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This may really be nitpicking... but how would you best phrase this sentence (the context is a scientific paper)?

[parameter] was measured in the presence or absence of [drug name].

or rather

[parameter] was measured in the absence or presence of [drug name].

The first one sounds better to me, but I cannot say why, nor I would say the second is wrong...

EDIT: to better clarify, I have control experiments where the parameter was measured without drug and other experiments where it was measured in its presence.

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I personally feel using "presence or absence" gives it a positive connotation followed by the negative one -

in the manner of saying "plus or minus" or "+/-"

In your example, does it mean that the [parameter] was measured in both presence and absence of [drug name] - i.e. twice?

If not it would depend on which is more relevant for the point you're proving - i.e. does the presence of [drug] matter more than the absence?

It seems to be 2 different opposing results to me, but that could be my lack of pharmaceutical context.


As per your edit, the context has changed.

You actually have two separate tests, so IMHO it should be "was tested in the presence and absence of".

To use "or", the sentence should be re-written as "The presence or absence of [drug] does not affect the test [parameter]"

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Compare also "up and down", "rich and poor". On the other hand "in sickness or in health", so the rule is not universal. – Colin Fine Apr 5 '11 at 8:57
@Colin Fine: "in sickness.." is probably the priest accentuating the negative, giving you a last chance to escape capital punishment while you can. – JoseK Apr 5 '11 at 9:00
You make a good point. I edited my question so that it is (hopefully) more clear. The parameter was measured in both cases (with or without drug) but -for technical reasons- not in the same experiments. – nico Apr 5 '11 at 9:06
@nico: as per your edit, it changes the context. You actually have two separate tests, so IMHO it should be "in presence and absence of", not or – JoseK Apr 5 '11 at 9:15
@Colin, "in sickness and in health" is the more common phrasing, not "in sickness or in health." – Kevin Apr 5 '11 at 14:41

Why not simplify it by using "with and without [drug name]" .. and it should be "presence and absence", not "or", unless you tested randomly.

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I'm not sure about the use of and, although probably with or without would do. See edit to my question, the experiments were separate so it's either with or without drug. – nico Apr 5 '11 at 9:04

Do you mean that [parameter] was measured twice; once in the presence of [drug] and once in the absence of [drug]?

Or do you mean that it was measured without regard to the presence of [drug]?

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