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Do scientific papers with funny titles have more or less impact with other scientists?

hen scientists publish a paper, they hope that other scientists will read and “cite” it (that is, refer to it in papers they write themselves).

Sometimes, scientists will incorporate a pun or other joke in a paper’s title. We wondered how other scientists might respond to such titles. Perhaps funny titles make scientists dismissive of a paper, thinking it isn’t serious science; or perhaps funny titles draw new readers to a paper, and so the paper has more impact.

Read this open access paper on the FACETS website.

To distinguish these possibilities, we made a list of 2,439 titles of papers in ecology and evolution, published in 2000 and 2001. A panel of 10 “humour scorers” rated each title for humour on a 7-point scale. Separately, we used a citation database to measure how often each paper had been cited by other scientists. We then asked if humour score predicts citation rate.

Our simplest analysis suggested that papers with funny titles were cited slightly less than serious ones. But what if scientists are more willing to give funny titles to their less important papers? We checked, and this seems to be true: scientists cite their own funny-titled papers less than their serious-titled ones.

When we corrected statistically for the paper-importance effect, we found strong evidence that papers with funnier titles are cited more, not less, than papers with serious titles. This suggests that humour recruits readers to scientific papers — and that scientists can use creativity in titling papers without worrying that their work will be condemned to obscurity.

Read the paper — If this title is funny, will you cite me? Citation impacts of humour and other features of article titles in ecology and evolution by Stephen B., Chloe A. Cull, and Easton R. White.



FACETS is a multidisciplinary open access science journal. www.facetsjournal.com

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