Tonight I was scrolling through my RSS aggregator (which includes subscriptions for several journals I follow) and this abstract caught my attention. The article's title, as well as the name of the software it describes, includes a subtle reference to this popular internet meme. This gave me a good laugh, and an excuse to watch that ridiculously silly video again.
But on a more serious note, this is not the first time I have seen the use of subtle (or not-so-subtle) humor in the title of a scientific journal article, conference abstract, or poster presentation. Sometimes the humor is even injected into the body of the publication itself. But in general, we as scientists are expected to write in such a way that our findings are easily communicated and easily reproducible. The focus is on clarity, objectivity, and reproducibility.
There are of course no formal rules about the use of humor in scientific literature, but are there any de facto rules? Do these de facto rules depend on the field (computer science vs genetics) or the publisher (Oxford Univ. Press vs BioMed Central) or the journal's impact factor (Nature vs Frontiers in Genetics)? Does humor even have a place in scientific literature, or would we be better off without it?
The brief answer is that, yes, humor has its place, but
- it should never be used at the expense of the integrity of the results;
- even when used, it is often only used sparsely; and
- the author typically is somewhat known in the field. (You rarely find a very young professor publishing something like that.)