In my continuing quest to make the world safe for scientific papers which use humor, and even satire, to make a point, here are three more examples, all from the medical literature.
It’s actually surprisingly easy to write an apparently objective but actually misleading review paper. As illustrated by this recent review of the evidence that cigarette smoking can improve performance in endurance events!
It’s not hard to find apparently objective or rational reasons to pursue a policy or course of action which you’ve already decided to pursue on non-objective or irrational grounds. As illustrated by this article on how leaving your bed unmade is actually good for your health!
Evidence-based medicine insists that medical treatment decisions should ideally be based on data from randomized, controlled, double-blind trials, and certainly should not be based purely on observational or anecdotal data. Which, as this article points out, means that there’s no evidence-based justification for the use of parachutes to prevent death by falling out of an airplane!
While it’s certainly possible for humor, satire, or any other rhetoric to be misunderstood, that’s true of any feature of a scientific paper. Statistics, graphs, and technical terms can be misunderstood too, but that’s not a reason to never include them in scientific papers. Humor and satire can be a very effective way to wake readers up and make them think about something they wouldn’t otherwise be likely to think about. Any of the above papers would be great fodder for a discussion in a lab meeting or grad student reading group (especially the third one, which raises an issue–inference of causality from observational or anecdotal evidence–that crops up a lot in ecology). To my mind, these papers are more effective–and more fun!–than papers trying to make the same points in humor-free ways. I honestly don’t understand why there should be an exceptionless ban on this sort of thing.
HT to the Scholarly Kitchen, where I first saw a couple of these papers discussed.
UPDATE: See the comments for links to several great examples from ecology and evolution!