2703: Paper Title

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Paper Title
CONFLICT OF INTEREST STATEMENT: The authors hope these results are correct because we all want to be cool people who are good at science.
Title text: CONFLICT OF INTEREST STATEMENT: The authors hope these results are correct because we all want to be cool people who are good at science.


Many if not most scientific research papers present a hypothesis and the result of testing the hypothesis. It is a common misconception that only that kind of research should be considered "science", but it is one of the key elements of the scientific method. Scientific papers should also have titles which describe the content of the papers, which may or may not reflect the full hypothesis in some abbreviated form. See also 2456: Types of Scientific Paper.

Cueball is writing a research paper with a clickbait, puffery and insufficiently descriptive title of "Check out this cool microbe we found." His colleague Megan asks him whether science is supposed to be about formulating a hypothesis and testing it. Cueball agrees, changing the title to "Is our lab really good at finding cool microbes? Some preliminary data." However, that is still an overly promotional and insufficiently descriptive clickbait title, purporting to be a study of the authors' own competence, which would be highly unusual because of the lack of objectivity due to the authors being the subject of investigation. Clickbait is a recurring theme on xkcd, recently considered within science publications in 2001: Clickbait-Corrected p-Value. The title of a research article describing a novel organism will often contain the author(s) proposed Linnaean name for it, which is granted as their prerogative within certain limitations.[1]

Empirical investigations and analysis papers almost always state and test a hypothesis, but there are many kinds of scientific papers which usually do not, including literature reviews, which qualitatively summarize the results of other papers; meta-analyses, which quantitatively summarize the results and quality of other work; observational reports (or case studies — not to be confused with observational studies, a kind of empirical analysis), which present data and a chronicle of its collection often without analysis, testing, or interpretation; conference papers, which present preliminary work without peer review; definition papers, which attempt to formalize terms used in divergent ways in prior work; syntheses, which present alternative views combining multiple and often conflicting concepts; comparative studies, which compare and contrast a class of concepts; interpretive papers, showing a different perspective on previous work; technical reports, which may present information on a specific procedural topic or progress and results, if any, in a field; opinion and editorial essays, which are intended to argue a point of view persuasively; book reviews, which summarize monographs or biographies; and grant proposals, which make the case for funding a project. Mathematical or logic research papers which don't involve empirical observations or uncertainty would be considered technical reports in other fields. Engineering work can be reported as an empirical investigation or a technical report. Empirical research articles which do present and test a hypothesis are usually written in American Psychological Association (APA) style.

Cueball seems to want to author an observational report, but Megan would prefer an empirical investigation or analysis, perhaps because they may be more likely to be accepted by peer reviewed journals, and as such are more prestigious than mere conference papers, "letters" or "communications" as observational reports are often published. However, research articles describing the discovery of new microbes in prestigious peer-reviewed journals are often published as observational reports,[2] so Megan's concerns may be unfounded; even if so, the editors of any reputable journal would almost certainly require a far more descriptive and less overtly promotional title from Cueball. The question remains whether an initial submission with a catchy clickbait title might get more prompt attention from editors and reviewers.

In the title text, a conflict of interest statement says that the authors hope their results are correct because "we all want to be cool people who are good at science." A scientific publication's potential conflict of interest usually refers to the authors' financial, familial, or other external interests in the research outcomes. The disclosure statement does not describe a conflict between the authors' extrinsic motivations and factors influencing the accuracy and neutrality of their work; in fact it claims the opposite, an alignment between their intrinsic motivations and the goal of producing high quality work, which should go without saying.[citation needed]


[Megan is standing behind and looking over the shoulder of Cueball who is sitting in his office chair at his desk typing on the keyboard. A line from the keyboard goes up to text boxes above them, showing a paper title followed by a cursor:]
Paper title:
Check out this cool microbe we found|
[Pan to only showing Megan who has taken a hand up to her chin. Cueball replies from off-panel.]
Megan: Isn’t science supposed to be about formulating a hypothesis and then testing it?
Cueball - off panel: Oh. Yeah, I guess.
[Same setting as in the first panel, but now the title has changed:]
Paper title:
Is our lab really good at finding cool microbes? Some preliminary data|

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Finished transcript added clickbait category and started the explanation on clickbait titles and title text. For sure it needs to be revised, but hope it can be used to build upon. --Kynde (talk) 22:47, 25 November 2022 (UTC)

You know you've been editing too long when the captcha shows you traffic lights within walking distance. 23:39, 25 November 2022 (UTC)

Technically the bacterium in reference [3], Candidatus Thiomargarita magnifica, isn't a microbe. But Frigoriflavimonas asaccharolytica in reference [4] is indisputably cool. 05:05, 26 November 2022 (UTC)

I don’t understand the claim that the title text disclaimer means that their intrinsic motivation aligns with the goal of producing high quality work. High quality work in general, yes, but not in this case? I mean, the study concerns wether they are good at finding cool microbes, while they have an intrinsic motivation to be good at it. Doesn’t this mean that their desire to be good may cause them to overrate their goodness in their study of their own goodness? —While False (museum | talk | contributions | logs | rights | printable version | page information | what links there | related changes | Google search | current time: 12:43) 05:42, 26 November 2022 (UTC)

I wonder if the person who wrote the interpretation was considering Cueball's original title, since that wouldn't motivate them to lie about their abilities, and an accurate description of the "cool microbe" would be executing their desire to be "good at science". But I agree that the joke seems to stem from the updated title, where their abilities are the hypothesis under question. 14:56, 29 November 2022 (UTC)

I'm getting an Alex Trebek vibe here — "I'm sorry, we can't accept that since you did not put it in the form of a question." RAGBRAIvet (talk) 04:35, 27 November 2022 (UTC)

I didn't read the paper title as being clickbait (or puffery) at all, just informal and playful. How is "cool microbe" deceitful or misleading? If anything, most scientists would probably be less likely to read (or even find) a paper with that title, I imagine. Same type of humor as 2456: Types of Scientific Paper 08:06, 29 November 2022 (UTC)