Framing Science in Science for Non-Scientists, or something.

Read and think about the following sentence, taken from the first paragraph of an article in a peer reviewed publication (link):

“Chromium is one of the United States’ most important and strategic metals.”

Awesome sentence, but why is the title of the paper:

Formation of soluble organo-chromium(III) complexes after chromate reduction in the presence of cellular organics

The title hardly justifies the tone of first sentence.  Now, if the title had been…

Formation of soluble organo-chromium(III) complexes after chromate reduction in the presence of cellular communists


Formation of unconventional organo-chromium(III) complexes after American reduction in the presence of cellular geurillas

…I wouldn’t be writing this.

Now, I don’t think this is an example of authors’ attempting to politicize their research.   Although chromium is an important constituent of a number of industries (leather tanning, steel manufacturing, and, like many transition metals, it can make pretty dyes and colors  – eg. it gives the ruby a pinkish/red colouring), the chemistry of chromium inside a bacterium will never be discussed on CSPAN or in Parliament.  It isn’t scarce, and thus has no national or international significance (sorry authors).

Then, is this a case of poor framing by the authors?  If so, who did they think they were framing their work for?  Who did they envision reading their article – a scientist (or, more appropriately, a microbiologist, physiologist, or, in my case, chemical oceanographer), or a political scientist?  I think it is safe to assume the former were their target audience (although the particular journal this article is in, Environmental Science and Technology, does publish work that isn’t fundamental scientific research), so is it also safe to assume that they were outlining their work within a political frame for scientists?  Does this seem, well, weird?

I could be overthinking this, and, in doing so, have succesfully wasted an hour of my afternoon mulling this over.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: