Two years ago I treated you to the story of how in Alabama, spiders are legally insects. “Hold my beer”, said California, and two weeks ago a California court declared that bees are fish. I know; that’s ridiculous. It turns out, though, that it isn’t ridiculous in the biological way you’re thinking; rather, it’s ridiculous in a scientific-writing way. At least, that’s going to be my take, and I hope you’ll come along. Continue reading
Category Archives: humour
Do funny titles increase or decrease the impact of scientific papers? New preprint!
Is science a laughing matter? That could mean a lot of things, I guess, but one place the question gets raised is around the construction of titles for scientific papers. Is it OK for a title to be funny?
I’ve had a longstanding (but admittedly weird) interest in the issue of humour and beauty in scientific writing. Not much gets written about that (except by me), but one place there’s just a little bit of literature is where humour intersects with the construction of titles. That’s in part because titles are important, and in part because the availability of easily-extracted data connecting titles with citation rates has given birth to something of a cottage industry in trying to associate features of titles with high or low citation fates of the papers in question. For title features suitable for automated scoring, like length, lots of data and analyses are available. But humour isn’t like that. This lack of data doesn’t stop authors of writing guides from advising against humour in titles (not mine, of course, but this one, and this one, and this one, for instance). How good is this advice? Continue reading
No two people see a book the same way (or, Canadians CAN TOO be funny)
No two people ever see a book quite the same way (as many folks noticed during my long, dull #AYearOfBooks post series). If you want a great illustration, consider this:
- Last week I grumbled a little about readers who have found Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’ Spider too “political”
- The very next day Simon Leather posted a review in which he professed particular liking for the more “political” parts
- And just a couple days after that, I came across Michael Ruse’s review for the Quarterly Journal of Biology – and it would seem that he didn’t even notice the “political” parts.
I know, you’re not supposed to read your reviews.* I can’t help it, and there are rewards. Continue reading
The blog post that dooms the universe
Got your attention, did I?
You know what got mine? Noticing, a while ago, the apparently inexorable growth of interest in what I thought was a fairly dull* post, Friends Don’t Let Friends Use “cf.”, first published here in June 2016. That post got a bunch of views when I first posted it, which isn’t unexpected. Then it was largely ignored for a year or so, which isn’t unexpected either. Then something odd happened: exponential growth.
That’s what’s shown in the graph above: month-by-month readership statistics for Friends Don’t Let Friends Use “cf.”. It’s a lovely curve, isn’t it? Let’s ignore the first year (which is dominated by novelty; every post gets a spike when first published). Let’s make a semilog plot of the remainder, because that seems right for a curve like that. And let’s fit a line to that semilog plot, because we’re scientists and we like to do that kind of thing. Continue reading
Court: “Spiders are insects.” Biologists: “Say what?”
Last month, the United States Court of Appeal for the 11th district rejected an appeal on the grounds that spiders are insects. Now, I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but I am a biologist, and I have thoughts. But before we get to those, a quick poll: Continue reading
A tale of two jokes (one published, one not)
Image: Sun Records compilation; photo © Chris Light CC BY-SA 4.0
Most scientific papers (and definitely most of mine) are pretty dull. That is, the results may be important and interesting, but the papers themselves – the text – tend to be dry, colourless, even tedious. That’s partly because we work so hard to remove authorial voice; it’s partly because we favour complex passive-voice constructions laden with jargon and acronyms; and it’s partly because we avoid humour like the plague. At least, most of the time.
I say “most of the time” because everyone can point to an example or two of a paper that includes a joke. Continue reading
Folk taxonomy, the postal service, and mailing live animals
Image: Letterbox © Tim Green CC BY 2.0, via wikimedia.org. Don’t mail a live animal here.
Early in the summer, the legal humour blog Lowering the Bar had a good time with the fact that in the U.S. you can mail live scorpions – under certain amusing but also completely understandable conditions. (One of which is that they aren’t this kind. Another is that they’re being mailed for use in medical research or the manufacture of antivenins. So maybe I should have said that live scorpions can be mailed, because most likely you can’t mail them. This is probably just as well.)
This appealed to my admittedly peculiar sense of humour, so I promptly read the entirety of the U.S. Postal Service regulations on mailing live animals. Then the equivalent Canada Post regulations. Then the U.K. Royal Mail’s*. I’m happy, today, to be able to share the results of my research with you.
Cultural anthropology and biology have an interesting point of contact in what are called “folk taxonomies”. Continue reading
On being nerdsniped by Dynamic Ecology
Photos: Artificial moths from @mothgenerator; thanks to Katie Rose Pipkin for permission to reproduce them here.
Warning: 100% silly.
So, a couple of weeks ago, Jeremy Fox over at Dynamic Ecology nerdsniped me with this link to the Moth Generator twitter account.
If you haven’t seen it, Moth Generator is a clever bot that constructs fictional moths by (somehow) recombining a library of graphic generation rules. For an entomologist and a nerd, like me, this is completely fascinating. If you’re either or both, I recommend that you check it out. Continue reading
The funny papers on my CV
Most of my CV is pretty conventional. It recites my job and educational history, lists my papers and talks, my students and the courses I’ve taught… and I can hear you yawning from here. But my favourite part is comes at the end of my publication list, which has four sections. The first is “Book” (some day it will be “Books”, but so far there’s just The Scientist’s Guide to Writing), then there’s “Refereed papers”, then “Non-refereed works”, and then finally the good part: “And with tongue in cheek”. My tongue-in-cheek section lists two papers, and each is a joke. Continue reading
Searching for squirrels
Photo: Red squirrel, by Drew McLennan via flickr.com, CC BY-NC 2.0
When you have a blog, it’s possible to obsess over the statistics you have access to: chiefly, visitor counts by day, by month, by post, and by country of origin*. But nothing on the stats page is more fun than the list of search terms – terms by which people have navigated the seas of the Internet to wind up anchored (or perhaps more likely, accidentally beached) at Scientist Sees Squirrel. Inspired by similar exercises from Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field**, I present a few of the more interesting search terms by which this blog can be found.
- lesser scientist