Tag Archives: citation

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

Barf-and-buff writing, and cherry-picking citations

I’m a big fan of a writing strategy that, in The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, I call “storming the beach” – but that’s sometimes more vividly termed “barf and buff”.  The idea is simple: early in a writing project, don’t stop to make things perfect. Instead, charge ahead with getting something – anything – on the page. Rough, awkward, incomplete – it doesn’t matter, you can fix it later. Did you write some crap? That’s OK: you can fix crap much more easily than you can fix a blank page. So barf out something terrible, and buff it later.

Like most good advice, “barf and buff” has a few dangers lurking in it. Continue reading

Opinion, evidence, and preprints

Perhaps you’ve noticed that scientists, like other humans, can hold very strong opinions about certain things.* Perhaps you’ve also noticed that those opinions are sometimes backed up by voluminous evidence (gravity points down; climate change is real and caused by humans; vaccines are safe and effective) – but that sometimes they are not. Here’s a great example related to preprints.

Preprints are probably the most interesting development in scientific publishing in the last 100 years.** Continue reading

Are “side projects” self-indulgent?

Many scientists (most?) have side projects; but when we talk about them, we often minimize them in an offhand way – as if we’re just slightly embarrassed to have taken them on. It’s considered somehow virtuous to focus with laserlike intensity on your core research, and a little bit sinful to let yourself be distracted by unrelated side projects.

If pursuing side projects isn’t virtuous, it must be because they waste effort that might otherwise go to your core research. And if they’re “wasting” effort, that suggests that time spent on side projects has a lower return than time spent on core research. Pursuing side projects, then, is self-indulgent: something you do even though you know your lifetime contribution to Science would be higher if you could somehow resist the temptation. I think this belief is pretty widespread (my experience at tenure review suggests so); but is it accurate? Continue reading

What’s your most undercited paper?

Back in February, I asked “What’s your most overcited paper?. That left an obvious question hanging: what, instead, is your most undercited paper? I’m going to tell you about mine, and I hope you’ll tell me about yours in the Comments. You may be worried that this will be an exercise in which I whine that nobody appreciates my work, but in fact that’s not what I have in mind. Well, not exactly*. Continue reading

Is there science in scientific writing?

Image credit: “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Chan www.phdcomics.com

As scientists, we spend a remarkably large fraction of our time writing. An obvious question immediately arises: do we apply science to our scientific writing? That is, can we (and do we) apply our scientific ways of thinking to make our scientific writing better? The question, as I say, is obvious; but the answer is not.

There are actually three different things I might mean by “is there science in scientific writing”, corresponding to three different meanings of phrase “scientific writing”. Continue reading

What’s your most overcited paper?

“Publish or perish”, we say, except that it probably isn’t enough just to be published: we want to be, and maybe need to be, highly cited.  Tenure committees, granting agencies, and the like devour citation data, journals compete for citations to boost their impact factors, and we worry about detecting authors who self-cite to manipulate their citation stats.  Now, all this may sound like a lead-in to a post decrying overemphasis on citation counting, but it isn’t.  Actually, I think citation counting is worthwhile – so long as it isn’t fetishized*.  After all, a paper with lots of citations probably made some people think, and with luck had some influence on the progress of science (a nice post on this from Pat Thomson is here).

Our emphasis on citation means that we are (I think) all very aware of the citation performance of our own papers.  It’s easy to track via Web of Science or Google Scholar, and that’s how I made the figure above: citations vs. years post-publication for 65 of my own papers, taken from my Google Scholar profile.  There’s a lot I could do with these data, but for some reason I’ve been thinking about which of my papers is the most overcited.  (I hope it’s clear from the title that I want you to mention your own most overcited paper in the Comments.)

What could I mean by an “overcited” paper?  Continue reading