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Where that title came from

I could not think of a good title for this post. My first try was “An institutional model for the persistence of false belief, but I don’t think it’s helpful to describe scientific paradigms as ‘true’ or ‘false.’ Also, boo on cheap laughs at the expense of academia,” and later attempts were even worse. At one point I was using this self-referential piece of crap: “This title of this post is terrible, but at least it’s short.” That’s like Paul Auster on a really really bad day, it’s Raymond Smullyan without the cleverness, it’s just horrible.

Every once in awhile, I come up with a good title for a post (as you can see by scanning these and these). And some of my articles have good titles. But typically I struggle. On the positive side, I’m in good company. Updike was a poor titler too. Donald E. Westlake—that’s a guy who knew how to do it. In fact, hey! I’ll pick a title from that list of unused Westlake book titles. “The Trumpets of Lilliput” it is. Really too bad the man couldnt’ve lived another 50 years so he could’ve written all those books for us.

The funny thing is, I have no problems coming up with good lines. And that list doesn’t even include the classic, “Survey weighting is a mess.” Titling, though, that’s another thing entirely, a challenge all its own.


  1. Phil says:

    Some good lines indeed. But I made a glowing globe lamp that hung from its electrical wire and it was great! So I don’t know if I agree with that one.

  2. Andrew comes up with good lines.

  3. Keith O'Rourke says:

    Your lines reminded me that someone recently sent me this

    Guernsey McPearson’s dictionary: Academic researcher. One who, apart from being motivated by tenure, fame, money and professional ambition acts always from the purest of motives and whose work can therefore always be trusted, which is just as well since nobody ever checks it.

    And I then I noticed this one – Uninformative prior. A statistical concept that exists only in the imagination of uninformed Bayesians.

    Now I can add
    46. (on priors) “They don’t have to be weakly informative. They can just be shitty.”

  4. I got a kick out of #2

    2. “People don’t go around introducing you to their ex-wives.” (why model improvement doesn’t
    make it into papers)

    I have had to enumerate the names of all my husbands. LOL JUST KIDDING.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “Every once in awhile, I come up with a good title for a post (as you can see by scanning these and these). And some of my articles have good titles. But typically I struggle”

    I’m still not sure about how, and when, i appreciate clever/interesting/whatever titles of scientific papers, or even scientific writing itself. I think it is important to put the science first, which to me implies things like clarity in writing and being descriptive.

    I dislike reading papers that involve long-winded, fancy, sentences (which is probably why i dislike reading novels). I do however like play on words, or making connections to other (non-scientific) stuff in order to try and make something clear in a different way. However, i think when i like that stuff, it is always an “extra” thing that follows the clarity and descriptive part, and does not stand in the way of them.

    I have not done much writing, or publishing for that matter, but i am still pleased with most of what i have written. Sometimes this involved very “dry”, descriptive titles and main text, and sometimes this involved more “creative” titles, and main text, that only later appeared to me to have different meanings/layers/interpretations that i had not thought of when choosing the title and text.

    I think the general process with both was something that just popped into my mind and felt “right” at the time.

    • Anonymous,

      I don’t see your titles. You are a very clear writer.

      • Anonymous says:

        “I don’t see your titles. You are a very clear writer.”

        I was trying to state something more generally without using my own writing as examples. But here is what i meant with 1) “descriptive” titles/writing, and 2) more “creative” titles/writing where i only later found out several possible alternative interpretations:

        1) “Associations between psychologists’ thinking styles and accuracy on a diagnostic classification task”

        That was a paper based on my thesis back in 2011/2012, and i can still remember one of my co-authors saying he liked the title which i thought was a sarcastic remark. I was used to reading lots of titles that were trying to make a pun, or stating massive conclusions, etc.

        I tried to be careful in avoiding both these things, which is probably what resulted in that “dry” and “descriptive” title. I (still) think it fits nicely though with my experiment upon which the paper was based, and me trying to be very “careful” concerning the conclusions and goal of the paper itself.

        2) “Making the most of tenure in two acts: An additional way to help change incentives in Psychological Science”

        I think i wrote this (very short) “paper” in 2 days. It was born out of frustration, “not giving a f#ck anymore”, and lots of listening to music, drinking coffee, and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes (i haven’t smoked in about 6 months now).

        I used the words “acts”/”act” in the title and headings of the paper itself, to refer to researchers actually “doing something” about the whole mess in psychological science, and to refer to the headings/structure of the paper. I later looked up the word “act” and found other definitions/meanings that i could also (possibly) connect to the paper.

        E.g. see

        1) “Act” in the sense of “be motivated by” possibly fits with the whole “incentive” stuff (which i was also trying to mock in a certain way) in the title, and content of the paper itself.

        2) “Act” in the sense of “fulfill the function of” or “pretend to be” may also be appropriate, because on a certain level, the paper uses “tenure” as a way to talk about other things.

        (Side note: this in itself can also be seen as “making the most of tenure”, next to a different interpretation which is that tenured psychology professors could “make the most” of their tenure by changing the “incentive structure”. In a way then, the title of the paper has 2 meanings/interpretations).

        3) “Act” in the sense of “a main division of a play”. Due to the headings of the paper, and the content below these 2 headings, i think this also is a valid interpretation/connection. In “making the most of tenure: act 1” i quoted Meehl and talked about “negative” stuff, and in “making the most of tenure act 2” i tried to provide new goals/inspiration. In a way it could be seen as representing 2 acts of a play when looking at content, (main) writer, and goal of the text.

        4) “Act” in the philosophy sense of “the principle or power of operation” and “realization, as opposed to potentiality” possibly fits nicely with me citing the philosopher Locke (as a possible counter view to all these possible “incentives” possibly influencing folks). I think it also fits nicely with the actual text, and goal of the paper, with the several mentions of “realization” in it.

        5) “Act” in the sense of a “short performance by one or more entertainers” possibly also fits with the paper. If nothing else, perhaps it was at least entertaining in some way or form to read. At least it was to write :)

        Anyway, these interpretations/connections were not (all) clear to me when writing it. The title, and the text, for the most part just popped into my head, and “felt right”. When concluding it, i said to my mother it might be the best thing i have written. Note that i said “best” not “good”, it’s all relative. But i will, and have, settled for “best”, because that’s all i can do.

  6. Here is a goodie from Andrew

    ’10. “We need all g of these things. Any f of them would not be enough.” (on a lettered list with
    seven items)

    I was thinking that Snoop Dog’s Nuttin But a G thing is good enu-F.

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