Commentary: Colonization of titles

You have probably noticed that a high fraction of scientific papers have colons in their titles. Several people have written humorous commentaries on this. Although these authors clearly see the use of colons as a growing trend, they did not present hard evidence for the increase in the usage of colons in the titles of scientific publications.

Out of curiosity, I thus wrote a small script to count the fraction of papers in Medline that have colons in their titles for each of the past 25 years. The result is shown in the plot below (note that the y-axis does not start at zero):

The conclusion is very clear: the fraction of titles with colons has increased linearly from 15% to 24% over the past 20 years. One could object that this effect may be explained by the increase in apologies (which often have a title “Retraction: …”) or by the NAR special issues on databases and web servers (which contain hundreds papers with titles such as “YADB: yet another database”). However, these add up to less than 2% of the papers with colonized titles and are thus insufficient to explain the observed 9% increase.

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4 thoughts on “Commentary: Colonization of titles

  1. mywordpressname

    Funny, a search in Pubmed for Jensen LJ puts you at the top of the curve. It was a bit tough to discern which articles were definitely yours – but I’d guestimate your use of colons at about 24%.

  2. Lars Juhl Jensen Post author

    Guilty as charged ;-) I should mention though that many of my papers with colonized titles are publications in the NAR special issues where the “YADB: yet another database” style is explicitly requested by the publisher.

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