Saturday, 15 November 2014

Worst scientific article title of the year?

It used to be an unwritten rule that the title of a scientific paper should inform the reader what the work described and the species or group of animals from which data had been obtained. For some journals, the editorial policy was to insist on the latter. But in these smart-arse title days, I am left wondering what a paper is about. Looking through the contents of Proceedings of the Royal Society B, as I do with each issue, I often find the title actually obscures rather than informs the reader of the content. But this one really takes the biscuit: Parental risk management in relation to offspring defence: bad news for kids. No, it is not about young goats; it is not even about young children. It is about a study of nest defence behaviour in Blue Tits.

I presume the authors, judging by the last sentence of their abstract, are trying to draw attention to possible extrapolation of their findings to ‘living beings, including humans’  but for that claim to form the title through a slang word for human children is a travesty. The work is about the behavioural strategies employed by Blue Tits against threats by predators to them and their offspring. So why not say so? It makes the work no less and no more important.