Posted by: Jeremy Fox | September 29, 2011

Papers with funny titles are less cited

Continuing with the recent “humor in science” theme, a study of citation rates in psychology concluded that papers with funny titles get fewer citations.

This finding reduces my motivation to try to demonstrate chaotic population dynamics in the amoeba Chaos chaos (yes, that’s a real species, though I believe Pelomyxa is the more proper name for the genus), just so I could title a paper “Chaos in Chaos chaos“. 😉

In seriousness, I haven’t actually read the study, so I don’t know whether/how they controlled for confounding variables. Maybe people who write better papers tend not to choose funny titles, for whatever reason (even though their papers would still be highly-cited if they did).

I will say that I find most jokes in titles to be pretty terrible, but I’m not conscious of ever having avoided reading or citing something because I didn’t like the joke title.

Not that I object to joke titles, as long as the jokes are good. Indeed, I wanted to give Fox (2006) a funny title, but the journal wouldn’t let me, on the grounds that the joke I was making was similar to a joke that had been made in the title of a Nature News & Views article a few years prior. I was miffed at the time, but now I feel better knowing that Fox (2006) might be even less-cited if I had been allowed to use my chosen title. 😉

So, what’s the funniest paper title you’ve ever seen?

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Responses

  1. I saw one recently titled “An enormous amorphous silica deposit in boreal wetlands” or something very like it.

    The thought alone was disturbing.

  2. Two come to mind:

    Warton & Hui, 2011, Ecology: The Arcsine is Asinine: the analysis of proportions in ecology.

    and

    Burbrink & Pyron, 2008, Systematic Biology: The taming of the skew: Estimating proper confidence intervals for divergence dates.

    Seems the statisticians have the edge on witty humor…

  3. Campos-Arceiz, E. 2009. Shit Happens (to be Useful)! Use of Elephant Dung as Habitat by Amphibians – Biotropica 41(4): 406-407

  4. “Shaking a leg and hot to trot: the effects of body size and temperature on running speed in ants” by my boys Allen Hurlbert and Ford Ballantyne.

  5. Apparently there was a joke talk at ESA years ago with a title something like “Arboreal sprint failure in Caribbean anoles”. It was talk about lizards falling out of trees.


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