within the context of getting up the nerve to enter the void), official seals verifying lack of contact with and/or attempts to sabotage present day competitors and return time/place, along with newly developed mentors/collaborators for COI purposes.

Year zero for academic time travel was 2017. Some folks were doing it clandestinely for a few months before government spooks caught the geeks based on time pulse signals. It is commonly accepted that several of these initial trips were forward, i.e. into the future-future, ahead of 2017, evinced by the overnight patenting of a bunch of certainly imaginable, but highly technical and as yet infeasible, really cool stuff.

Google crashed when ~10,000 people were simultaneously credited with the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Traveling forward was outlawed soon thereafter, as more senior investigators lamented that trainees would lose focus in the laboratory and just want to look for the answer in the back of the book, as it were.

Like always, the biological and social sciences followed their physical science cousins into the breach. Within a year, traveling back to repeat experiments and improve error bar appearance and lower p values and whatnot was so ubiquitous that reviewers and editors started to ask for this to be declared in the Methods of accepted papers. I was giving a lecture myself on some of our preliminary animal data that autumn and after the perfunctory applause a colleague approached the mic and said, “During your lecture I had my post-doc revert and conduct these studies in humans. Our paper is In Press. Just a heads up.”  Biotech and Pharma—IP in general—were obviously a straight up nightmare. Something had to be done.

NYT page three headline that winter: “Fight Over Credit Intensifies as Third Group this Month Cures Cancer, Heart Disease and Alzheimer’s”

The tragedy of the commons for scientists had become existential: you could go back and discover something for the first time, but you couldn’t prevent others from doing the same. The question then became did you want to spend all your time in continual reversion loops with your competitors accumulating an excellent number of diverse time stamps on your passport but having little time for teaching and service and forget about more pedestrian stuff like mowing the lawn or changing your oil, or do you reserve time travel for personal use and then have to watch the field pass you by?

Thankfully, governments sent some of their best people, plus the journals and some of the larger scientific NGOs, to huddle and produce what became known as The Cabos Consensus. Cabos San Lucas was chosen to host the meeting because of large distance from any of the portals in the then still nascent reversion industry precluded people from going back and redoing the negotiations midstream ad nauseam, which would have been really annoying and counterproductive. It was also ideal because all parties liked deciding the future and the past at once in a location with favorable currency exchange rates and terrific weather, food and beaches. The consensus stated, basically, that the aforementioned official declarations of research-related time travel needed to be made in dossiers, which restored some semblance of normal academic collegiality, yardsticking and professional advancement. Nobody wanted to go back and change that.

[Author’s note: This is a work of fiction in the mold of Nature’s Futures series.]