My colleague and I (second language speakers) got in an argument in understanding the sentence: " however, how this complexity and diversification have been achieved remains rather poorly understood.” in the context of the below Abstract’s report.

In short, the question is: Does this sentence valid till the end of this report? i.e. the complexity problem continued and not solved in this study?

His understanding that this sentence stated in this report as a past context or past story, i.e. the abstract is telling us how our knowledge was? and this study solved and answered how this complexity happens and achieved.

Reference: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1852327/

I know these questions are mostly about understanding English rather than biology!

I appreciate your help.

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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to have this question transferred to English Language and Usage under the tab "technical" if others regard it as off topic here. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jan 25 at 23:26

I regard this is more of a question for SE English Language and Usage under the tag “technical”, and will vote to move it there. However, as the answer relates to reading papers in molecular biology, I provide an answer here.

Linguistic interpretation without context

The tense used in the phrase “X remains poorly understood”, taken in isolation, suggests that this is the situation now. Hence, it is the situation at the end of the study.


Interpretation in context

This is the Introduction section of the paper. In the Introduction to papers reporting experimental biological research, it is usual (and helpful to the reader) to explain the background to the study and why it was undertaken. In this case to explain that the incomplete understanding of the subject justified further studies such as the one to be described.

This is made clear at the end of the Introduction, where one often indicates in a sentence what the work to be described adds to knowledge: “Our results show that flagellum originated very early, before the diversification of contemporary bacterial phyla…”.

So the minimal implication is that as a result of the work described “X is now better understood”. And that is clearly the case here.

This is borne out by the final paragraph of the Results section in which the authors emphasize the contribution to knowledge that their work has made. You don’t get published in PNAS by saying that you have left the field still in the dark!

Why not use a different tense and say that you the problem has been solved?

An alternative would have been to write:

“Before this work was undertaken X was poorly understood”

The reason for not doing this could either be “scientific modesty” (also known as don’t antagonize the referees by appearing arrogant) or acknowledgement that, despite the significance of the work presented, there are still aspects of the problem that are not understood.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your Answer is awesome! Thank you very much $\endgroup$
    – A.Qatar
    Jan 26 at 3:08
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @A.Qatar I am glad that you found it useful. The form on SE is to "accept" an answer if you think it correct and has answered your question. This informs others that the poster thinks the question has been dealt with (so they can prioritize other questions) and rewards the person who answers. However, I think it is best to wait several days before accepting an answer, especially if you cannot be certain it is correct. A better answer may appear, or others may criticize the answer that seems at first ok, either by comments or down votes. So take your time. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Jan 26 at 21:35

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