I read a lot of papers. I also glance at many papers in journal contents pages and Google search results. From time to time I notice a paper that has an interesting title, author list, abstract, or some other notable feature. This post is the first in a series collecting such publication peculiarities. It concerns papers with striking features other than the title, author list, or abstract. The rules of the game are that I prefer examples from mathematics and related areas and that I must be able to provide a link to the article in question.
If you know of other good examples, please add them in the comments box at the end of this post.
The Letter W
Brian Hayes, Why W?, American Scientist 93, 104-108, 2005,
which is about the Lambert W function, has the remarkable feature that every sentence contains at least one instance of the letter “w” (as the author admits in the final section). There does not appear to be a word for the result of this constrained writing, but it is a kind of opposite of a lipogram: a text in which a certain letter is avoided entirely.
A Computer Program
Charles Lindsey was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Manchester and was one of the designers of the language Algol 68. I took a course on programming languages from him when I was a student. His paper
Charles H. Lindsey, ALGOL 68 with fewer tears, Comput. J. 15 (2), 176-188, 1972
is a syntactically valid Algol 68 program. Nowadays we would call this literate programming!
Clifford Truesdell, Solutio Generalis et Accurata Problematum Quamplurimorum de Motu Corporum Elasticorum incomprimibilium in Deformationibus valde Magnis, Arch. Rational Mech. Anal. 11, 106-113, 1962
has been described by Ball and James (in The Scientific Life and Influence of Clifford Ambrose Truesdell III) as “perhaps the only serious scientific paper published in Latin in the 20th century”.
A contender for shortest paper is
L. J. Lander and T. R. Parkin, Counterexample to Euler’s Conjecture on Sums of Like Powers, Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 72, 1079, 1966,
which consists of just two sentences. However, brevity is taken to extremes in the next paper, for which writer’s block led to an empty body:
Dennis Upper, The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of “Writer’s Block”, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 7, 497, 1974.
This experiment has been successfully replicated:
Geoffrey Molloy, The Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of a Case of “Writer’s Block”: A Replication, Perceptual and Motor Skills 57, 566, 1983,
Robert Didden, Jeff Sigafoos, Mark O’Reilly, Giulio Lancioni and Peter Sturmey, A Multisite Cross-Cultural Replication of Upper’s (1974) Unsuccessful Self-Treatment of Writer’s Block, J. Appl. Behav. Anal. 40, 773, 2007.
Order of Authors
Most fields have conventions about the order in which author names appear. The authors of the paper
M. P. Hassell and R. M. May, Aggregation of Predators and Insect Parasites and its Effect on Stability, Journal of Animal Ecology 43, 567-594, 1974
state that “The order of authorship was determined from a twenty-five-game croquet series held at Imperial College Field Station during summer 1973.”
The first word of the first article in the journal Nature was, appropriately, “Nature”:
T. H. Huxley, Nature: Aphorims by Goethe, Nature 1(1), 9-11, 1869.
Occasionally, a paper contains something the authors meant to remove before publication. The originally published version of the paper
Zachary W. Culumber, Christian E. Bautista-Hernández, Scott Monks, Lenin Arias-Rodriguez and Michael Tobler, Variation in Melanism and Female Preference in Proximate but Ecologically Distinct Environments, Ethology 120, 1090-1100, 2014
contained the sentence
Although association preferences documented in our study theoretically could be a consequence of either mating or shoaling preferences in the different female groups investigated (should we cite the crappy Gabor paper here?),
Some time after the paper was published it was updated, with the parenthetical phrase replaced by “(Gabor 1999)”.