Let’s face it. Most scientific articles aren’t funny. They are full of technical jargon, graphs, and tables, and to the average person they are downright boring. And even when scientists try to be funny or cute, the editors in the journals to which they submit their articles often request the removal of any such whimsy. However, a few scientists have achieved the feat of getting some whimsical things published. This is mostly seen in the titles of their articles. Today we are going to see a sampler of titles of some scientific articles that have broken the “boring barrier” in ways that range from the clever and naughty, to the insensitive and scatological. Prepare to be amused, amazed, and shocked by what these scientists got past the editors!
Many witty titles of scientific articles are a play on words:
Fantastic yeasts and where to find them: the hidden diversity of dimorphic fungal pathogens by Caballero and coworkers, published in the journal, Current Opinion in Microbiology, in 2019.
This is a play on words on the titles of a book and a film set in the Harry Potter Universe: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them.
Dam nation: A geographic census of American dams and their large-scale hydrologic impacts by William Graf, published in the journal, Water Resources Research, in 1999.
Dam nation/Damnation, get it?
Nudge-nudge, WNK-WNK (kinases), say no more? by Cao-Pham and coworkers, published in the journal, New Phytologist, in 2018.
WNK kinases are a type of protein involved in signaling processes in cells. The title is a play on words on Monty Python’s “Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink, Say No More” sketch.
Should Y stay or should Y go: The evolution of non-recombining sex chromosomes by Sun and Heitman, published in the journal, Bioessays, in 2012.
The authors discuss the possibility that the Y chromosome (where the genetic information to make a male is located), will degenerate and disappear. The title is a play on words on the song Should I Stay or Should I Go by the band The Clash.
Carbon Monoxide: To Boldly Go Where NO Has Gone Before by Stefan and coworkers, published in the journal, Science Signaling, in 2004.
Nitric oxide (NO) is an important signaling molecule in the body that has been intensely studied. Carbon monoxide (CO) is also a signaling molecule, but it has not been studied as well as “NO”. The authors use a phrase from the epic introduction to the episodes of the Star Trek series to suggest that the research of “CO” should follow in the footsteps of the research of “NO”.
Some titles of scientific articles are just too clever:
Friends with Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership by McConnell and coworkers, published in the journal, Journal of personality and Social Psychology, in 2011.
Lasagna plots: A saucy alternative to spaghetti plots by Swihart and coworkers, published in the journal, Epidemiology, in 2010.
“Spaghetti plots” are a type of graph for visualizing data. The authors suggest that what they call a “Lasagna plot” is a better alternative in some situations.
You Probably Think this Paper’s About You: Narcissists’ Perceptions of their Personality and Reputation by Carlson and coworkers, published in the journal, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in 2012.
Here I should clarify that scientists use the word “paper” to refer to a scientific article.
Can you tell your clunis from your cubitus? A benchmark for functional imaging by Fisher and coworkers, published in the, British Medical Journal, in 2004
This is related to the phrase “Can’t tell your arse from your elbow” (intended to mean someone is stupid or ignorant), but using the Latin names. The authors stimulated the clunis and cubitus of volunteers and then imaged their brains to see if they could discriminate the areas that were activated.
Different strokes for different folks: the rich diversity of animal models of focal cerebral ischemia by Howells and coworkers, published in the journal, Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism, in 2010
“Different strokes for different folks” is a phrase indicating that different things appeal to different people. “Focal cerebral ischemia” is a stroke. The authors state that any of the many different animal models that are used by scientists to study a stroke contain some (but not all) of the variables that are found in human disease strokes.
Some of the scientific article titles are naughty:
Sex with Knockout Models: Behavioral Studies of the Estrogen Receptor Alpha by Rissman and coworkers, published in the journal, Brain Research, in 1999.
This is not about getting intimate with stunningly beautiful people who model apparel. In molecular biology, knockout models are organisms such as mice that have had a particular gene inactivated (knocked out). In this article the authors describe how knocking out the estrogen receptor alpha gene in a lineage of mice affects their sexual behavior.
Neuronal Ca2+: Getting it up and Keeping it up by Richard Miller, published in the journal, Trends in Neurochemical sciences, in 1992.
Ionic calcium (Ca2+) is an important molecule used by neuronal cells for signaling events. The article is about generating the calcium signal (increasing the levels of ionic calcium or “getting it up”) and maintaining it (“keeping it up”), although the title makes you wonder.
Proton-Enhanced Nuclear Induction Spectroscopy. 13C Chemical Shielding Anisotropy in Some Organic Solids by Pines and coworkers, published in the journal, Chemical Physics Letters, in 1972.
If you don’t get what’s naughty about this, I will give you a clue: “acronym”. Yes, they coined the name on purpose to spell that out!
Pillow talk by Dewit and Stern, published in the journal, Journal of Volcanology, in 1978.
Here “pillow” is a lava flow that contains pillow-shaped structures as a result of having occurred underwater.
New soft robots really suck: Vacuum-powered systems empower diverse capabilities by Robertson and Park, published in the journal, Science Robotics, in 2017.
Practice makes perfect: rectal foreign bodies by Mike Paynter, published in the journal, Emergency Nurse, 2008.
In some articles the authors tried to be funny, but what came out was at best “dark humor” or at worse inappropriate or insensitive:
From urethra with shove: Bladder foreign bodies. A case report and review by Nazir and Runyon, published in the journal, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, in 2006
Ouch! The urethra is the duct that connects the bladder to the exterior and which is used for voiding urine. The title is a play on words on the James Bond movie: From Russia with Love.
“Here's egg in your eye”: a prospective study of blunt ocular trauma resulting from thrown eggs by Stewart and coworkers, published in the journal, Emergency Medicine Journal, in 2006
The title is a play of words on the expression “egg on your face”.
A lucky catch: Fishhook injury of the tongue by Eley and Dhariwal, published in the journal, Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock, in 2010.
Children and mini-magnets: an almost fatal attraction by McCormick and coworkers, published in the journal, Emergency Medicine Journal, in 2002.
Ashes to ashes: thermal contact burns in children caused by recreational fires by Cahill and coworkers, published in the journal, Burns, in 2008.
And finally last, and definitely least, we have the scatological humor category. The first three entries belong to the never ending source of juvenile humor involving the study of the seventh planet of our solar system and a very well-known elementary school pun:
Chemical processes in the deep interior of Uranus by Chau and coworkers, published in the journal, Nature Communications, in 2011.
The Dark Side of the Rings of Uranus by Pater and coworkers, published in the journal, Science, in 2007.
Plumbing the depths of Uranus and Neptune by Peter Read, published in the journal, Nature, in 2013.
In this last one, some people would claim that the author tempered his peculiar choice of verb by also including the planet Neptune in the title to maintain “plausible deniability”!
Then we move on to word play:
Fire? They Don't Give a Dung! The Resilience of Dung Beetles to Fire in a Tropical Savanna by Nunes and coworkers, published in the journal, Ecological Entomology, in 2018.
Getting to the Bottom of Anal Evolution by Hejnol and Martín-Durán, published in the journal, Zoologischer Anzeiger - A Journal of Comparative Zoology, in 2015.
In the final entry below, the authors ditched all pretense of subtlety by writing it like it is, and someone let them get away with it!
An In-Depth Analysis of a Piece of Shit: Distribution of Schistosoma mansoni and Hookworm Eggs in Human Stool by Krauth and coworkers, published in the journal, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, in 2012.
And that’s all for now. Do you have any favorite funny scientific titles? Leave a comment and share it here.
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