The Chronicle has an article today on the lack of humor in scholarly journals:
Stephen Heard once wrote a paper about how pollen spreads among the flowers of a certain endangered plant. In it he speculated that the wind might play a role by shaking loose the pollen. To support his point, he cited "Hall et al., 1957"—a reference to the songwriters of the Jerry Lee Lewis hit "Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On." But a reviewer nixed Heard’s little joke. "Although I appreciated the levity of the reference," he wrote, "I think it is not appropriate for a scientific publication."
So is levity ever appropriate in a scientific publication? Mr. Heard, a professor of biology at the University of New Brunswick, thinks so, and inan essay titled "On whimsy, jokes, and beauty: can scientific writing be enjoyed?"—published in the always hilarious Ideas in Ecology and Evolution—he bemoans the buttoned-up super-seriousness of most published research, noting that amusing moments in the literature are "unusual enough that finding one is like sighting a glow-throated hummingbird or a Salt Creek tiger beetle: beautiful, but rare, tiny, and glimpsed in passing."
That is unfortunate, Mr. Heard believes, not because research papers can or should be laugh-a-minute, but because moments of lightness remind readers that this paper, like all papers, was written by an actual person, or several actual people, attempting to communicate an idea to other people. ...
I asked editors at several prominent journals what they thought of Mr. Heard’s thesis and whether there were any examples from their own fields. "The record is very sad," wrote Andrew Abbott, editor of theAmerican Journal of Sociology, via email. "Sociology is a largely humorless field, unfortunately." ...
You might imagine there'd be more humor in the humanities, but it's not so, according to Robert Caserio, an editor at the Journal of Modern Literature. "There aren't enough Mark Twains among us," Mr. Caserio complained.
I also contacted Penny Goldberg, a professor of economics at Yale University and editor of the American Economic Review, to ask if she could think of any joke, any tiny moment of amusement, one solitary witticism that has passed across her desk. Anything, even if it was rejected.
Could it have hurt Dr. Goldberg to point out Economic Inquiry (maybe no one at Yale knows the journal exists?)? Here is the comment that I left:
The well-respected Economic Inquiry journal has a "miscellany" section: "A 'Miscellany' section is available in Economic Inquiry and intended for humor and curiosities. Economic Inquiry has a venerable tradition in humor, dating at least to the publication of Axel Leijonhufvud’s 1973 “Life Among the Econ.” At most one paper per journal issue will be devoted to this section; please indicate on the pdf and in the cover letter when a submission is intended for this section."
I also posted the link to Yoram Bauman's list of funny economics papers.