Monday, August 17, 2009

A Mathematical Model for Surviving a Zombie Attack

My brother sent me the link to a synopsis of this article the other day:  you can read about it at Wired Science here.  If you actually click to the PDF link it gets into some pretty advanced math that easily stumps the layman, I took my brother's word on this and didn't try it out for myself.  But it started a conversation between us that got me thinking about scientific articles in general.  

So many of the titles are dry as a bone - full of transgenic this and signaling pathway that; rather than draw the reader in with anticipation and excitement, most of them are a deterrent.  For example:

Aberrations of 6q13 Mapped to the COL12A1 locus in Chondromyxoid Fibroma,

a recent Modern Pathology article by Julia Bridge.  Not that I am knocking this molecular genius, and in her defense, most scientific journals demand rigor and sparsity, in all writing.  Here's another example:

Src homology 2 domain-containing inositol-5-phosphatase and CCAAT enhancer-binding protein {beta} are targeted by miR-155 in B cells of E{micro}-miR-155 transgenic mice,

a recent article by S. Costinean et. al. in Blood.  This title reminds me of my molecular research days, when researching for a project was like wading through a massive pile of alphabet soup.  KRAS, BRAF, EGF-R, Jak-Stat, etc. etc.  The title above hardly excites you that these people may be really getting to the bottom of the molecular transformations that lead to acute lymphoblastic leukemia/high grade lymphoma.  You have to wade around in the muck of the article for a while before discovering the actual purpose.  A title should draw the reader in, not induce a brain freeze/eye glaze that makes them want to immediately skip to the next abstract.  But as I said earlier, this is the precedent to follow.  

Not all science gets it wrong.  Take this title in the recent issue of Blood:  Double Jeopardy 

by R.H. Aster.  It is a fascinating little tale about a platelet function inhibitor that, while trying to reduce the risk of heart attacks, actually can cause a life-threatening thrombocytopenia.  In other words, it can go overboard, making the platelet numbers sink so low that there is a risk of bleeding, where it was given initially to prevent clotting.  Incidentally, the inhibitor drug is derived from a protein in the venom of a pygmy southeastern rattlesnake.  I imagine a victim of this snakebite would hemorrhage to death.

Here's another catchy title:  SOS:  Too many irons in the fire!

by M. De Lima.  Another reader attracting title that describes a hypothetical link between pre-stem cell transplant elevated iron levels and post-transplant complication of hepatic sinusoidal obstruction syndrome, or veno-occlusive disease.  Now your eyes are glazing over, but I'm sure in the reader can draw parallels in his or her respective area of expertise.

So my Ph.D.-bound brother is writing articles for the field of food science, and trying to think of catchy titles.  Kudos to him!  It is time to set a new precedent for writing scientific articles.  I'll read it.  Especially if it has the word "zombies" in the title.  


John Hornor said...

From the title, I thought this blog entry would have more about zombies in it. Pretty much my favorite subject.

But then it got all serious and stuff.

False advertising. The layman requires zombie paydirt.

Gizabeth Shyder said...

Sorry to disappoint.

You're the zombie writer, not me.