Academic paper titles have a tendency to be a bit staid, cautious and flat. Admittedly, this is a pattern I haven’t yet broken out of myself. Perhaps it’s because many non-English speakers are forced to publish in English (as English is the lingua franca of science). Or perhaps it is just prudent: since other researchers will often only cast a cursory glance over paper titles to decide which papers to read, or which sessions to attend at a conference, it generally pays to write clear titles.

In any case, I’ve been on the lookout for some creatively-named papers. Because they are rare, papers with clever and/or funny titles stand out easily among the deluge of stuffier titles. Here are some of my favourites:

  1. “Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events” By Daniel J. Simons and Christopher Chabris
    In Perception, 1999 volume 28(9) pages 1059–1074.

    Presented the results of the classic experiment in perception and selective attention involving people passing a basketball around (which you may have seen used for a road safety awareness ad). The title is a play on Gorillas in the Mist.

  2. “A Very Modal Model of a Modern, Major, General Type System” By Andrew W. Appel, Paul-Andre Mellies, Christopher D. Richards, and Jerome Vouillon. In POPL 2007, pages 109–122.

    (Say three times fast.) This title is based on a similarly tongue-twisting song from the musical The Pirates of Penzance.

  3. “Secret Ninja Formal Methods” By Joe Kiniry and Dan Zimmerman. In Formal Methods 2008, pages 214–228.

    Joe and Dan report on their experience with trying to make formal methods invisible to students while they learn good programming practices. Extra marks for giving their presentation in full ninja getup.

  4. “The television will be revolutionized: effects of PVRs and filesharing on television watching.” By Barry Brown and Louise Barkhuus. In Proceedings of CHI ’06, pp. 663–666.

    A reversal of the title of Gil Scott-Heron’s poem, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

  5. “HT06, Tagging Paper, Taxonomy, Flickr, Academic Article, ToRead.” By Cameron Marlow, Mor Naaman, danah boyd and Marc Davis.
    In HYPERTEXT ’06, pages 31–40).

    The writers themselves suggest this might be the “least memorable title in ACM history”, but I disagree — this immediately jumped out at me as a sly nod to how people use tags.

I might never reach you
Only want to teach you