Science has published two papers on Tyrannosaurus rex proteins (are we in the golden age of dino molecular biology?). In one paper, the authors report that they extracted proteins from T. rex soft tissue that was preserved for millions of years. In the other paper, some of the same researchers write about how they used mass spectrometry to determine the sequences of proteins obtained from a 68 million year old T. rex fossil and a mastodon that died hundreds of thousands of years ago. But the title of the paper is:

Protein Sequences from Mastodon and Tyrannosaurus Rex Revealed by Mass Spectrometry

I have preserved the capitalization and formatting as it’s presented in Science. Notice the mistake? They’ve capitalized the species name! I give my students crap about properly formatting species names, and it’s remarkable that something like this made it all the way into print. They get the formatting correct in the text, but it appears that someone got a little bit overzealous with the “Shift” key when they were entering the article title. This amuses me.

And, yes, I do intend to write about all the macaque genome stuff in this issue of Science. If you’re craving some macaque genome blogging, go check out what Carl Zimmer’s got over at the Loom.


  1. #1 quork
    April 13, 2007

    Dude, that ain’t nothin’. Take a look at this mainstream media article about it:
    Researchers decode T Rex genetic material

    So, not only do they capitalize Rex, but suddenly collagen has become “genetic material.”

  2. #2 pough
    April 13, 2007

    It`s a title. Titles get Capitalized in News Stories like A. A. Milne on Speed. They likely use some kind of auto-capitalizer, like the one we wrote for a website that publishes news. It makes the first letter capitalized in all the words except words like ‘the’, ‘and’, ‘or’ etc.

  3. #3 RPM
    April 13, 2007

    But the other article gets the formatting correct. It’s one thing for a news agency to screw up a species name, but this is a scientific publication — they work with species names a lot.

  4. #4 Scholar
    April 13, 2007

    Finally an area (other than the NBA) which I know more than PZ!
    I used to work at AGU’s EOS (a science newspaper), and there, it was “acceptable” to capitalize just about any ANY word in a title. Just my 2 cents, as your intellectual superior in this fleeting moment. 🙂

  5. #5 Scholar
    April 13, 2007

    Damn, just realized I’m not talking to PZ. 😉
    Must have somehow been redirected. I wrongly assumed all the popular articles were by PZ.

  6. #6 RPM
    April 13, 2007

    Scholar, I may not be PZ, but this is a peer reviewed, scientific journal article. There is only one acceptable way to capitalize a species name in a journal article (title or otherwise).

  7. #7 Scholar
    April 13, 2007

    I’m not attempting to deceive, this is just experience talking. This exact type of thing comes up a lot when it is what you do for a living. That is not to say it is technically “right”, just that it is common and generally okay and *either* has become acceptable in publishing. I am talking about the actual rules the copy-editors are currently using. Sorry if it is annoying, inconsistency often is. However, it is inconsistency that seems to be the push behind the mandatory capitalization of words in titles. When in doubt, it is okay to capitalize, if you are a copy editor.

    It’s akin to comma usage in a list. You can either put a comma before the last and, or not. (ie. butter, cream, eggs, and sardines. Or butter, cream, eggs and sardines.) Both acceptable in different circles, not to say you won’t lose your job as a copy editor if you don’t follow the current guidelines at your specific newspaper/magazine.

    So, there is a good chance this is not a careless mistake, or even a mistake in the sense that somebody didn’t do their job. IMHO.

  8. #8 Janne
    April 13, 2007

    I’ll side with the headline. There’s two rules here: “Don’t capicalize species names” and “Capitalize all non-connective words in the title”, and here they conflict. The author and editor apparently came to the conclusion that the headline rule overrides the other one.

    I believe the same thing would apply if you for instance wrote a paper on abelian groups – “abelian” is normally never capitalized, but in a title of this kind it will probably end up being so anyway.

  9. #9 RPM
    April 14, 2007

    This isn’t a motherfucking headline. It’s the title of a scientific journal article. Sure, pop articles are going to fuck up the capitilization, but you shouldn’t fuck it up in a scientific publication.

  10. #10 KevinC
    April 14, 2007


    AGU’s ESO (what does that stand for?) may call itself a science paper but if the are capitalizing species that way I would never trust them as a source. There is one way to capitalize species names properly and any other way is wrong, I don’t care who the publisher is. I can understand why a standard journalist might make a mistake (they shouldn’t if they know how to check style guides), but anyone who claims to be a science writer who makes that error is just showing their ignorance. This is a big proofreading goof by Science since they do know the proper way to capitalize species names.

  11. #11 Jacob
    April 15, 2007

    They actually misspelled the genus/species name, too. The correct spelling is “Manospondylus gigas.”

  12. #12 Scholar
    April 16, 2007

    EOS = Earth Observing Systems. Still, it’s not a screw up in the traditional sense, since it was a headline. You can capitalize anything in a headline, to make it look right to the eye. For example, Eos, is an international science magazine. Therefore, they don’t subscribe to *english* style, they subscribe to “european” style. Nothing to get upset about, just silly rules… it’s no Don Imus.

    “Among U.S. publishers, it is a common typographic practice to capitalize additional words in titles. This is an old form of emphasis, similar to the more modern practice of using a larger or boldface font for titles. Most capitalize all words except for internal closed-class words, or internal articles, prepositions and conjunctions. Some capitalize longer prepositions such as “between”, but not shorter ones. Some capitalize only nouns, others capitalize all words.”


  13. #13 Scholar
    April 16, 2007

    Just imagine how much backlash there would have been if the copy editor HAD NOT capitalized T-Rex. And, it’s not just one copy editor, the managing editor probably saw it too, and deemed it okay. So, maybe you owe the author (and me) an apology. Okay, I won’t hold my breath.


  14. #14 RPM
    April 16, 2007

    And, somehow, Scholar still manages to conflate a popsci article HEADLINE with a journal article TITLE. “Science” is a peer reviewed scientific journal. You can do whatever the hell you want in a non-scientific journal article (even miscapitalize species names) and I won’t raise much of a fuss, but it is absolutely inexcusable to miscapitalize a species name in a scientific journal article (title or otherwise).

  15. #15 CR McClain
    April 16, 2007

    I agree whole heartedly with RPM. It also especially heinous considering this is a top tier journal with highly paid staff that far exceeds other journals.

  16. #16 Scholar
    April 17, 2007

    Here is a link to recent journals from AGU. As a peace offering.


    FYI, Eos the weekly newspaper of the earth and space sciences contains peer reviewed science articles. I will let you know if I find any *titles* which support my earlier posts.

  17. #17 coturnix
    April 17, 2007

    Major screwup by ‘Science’. Titles of papers are not headlines in any sense of the word. ‘Science’ is not a rag. A paper is not an op-ed. And a title is not a headline. This is a document, not a piece of journalism.

  18. #18 Dave Munger
    April 17, 2007

    Yeah, it’s a screw-up. Either that article or this one from the same issue is wrong:

    Analyses of Soft Tissue from Tyrannosaurus rex Suggest the Presence of Protein

  19. #19 David Marjanović
    August 23, 2007

    There’s two rules here: “Don’t capicalize species names” and “Capitalize all non-connective words in the title”, and here they conflict. The author and editor apparently came to the conclusion that the headline rule overrides the other one.

    If so, they are both wrong. (But I bet that the authors never came to such a conclusion. I suspect a software glitch or a typo on the part of some copyeditor.)

    Capitalizing headlines is not done in all languages. It’s for example common in English (BTW, Nature doesn’t do it, and neither does the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology), rare in French, and absolutely unknown in German.

    Scientific names, on the other hand, are international. They are not subject to parochial orthographic rules, they are subject to the ICZN (for zoological names) and only to the ICZN.

    Manospondylus gigas, BTW, is a nomen oblitum. It’s dead. It does not have priority over anything.

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