On the...

What “On the…”?

I’ve never liked titles of scientific papers that being with “On the[whatever]”. It’s always struck me as simultaneously pretentious and uninformative. These days I usually try to give the main result in a paper’s title, or at least, make it clever, or humorous… (Another irk is when people introduce a speaker with the phrase “Without further ado…”. Please.)

But despite myself, I’m going to start a new “On the” series on BNC (3.0). In this case, it seems to fit. You see, there are a whole range of topics on which I have been holding myself back from commenting over the last year or two (…for various reasons). Now, it’s time to unleash. Or counter. Or muse. Or speculate. Whatever befits the topic, really. You know all those soapboxes I’ve been erecting for others in the Open Threads? My turn, again.

I’ve made a start on a few of them in Evernote. In no particular order: “On Fukushima”. “On Solar Thermal”. “On Sc[k]eptics”. “On Ideologues”. “On Expertise”. “On the Energy Mix”. “On Science and Philosophy”. “On Space”. “On the Future”. “On Supervision”. “On Qualitative Research”. “On Positive Discrimination”. “On Religion”. And so on. Who knows, if I write enough of them, I might have myself a(nother) publishable manifesto!

Other topics are planned, but I won’t give away their titles. It’d spoil the effect. Suffice to say that they’ll be wide ranging (across the broad techno-climate-energy-environment-ecology-evolution-philosophical theme of BNC at least), variable in length, quality and evidence base, and always with a strong lashing of personal opinion. It is BNC 3.0 after all…

The first “On the…” will come soon – tomorrow(ish)… I hope! It’ll feature the NFCRC. Given my involvement on the science expert panel, I’d better say something about its findings.

P.S. I did some minor updates to the blog’s theme, cleaned out that awful background image that was well past the ‘grating on me’ stage, and restored the topic categories on the side-bar. I also updated my icon ‘photo’. It seemed appropriate.


By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

7 replies on “What “On the…”?”

The title of Eistein’s paper that introduced Special Relativity was “On the electrodynamics of moving bodies”. Original in German: “Zur Elektroynamik bewegter Körper”.


The best form of communication is to be direct and unequivocal.
So instead of saying ‘On the electrodynamics of moving bodies’
you might now say ‘The electrodynamics of moving bodies’.
Alternatively some will say that this term is too definitive for a theoretical discussion and would prefer the terminology of ‘About the electrodynamics of moving bodies’. At the end of the day however we are just discussing three letters of the alphabet.
Into the breach let’s get on with the discussion.


Yes, it’s great to convey the real message within a paper’s title. My three pet hates in the body of a scientific paper are: “Little work has been done on …. ” (and there might be a good reason); “We investigate the behaviour of …” (that’s OK); “The results are discussed.” To be charitable, this approach might simply be to get the reader to do the hard yards and read the whole damn thing. I’m usually uncharitable.


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