Posts Tagged ‘science’

Laugh? I nearly (didn’t) get cited

October 29, 2008

Two Israeli academics have found that the use of humour in the title of a scientific paper can be seriously detrimental to the number of citations received. Since academics increasingly live or die by the number of citations their work receives this news could seriously affect the levels of humour in the science and technology worlds.

Itay Sagi and Eldad Yechiam looked at a range of papers published over a number of years in two leading psychology journals. They had small teams of judges who reviewed paper titles and rated them for amusement levels. The citations of papers were then compared and the team found that the use of an exceptionally amusing title was “associated with a substantiate ‘penalty’ of around 33% of the total number of citations”. This was after other possible variable factors had been eliminated. Their full paper appears in the Journal of Information Science’s October edition.

Reviewing the results, the two academics postulate various reasons for this, including the obvious one that people might think humorous pieces are somehow less professional or worthy than other titles. But they also mention that a humorous title is less likely to include the professional keywords that make searching for an article online or in a database just that bit easier. I thought this was interesting given a piece that was published in yesterday’s Guardian Education about the increasing role of online journals. In this article it was noted that academic papers now have a tendency to have more tedious titles which attempt to cram in as many all-important professional keywords as possible.

Given that this blog hopes to inject the occasional burst of humour into the world of technology, this probably means that my days are numbered.

How many scientists does it take to change a light bulb?

November 29, 2007

A twist on the old joke may now have a more formal answer. I was recently pointed to a paper The Increasing Dominance of Teams in Production of Knowledge, published in Science magazine, which looks at the size of teams involved in the production of new research. The authors, Stefan Wuchty, Benjamin Jones and Brian Uzzi reviewed the authorship of 19 million papers produced over five decades to see if there were any patterns.

What they claim to have found is a move from the lone artisan to larger teams of researchers. This was the case not only in science and engineering, where there are obvious, practical drivers to move towards teamwork (shared use of expensive equipment for example), but also, to a lesser extent, in social sciences, humanities and arts. The lone genius battling against the prevailing consensus is a powerful image in the history of science: think Darwin or Einstein. What these researchers are arguing is that they don’t believe this is the case any longer.

But is this accurate? I have to confess I’m a bit worried about this piece of research, partly because the authors only look at (predominantly US) research papers and patents and don’t take account taken of, say, the impact of funding regimes or the ‘politics’ of producing papers. I suppose what it boils down to is that, for me, if you wanted to investigate the question that the research purports to shed light onto, you’d have to do a lot more than add up the number of contributors to academic papers and show that this number has increased over the years. Still, the Wisdom of Crowds tribe will love it and I dare say we’ll hear a lot more about the paper from that quarter.

And the answer to the joke? According to the statistics given in the paper it’s 3.5.