Thursday, October 18, 2012

Amusing titles for papers - the crowning touch?

I'll try for a more content-full blog post in the near future, but I couldn't help noticing that there are a number of papers in my reader this month with amusing titles. Titles are always one of the most difficult parts of writing a paper - how do you capture the important aspects of your paper in a minimum of words, while avoiding the usual traps of colons, question marks, and cliches (not to mention the urge to throw in buzzwords)? For that reason, I always appreciate authors willing to be a little intriguing, whether with metaphors, puns, or clever references.

(As an anecdote, I was in a reading group a week ago where we were discussing a paper about turtle movements. People couldn't stop making Ninja Turtle jokes throughout the meeting (academics are cool like that), and I'll admit I had a moment of jealousy over people who work with charismatic creatures which lend themselves to amusing references in papers and talks. There aren't too many jokes about computer models.)

Some amusing titles in the last month or two:

Taxonomy versus phylogeny: evolutionary history of marsh rabbits without hopping to conclusions

Declining woodland birds in North America: should we blame Bambi?

Dragonflies: climate canaries for river management


Bayesian transmogrification of clade divergence dates: a critique 













A slightly older but still excellent title:

The well-temperatured biologist

Although this study suggests that a clever titles will get cited less, I am at least more likely to read the abstract...

There are lots of classic titles I've overlooked, feel free to add them to the comments.


11 comments:

Nash Turley said...

Yeah, but I also remember seeing an analysis showing that papers with humorous, or at least attempting to be humorous, titles get cited less.

Caroline Tucker said...

Hey Nash - yes, I included a link for that paper, but there are some methodological reasons it might not hold. It focuses on psychology papers and only two journals, and who knows if the results hold across disciplines.
Plus the question of how easily you can rate a title as being amusing or pleasant is always going to be difficult (for example, that paper rated the title "Beware of a half-tailed test" as one of the most amusing titles. Am I missing the joke?).
Who knows - I appreciate clever titles but will probably never attempt one :)

Rachel Germain said...

This has always been my favourite, mostly because it may or may not be intentional:

Borrell 2005: "Long Tongues and Loose Niches: Evolution of Euglossine Bees and Their Nectar Flowers"

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1744-7429.2005.00084.x/full

Angela said...

Having the guts to compete: how intestinal plasticity explains costs of inducible defences (Relyea and Auld. 2004. Ecology Letters 7:869-875)

charismaticsaredangerous said...

i've had more than one extensive discussion with colleagues about creativity in titles... i think it's one of the few places you really get a chance to grab peoples' attention with an eeb paper still [i mean, how many titles do we skim vs. how many papers do we read?], and most people try to do it with buzz words. i prefer the literative way.

my committee tried to nix an extensively alliterative title, but crowdsourcing at esa this summer trumped them. i got >25 people at my friday morning talk and started a new collaboration, based mostly on the title. the associated paper got bounced from the first journal with the dulled title, next submission is back to the original!

Ryan O'Donnell said...

My all-time favorite is "Sex with knockout models: behavioral studies of estrogen receptor alpha" (Brain Res. 1999, 835:80-90). I'm still a little surprised that one got published, actually.

Juliano "Pqno" van Melis said...

I always remember this one: "What's “Up”? A Critical Look at the Basic Terms of Canopy Biology." (Moffett 2000), Biotropica, 32: 569–596. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2000.tb00506.x

Caroline Tucker said...

These are all great! I was thinking that "clever" titles can be really overdone too - for example, the "does size matter?"/"size doesn't matter" trope for titles about traits.

Jeremy Fox said...

Not to burst everyone's bubble, but papers with funny titles are less cited :-(

http://dynamicecology.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/papers-with-funny-titles-are-less-cited/

Jeremy Fox said...

Whoops, my bad, skimmed the post too fast, didn't see that my bubble-bursting factoid had already been noted.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing against good, humorous titles. I've been struggling for a while to produce one of my own. However, it is very hard. Just an example, I have jumped to the article: "Little strokes fell great oaks: .." because I work with oaks. But, to my disappointment, there were no oaks inside, only birch ...