One of the prerequisites for being an academic is you have to look and sound very academic. Which is why you’ll rarely spot Elvis Presley sideburns or a Frank Zappa style soul patch among research scholars. Forget the nerdy dress sense, even the language has to be unapologetically abstruse. May be that’s why research papers are cold, clinical, and as unreadable as an engineering manual.
The idea behind penning papers like ‘Metagenomic insights into the pathogenome of cellulosimicrobium cellulans’ is the equivalent of sporting a t-shirt that reads, ‘If you didn’t get my PhD dissertation title, then you’re not PhD enough’.
Given the peer pressure to portray oneself as ‘lab-coatish’, it takes a brave heart to strike a discordant note and make science, very unscientific. Thankfully for every boring scholar, there’s a Feynman somewhere trying to break the mould and simplifying things.
Recently, I stumbled upon a stash of dissertations with titles that made me want to read them. On top of the list is ‘Ramanujan’s association with radicals in India’. It almost feels like a historical thriller about mathematicians and Naxalites. On the contrary, it’s an in depth study of Ramanujan’s work in the field of radicals or square root numbers!
Another one that fascinated me was the ‘Alpher-Bethe-Gamow’ paper on the origin of chemical elements. Doesn’t that sound like Alpha, Beta, and Gamma to you? Apparently, Alpher is the author of the thesis. George Gamow, the famed cosmologist was his guide. And they added Hans Bethe, the nuclear physicist’s name, almost whimsically, just to add some punch to the title.
Juan Bicarregui’s ‘Do Not Read This’ is equally compelling. It taps into the child in you and urges you to take a sneak peek without explicitly asking you to do so. Bailey and Borwein were even more brilliant. They put their key finding as the header: 'The 40 billionth binary digit of Pi is 1'. Anyone who reads it will gasp, ‘How could they know that without a computer?’ and will definitely want to explore their algorithm.
Ryter, Morse & Choi got it spot-on when they put out their findings on the similarities between Carbon Monoxide and Nitrous Oxide. They chose to play on Star Trek and worded their work as 'Carbon Monoxide: To boldly go where NO has gone before'. That level of wit can lift the clouds of dullness from any vapid verbiage masquerading as research.