The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Are IR Titles Getting Increasingly Boring? Evidence from a Data Set

May 18, 2012


Though scholars widely claim that they are capable of writing creative titles, there exist some notable skeptics. Resolving this debate requires empirical evidence. However, beyond a few anecdotes, no one has systematically tested trends in the mind-numbing dullness of IR article titles. I correct this lacuna through the use of an original data set containing eight independent measurements of the originality and wittiness of article titles. Using various statistical techniques, I find that, for article appearing in six leading journals between 1985 and 2005, titles are indeed becoming more boring over time. In addition to confirming a depressing decline in titular creativity, my study reveals two additional findings of significance. First, titles that take the form of “historical quotation: explanation of what the article is actually about” are only interesting for the years 1985-1995, after which they become extremely boring. Second, the most consistently insipid article titles consist of  a putative correlation expressed as a question followed by an independent clause alluding to a data set. My findings and research methods have important implications for the field, as I assert repeatedly in the body of this article despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.