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The importance of titles

Years ago, someone reinvented a method I'd published in a journal he regularly read (and published in), without citing my paper. I complained. He pointed out that the title of my article didn't hint at that aspect of the contents.

Since then, I've tried to get the main point of each paper into the title. For example:

When Stress Predicts a Shrinking Gene Pool, Trading Early Reproduction for Longevity Can Increase Fitness, Even with Lower Fecundity

But journal editors don't always cooperate. For example, we wanted to call our recent Perspective in Science (discussed here) "Are Antibiotics Weapons, Signals, Cues, or Manipulation?" The editor insisted on "Alternative Actions for Antibiotics."

We worried that people would glance at the title and think, "Oh, another one of those antibiotics-as-signals articles." A "signal" is information whose transmission benefits sender and receiver. A "cue" is information used in ways that don't necessarily benefit the source. For example, bacteria may respond to low doses of antibiotics by turning on protective mechanisms, by fleeing, or by hiding in a biofilm. I would only call antibiotic production a "signal" if scaring away competitors, rather than killing them, is the main way it increases the producer's fitness.

Just as we feared, a recent paper miscites our work:

"Antibiotics, especially at subinhibitory concentrations, can act as signal molecules aside from their antibacterial effect (Davies et al. 2006; Yim et al. 2007; Ratcliff and Denison 2011)."

Choose your title carefully.

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