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Analytical Chemistry

Acronym Fever. We Need an Acronym For That.

The Wall Street Journal published a provocative article the other day, entitled “Don’t Understand Moronic Bromides?” about the proliferation over the years of acronyms in science.(Note the old-fashioned usage of “bromide” derived from the early sleeping pills). And while it’s a cranky piece, it’s not wrong.

That’s going to get me some irritated glances from several areas, but complaints have been building. Clinical trials have been named with increasingly tortured acronyms for many years now, for example. There’s some point to that, actually, since some of these projects have several trials at different stages of development and aimed at different endpoints, and there needs to be some way to refer to them in a distinctive and recognizable way. Giving them all random six-digit number designations wouldn’t help much, but on the other hand, naming them all things like VIRTUOSITY and POWERFL isn’t very easy to take, either. I just made those two up; I hope that I didn’t appropriate anybody’s actual trial designation, but the problem is that I can’t be sure that I didn’t.

My own suggestion? We manage to tag the actual clinical candidate drugs with letter/number designations that are distinguishable, reasonably memorable, and not cringe-inducing. We sure as hell don’t give them cutesy or chest-thumping acronyms of their own – what a horror that would be. Imagine your clinical candidate being called something like the First Really Operational Selective Tyrosinase Inhibitor (FROSTI) or the Orally Available Transition-state Mimic Effective Adenosine Ligand (OATMEAL). That would get out of control real fast, and I’m starting to regret even giving anyone the idea. But no, clinical candidates are named things like “ZZY49” or something like that, and couldn’t we just name the trials for them “ZZY49 Trial A”, “ZZY49 Trial B” and stuff like that?

Nope, we apparently can’t. Because the companies want to see valiant, forceful, forward-looking acronyms in every press release and writeup instead of something boring. Congress does something very similar in its naming of bills, which is why everything is named The Great American Cornucopia of Incredibly Wonderful Stuff Act of 2019. And in both cases, I would submit that whatever positive effects may have once existed for such branding might have fractionally worn off a bit by now.

It’s not like we researchers are innocent, though. Oh, no. The NMR folks (you knew I was going there) have a long tradition of painful acronyms for their pulse sequences, redeemed only (and substantially, truth be told) by their weird and self-deprecating character. I admit that I love the fact that two of the old classic experiments go by the names INEPT and INADEQUATE, and that there’s another sequence called the HOHAHA. You can wait around until Betelgeuse explodes into a supernova and you still won’t see anyone naming a clinical trial anything like that. And on the biology side, you have the fruit-fly people (and you knew I was going there, too). It’s been a longstanding tradition there that genes and phenotypes are named with what can only be called delirious abandon. Just recently, a mutant appeared that occasionally has some sort of neurological lock-up so that they drop right out of the air. And in their restrained, tasteful way, the Drosophila community now refers to that one as “Julius Seizure“. (I have to admit, that one does deserve some rueful admiration). Similarly, years ago, a variety that turned out to go oddly berserk when exposed to ether vapors became the “Ether-a-Go-Go” mutant.

The problem has been that the molecular and cellular biologists build on these things. They’re acronym fiends, too (that site is actually a very short list), and the names they’re based on are often syncretic gravel heaps full of tacked-on historical accidents. A protein gets discovered and named something catchy, but turns out to be the least interesting and important member of its class, but then everything else gets named after it anyway, and so on, even to the point of naming things across species. One of the most important proteins in the cell, c-Myc, is more fully the “avian myelocytomatosis virus oncogene cellular homolog” protein, and you can see encoded in that the winding road that it took from a viral bird disease. In actual practice, everyone calls it “mick” or “see-mick”; if you refer to it by that longer name 98% of researchers will tilt their heads at you like a puzzled Corgi. With good reason.

Some of these names are just relentlessly functional. A classic example is the mitogen-activated protein kinase family, a hugely important set of enzymes known to fans as MAPK (“map-kay”). A MAPK itself can be phosphorylated, by (what else?) a mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase (MAPKK or MAP2K). Which enzyme can itself be phosphorylated by, you guessed it and there’s no way to avoid it landing on you, a mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase kinase. That’s known as MAP3K, since I don’t think anyone was too keen on calling any of them MAPKKK, and to make matters worse there are several examples of each of these kinases, all of which have other names and acronyms. We’ll never straighten all of this out now.

You can see how the Drosophila names work their way into common usage – many interesting genes and pathways have been discovered in the fruit flies – they’re useful little beasts – and the names can stick. So we have protein families like Dsh, which is more, uh, formally named “Dishevelled” from the appearance of the flies that identified it. Those are involved in Wnt signaling, a hugely important process itself whose name comes partly from the Wingless fruit fly phenotype. Fruit flies with abnormal vision turned out to have defects in their R7 eye cells, and had that gene named “Sevenless“, naturally, the protein product likewise, which led to a key interacting protein being designated BOSS, for “Bride of Sevenless“. And as fate would have it, a downstream protein that turned out to be part of a whole important family of guanine nucleotide exchange factors got named as “Son of Sevenless“, and the SOS proteins are probably the most well-known of the bunch by now.

And our old friends, the ether-a-g0-go flies, turned out to have defects in a particular ion channel protein, which got ERG. Whose human homolog got named, naturally, hERG (pronounced as it’s spelled, “herrrgh”, as if you’re lifting something heavy that you’d rather not). Which ion channel turns out (among other things) to be a major cause of some classic small-molecule drugs giving cardiovascular trouble – hERG ligands can lead to arrhythmias that can be dangerous and even fatal, and we now try to avoid hitting the protein if at all possible. But it’s not so great to tell someone that their heart attack was brought on through their human-ether-a-go-go protein, is it?

86 comments on “Acronym Fever. We Need an Acronym For That.”

  1. Fox Chaser says:

    Another example is shh (sonic hedge hog), named after Sonic the hedge hog from the video game. In all fairness, the related gene is hedgehog (hh) so this was kind of obvious 🙂

    1. NJBiologist says:

      Much like how Src is activated by Srcasm?

      (No, I am not making that up: see Seykora et al, J Biol Chem. 2002 Jan 25;277(4):2812-22.)

    2. Derek Lowe says:

      Forgot about that one! A classic example.

    3. Nesprin says:

      Even better: pikachurin

    4. Thoryke says:

      I remember the hedgehog gene well, and its Sonic variant….which seems to be related to a cyclops deformity in sheep and rabbits [see link in username]. But parents of human babies were less than thrilled when they were told their children were suffering from an error in that pathway.

      1. monkeymonkey says:

        Schreiber even had a go here with his inhibitor: Robotnikinin. Or was this a jab at the general practice? Hard to tell at this point.

  2. NJBiologist says:

    “But no, clinical candidates are named things like “ZZY49” or something like that, and couldn’t we just name the trials for them “ZZY49 Trial A”, “ZZY49 Trial B” and stuff like that?”

    I’m not a clinical trials expert, so take this with a grain of salt… the Unique Protocol Identification Number (I’m capitalizing because yes, that’s a defined term in Part 11) very often is a three digit number tacked on to the development code, with the first digit encoding phase and the next two being sequential. So the first phase one trial on ZZY49 will often be called ZZY49-101, and the pivotal trials might be ZZY49-301 and ZZY49-302.

    But the names are a lot more fun.

  3. Project Osprey says:

    As I recall my Tom Clancy, CIA projects were assigned a 2 word codename at random. You could do worse than that here. I wonder how many work-hours were spent contriving the PERISCOPE and BARRICADE study names

    1. Jacob says:

      We might need three words, but it’s probably a good idea (see Limiting the dictionary will avoid stuff like “ANAL BUM FART” but it might he hard to avoid stuff where the words are fine in isolation but a problem when combined, like “BLACK FACE GOOD”. It’s also questionable whether trials for a narcolepsy drug should have “SLEEP” in the name. Maybe give the clinical trial people a limited number of vetos or something.

      1. Aly says:

        A MTG(magic the gathering)-like card game came out last year called Keyforge that used algorythms to determine the name and composition of the decks. Upon the release, there was a recall for some… unfortunate names.

        1. Jonathan says:

          I have several KeyForge decks and my favorite name from my decks is either The Almost Digital Guru of Luwich (isn’t almost digital just analog?) or The Trader that Sacrifices for Photography.

  4. Anon says:

    May be we ought to have acronym 101 encompassing all areas of science, government, liberal arts etc. The platform is always shifting in this acronym business.

  5. Some Dude says:

    JAK kinases were originally called “Just Another Kinase”, but eventually renamed to Janus kinases. As a former resident of Germany you might also enjoy Nüsslein-Vollhard’s Drosophila naming scheme with Spätzle, Krüppel etc.

    I always thought there is a nobel price waiting for the person who comes up with a purposeful naming scheme for all the proteins. The trouble is however, with most proteins we don’t know all their functions, and therefore such a naming would make sense only in the far distant future.

    1. NJBiologist says:

      The most purposeful protein nomenclature I know of is the EC numbering system. Which is quite systematic, but not easily memorable. (Well, for me, at least.)

    2. Lurker says:

      Let’s also not forget the TLRs.
      These Toll-like receptors were named this way because Nüsslein-Vollhardt thought these were “toll” (ger. “Great, amazing”)

  6. Sebastian says:

    In defense of absurd clinical trial acronyms, do you think the catchy abbreviations might make it easier for enrollees to remember their trial? It might be easier to search for clinical trials that you may be elligible for when they have names, rather than a confusing string of letters and numbers.

    1. RandomWok says:

      They are named for ease of promotion in detailing Physicians – not for poor drug development drones like us….

    2. RandomWok says:

      The clinical trial names are intended for salesfolk detailing physicians, not poor drug development drones like us….

  7. dearieme says:

    Why not name them in the same way as US military actions? Mangy Eagle, Dopey Dolphin, Freedom Fries, … Maybe I got one wrong there.

    I know: call them after characters from the P G Wodehouse books. Who could resist working on a project called Gussie Fink-Nottle? Its follow-up could be Gussie Fink-Nottle Jr, then Gussie Fink-Nottle III, and so on.

    1. Mad Chemist says:

      Don’t forget Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps, Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, Offy Prosser, Pongo Twistleton, and Freddie Threepwood.

      1. dearieme says:

        Oi! There’s nothing funny about Freddie Threepwood, nothing at all. Perfectly reasonable name.

  8. Yes Associated Protein 1 is better known as YAP1; of course the Drosophila ortholog is yorkie

  9. Emjeff says:

    The genetics literature has been made unreadable by acronyms. When reviewing papers, I’ve been known to tell authors to take them out. Just as abbreviations are discouraged in patient care (because they can be horribly misunderstood) , we should discourage their use in science.

  10. luysii says:

    Be careful what you wish for — here’s a link —

    It’s the Department Of Defense (DOD) paper on the correct way to name things and some of things named. It contains 373 pages.

    1. Alia says:

      Thank you for the link! It might come in handy at one of my translation jobs (you never know what you might need in the field of popular literature those days).

  11. Anonymous says:

    Years ago, European cars had meaningful model numbers such as 400SEL = ~4 liter engine, sedan body, mit einspritzen = fuel injection, long (extended) frame (cf., 400S, 400SE, 400SL …). American cars had to have catchy names (Chevy Impala, Olds Cutlass) which really didn’t tell you anything about the car itself unless you memorized the ad copy. Some companies still use informative model numbers but most seem to have switched to words and made up words: Sportage, Corolla, Fiesta, Wrangler, …

    Because I interact with people in many fields and acronyms are used a lot, I sometimes have to interrupt or ask them to wait while my brain switches from chemistry mode to biochemistry mode and so on. There is usually an agreeable chuckle while we get on the page. But sometimes it can be a PITA.

    1. ScientistSailor says:

      “Fiesta” and “Wrangler” are not made up words…

      1. Anonymous says:

        I said “words and made up words”.

    2. Lurker says:

      Had the same acronym problem (chemist-biochemist), when I was telling a colleague that I dissolved his stuff in THF.
      He wondered how anyone could dissolve anything in tetrahydrofolic acid…

  12. Pedro says:

    hERG’s full name is human ether-a-go-go related gene, they got to be descriptive on that one too.

  13. In Vivo Veritas says:

    Most people working on SMADs don’t realize that they are campaigning alongside the Small Mothers Against Decapentaplegic worm/fly activism group.

  14. Brian Bettencourt says:

    I like to think that my former student and I contributed a real winner to the field of gene names/abbreviations …
    We were working on a boring gene named HIP (Hsc/Hsp70 Interacting Protein) in Drosophila. We found that it was actually part of a segmental duplication comprising several genes. Turns out there’s a very closely related paralog of HIP just downstream on the same chromosome. It’s evolved some differences and is new to D. melanogaster (relative to other closely related Drosophila species). So we named it …

    HIP Replacement (HIP-R).

    Badoom tish.

    (ducks the rotten vegetables coming my way)

  15. Jacob says:

    There’s an old joke in programming that the only two hard problems are cache invalidation and naming things. The cache invalidation issue has limited wider applicability, however the issue of naming things is universal.

    1. Charlie Kilian says:

      And at least you can look up strategies for cache invalidation and figure out which ones are applicable to your current problem. Naming conventions are almost entirely subjective, and thus prone to starting holy wars amongst developers.

      The thing is, it’s not just being crotchety about having fun with whimsical names. How you name something affects how you think of it and think about it. And it affects how easy it is for someone trying to come up to speed in a field. Well-named things are easier to understand. Whimsical names are forgetful and distracting without a history lesson. Alas, I have no answers here.

    2. Zemyla says:

      Actually, the old programming joke says that the only two hard problems are cache invalidation, naming things, and off-by-one errors.

  16. stemcellaficionado says:

    The TAZ protein stands for tafazzin, from a famous masochistic comic figure (“Tafazzi”), which was used to hit his genitals with a plastic bottle.

  17. OldLabRat says:

    It’s not just biology. A couple decades ago, Pfizer had the PAL (Pfizer Acronym List), the official catalog of commonly (!) used acronyms, well over 1000 of them. One of my favorites to demonstrate the depths of despair or absurdity was AHTG, the ADME high throughput group. An acronym in an acronym; sigh.

    1. HFM says:

      My large biotech has an acronym hot-line. Text the acronym to this number, and it will reply with a list of possible expansions. This comes in handy. The business people seem to communicate solely in alphabet soup; to be fair, that’s probably also how the scientists sound to them, I’m just used to the science stuff.

      I’m partial to the old science naming convention: describe it in Latin, then describe it in Greek, whichever one sounds coolest is the name. At least you have some chance of working out what the thing does from its name.

    2. LdaQuirm says:

      You think that’s bad? Do you know what the ‘P’ in PHP stands for? “PHP”
      “PHP” stands for “PHP Hypertext Preprocessor”…
      And wikipedia lists 60 other “Notable” recursive acronyms.

  18. Sok Puppette says:

    the names they’re based on are often syncretic gravel heaps full of tacked-on historical accidents

    Congratulations, you’ve just described human language. You might want to get over it.

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Sure. But scientific nomenclature, which describes an organized body of knowledge in words entirely of our own choosing, should be better.

      1. Ivory Tower says:

        XKCD did it.

    2. Druid says:

      Names are not always the same as words in language. Names may have legal status, and in science we want to be sure we are all talking about the same thing. Words can change meaning depending on place in a sentence or other context. Ideally a name is infomative (related to some feature of the thing) and memorable. Unfortunately the human hERG gene is not related to go-go dancing in the 1960s, so it is no longer informative but it is at least memorable. TNF(alpha) (tumor necrosis factor) on the other hand is a misleading name that causes confusion.
      I have worked on a project where the clinical trials started with 101 in phase 1, 201 in phase 2, and 301 in phase 3, with the result that we knew what we were talking about. It was not difficult, though no-one got vouchers for thinking up a name.

  19. KevinL says:

    TLA is the three-letter acronym for ……wait for it…….three-letter acronym.

    1. Isidore says:

      Actually TLA is an abbreviation for either three-letter acronym or three-letter abbreviation.

      1. Contrarian Reefkeeper says:

        Or, for that matter, a Three Letter Agency.

    2. tim Rowledge says:

      Careful to not fall victim to TOS.
      Oh, sorry, TLA Overload Syndrome.

    3. eyesoars says:

      Don’t forget your ETLA*s.

      * Extended Three Letter Acronym

  20. metacelsus says:

    On NMR acronyms: the best one is probably proton-enhanced nuclear induction spectroscopy

    See here:

    1. Fluorine Chemist says:

      Good one!!
      From the same article:
      “Due to the suggestive nature of its acronym (PENIS), the proposed name for this pulse sequence was never widely accepted. This method is now more commonly known as cross-polarization”
      One of the inventors is PINES!

    2. d says:

      I just knew somebody else would remember that one…. and boy did it cause a stink when the editors realized what they had published.

      1. NJBiologist says:

        Sounds like a repeat of the mu-opioid agonist peptide D-Ala2, N-MePhe4, Gly-ol]-enkephalin, now known as DAMGO, but originally called DAGO….

  21. CMCguy says:

    Come on folks you need to lighten up as the WSJ article states “Scientists say the abbreviations are meant to add levity to an otherwise serious enterprise,” and having been a part of a number of sessions to define pseudonyms for clinical studies it can be an enjoyable team-building process in mixing many different disciplines (clinical, marketing are drivers but often input from other perspectives adds value). In-house codes are typically very systematic/boring and meaning only useful to internal audience. Sure can get carried to far but can be both imaginative and informative at condensing a complex idea or activity while avoiding redundancy with past or present trail tags. As CMC/FDA has acronyms for almost everything I could be less sensitive to such but most codes are much easier to use than attempts at complete elaboration. It not unlike how chemist rarely write out or less often verbally present a molecule by IUPAC name and will apply a common or abbreviated terms.

  22. nonchemist says:

    Taxonomists have it worse, I think. Botanists only got rid of their “every new species must be described in Latin” rule in 2012, and the water beetle people have gems like Hydrascapha and Scaphydra, Torridincola and Incoltorrida, Epimetopus and Eumetopus and Eupotemus.

    1. robin miller says:

      Don’t forget Gyrodactylus and Dactylogyrus . . . (fish flukes)

  23. BiologyLabRat says:

    Cheapdate, a mutation resulting in increased susceptibility to ethanol, is still my favorite drosophila gene name.

    1. Ed says:

      Even better, cheapdate was found using an equally well-named apparatus: the inebriometer. Which, appropriately enough, functions a bit like a fractional distillation column, where the ethanol vapor is affecting the ability of flies to “condense” on surfaces.

  24. Anonymous says:

    A popular source of chemistry nomenclature: Organic Chemistry: The Name Game: Modern Coined Terms and Their Origins by Alex Nickon. Some acronyms, some abbreviations, and many explanations of the origins of common names, e.g., barbituric acid, betaine, ….

  25. angrygecko says:

    The defense industry loves acronyms. In ’82 Raytheon published an acronym handbook for it’s employees. Who knew that HAWK, PATRIOT, PAVE PAWS and other weapon systems were actually acronyms. In ’83, the second edition included entries from the employees. One such entry was NFW and the definition was “Not possible” There was no third edition.

  26. Grimblo says:

    Let us not forget Copper Nanotubes… someone had to go there 🙂

  27. franko says:

    I always liked RING – for really interesting new gene

  28. AlloG says:

    I would make up a acronym for Acronym Fever to be AF, although dat is already taken by my rainbow friends as I seen a guy wearing a shirt dat had a Rainbow on it dat said Rainbow AF.

    Rainbow Acronym Fever?

    Again dey stealing our words and now acronyms too!

  29. Red Agent says:

    Who doesn’t like the acronym for the digital imaging standard TWAIN, Technology Without An Interesting Name.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Derek’s hotlink from “building” goes to . (ISMP = Inst for Safe Medicine Practices). The very first item is:

    Abbreviation – intended meaning – mistaken meaning – correction
    µg – Microgram – Mistaken as “mg” – Use “mcg”.

    That throws me off! microgram (mu-gram) is 10-6 grams. mg is 10-3 grams. I interpret “mcg” as “milli-centi-gram” which would be (10-3)(10-2)grams = 10-5 grams. Maybe they should spell out microgram to avoid the ambiguity of both mu-g and mcg.

    1. Ivory Tower says:

      Good luck writing ’10 micromolar stufamide’ on the top of a 0.5mL tube….

      1. Anonymous says:

        A street vendor wrote my name on a grain of rice. This guy can write lengthy passages on a human hair:

      2. NJBiologist says:

        Just exaggerate the leg on the mu, and it’s easier to write (and recognize) than mcg.

  31. Kaleberg says:

    It’s the taxonomists who really have it rough. From the Catalogue of Organisms blog:

    “Sometimes when naming a species, it pays to be careful…

    “In 1954, Roewer described a new species of harvestman named Metagagrella mysoreana (so named, I assume, because it came from Mysore). Metagagrella has since been synonymised with the older genus name Psathyropus, but most of the appropriate new combinations have not yet appeared in print. I was just entering in names for the Psathyropus section of the Palpatores nomenclator, which requires me to form said new combinations. However, because Psathyropus is a masculine name, I had to correct species name genders.


    “Psathyropus mysoreanus.”

  32. Delveinsight says:

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  33. small cap biotech investor says:

    “But no, clinical candidates are named things like “ZZY49” or something like that, and couldn’t we just name the trials for them “ZZY49 Trial A”, “ZZY49 Trial B” and stuff like that?”

    Take note small cap biotech/pharma investor….
    Any “company” that has attached a catchy name to a compound that is still in clinical trials could very well be nothing more than a fraudulent pump and dump.
    People cry foul when they’ve been duped demanding class action law suits etc etc. pay attention, the signs are usually there in the first place.

    Doesn’t mean you can’t make a buck with “technical” trading though but understand what you’re getting into.

    1. loupgarous says:

      It’s only a matter of time before Thunder Energies Corporation, home of convex lenses to allow telescopes to detect antimatter-galaxies, gets a pharma subsidiary.

      After all, the SEC has let the company’s principals and their relatives pump and dump to their heart’s content, despite the physical absurdity of their claims.

      1. anonynous says:

        Let’s see … we’ve got SEC charges against the Theranos founders, UBeam has imploded, it doesn’t look good for Brilliant Light Power, and now we have TEC. I’ll add that one to my list.

        I remember the good old days when it was just a miracle car that ran on water. in today’s high-tech world, It seems like the scams have to be full of inane pseudo-science to seem plausible.

        “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.” W.C. Fields

        1. We have been getting it wrong, all this time.... says:

          Another project by the brain trust at Thunder Energies. Res ipsa loquitur.

          “Another widespread belief is that, since nuclear power plants work well when built according to the laws of quantum mechanics, the latter holds for all possible nuclear energies, including the controlled fusion. Unfortunately for mankind, this view does not take into consideration the structural differences between fission used in nuclear power plants and fusion used in new nuclear elegies such as the ”cold” and ”hot” fusion. In fact, the fission process is well described by
          quantum mechanics because reducible to the description of fission debris in pointlike approximation. By contrast, for the case of the fusion of two nuclei into a third, quantum mechanics does indeed admit a probability for the process N1 + N2 → N3+ energy, but the theory also predict a finite probability of the spontaneous disintegration of the third nucleus into the original two, N3 → N1+ N2, that is clear nonscientific nonsense. There is no need to do calculations because the probability amplitude is independent of time and, thus, valid for
          both reactions.

          We reach in this way again the need to develop and verify experimentally a structural generalization of quantum mechanics as a necessary premise for serious studies on the controlled nuclear fusion. After all, the failure of both the ”cold” and the ”hot” fusions to achieve any industrially relevant result over a long period of time and large investments may be due precisely to the use of quantum mechanics.

          The threat to mankind caused by quantum chemistry is more insidious of the preceding ones because, following unquestionable scientific and industrial advances achieved during the past century, quantum chemistry is generally assumed to be universally valid, as a consequence of which all studies on new energies and fuels are restricted to verify said discipline.”

          1. anonymous says:

            Sounds like the above might have been generated by SCIgen.

            Alas, the inverse of SCIgen, a reliable AI based BS detector, seems a lot harder to create.

      2. Anonymous says:

        “It’s only a matter of time before Thunder Energies Corporation … gets a pharma subsidiary.” That seems to make sense as you might need some potent pharmaceuticals to visualize those things. To remain on topic, that is IMO.

        1. Really anonymous (oh God, don't sue me, please, signore!) says:

          The pertinent acronym would be BSIBSO

      3. Grant Scammer says:

        LOL, complaints to the SEC are usually dismissed.
        The SEC is something that’s there merely just for show.
        What’s worse with these organizations is the taxpayer getting bilked when they are issued copious SBIR and other grants. It’s a whole profession actually, the grant scammer…..
        Put together a reasonable facsimile, spend a lot of time creating a ruse that can be defensible in court.

        1. eyesoars says:

          Not sure I can agree with that; a few people I know have been nailed for insider trading.

          If you want to limit it to complaints about corporations, then you might have something.

  34. dearieme says:

    Maybe Boaty McBoatface is the direction to go in.

    1. deeply concerned says:

      I don’t think I would enroll in a trial called “Druggy McDrugface”.

  35. biotechtoreador says:

    When looking at studies I actually think names are easier to memorize than a, more logically, numbered study would be.

    My personal favorite, though is

    Yes, a SCZ study named after a nut. Chapeau.

  36. Nile says:

    I remember the terrible day when our corporation ran out of acronyms.

  37. Red Fiona says:

    I was at a talk by Gareth Morris once and he said INEPT was deliberately named because he was sick of pulse sequences with flash names that didn’t work.

  38. Over on laser science, and particularly pulsed lasers and ultrafast physics, for some reason that completely escapes me, the standard is to use animal names — FROG (, FROG CRAB (, SPIDER ( and RABBIT ( forming the top layer.

    I was trying to show a student what a standard RABBIT interferogram looks like by looking for the acronym on Google Images, and for some reason it just refused to work…..

    (* OK, I don’t do lasers, but I work with people who do.)

  39. David Edwards says:

    Heh, there’s a book called Fly: An Experimental Life, which covers some of the humour involved in Drosophila gene names. One being cheapdate,/i>, which is inherited by fly mutants that can be intoxicated with alcohol far more easily than normal flies. There’s also the ken and barbie mutants, which lack functioning genitalia, and instead have useless bits of cuticle in lieu thereof. There’s also fruitless, which causes the fly mutants inheriting this to engage in a sort of weird conga dance of courtship, but never actually get around to mating.

    The author, Martin Brookes, also describes the bicaudal gene, in a manner that might have been chosen by Derek himself had he been called upon to describe this, by mentioning that these mutants emerge from the pupa with two abdominal regions, joined back to back, with no head or thorax, and that the unfortunate mutant is therefore condemned, in Brookes’ words, “to arse about for the few hours it has left to live”.

    Oh, and the part in the book about the Castrometer is another piece of science writing genius.

    Meanwhile, so many three letter acronyms were generated by the authors of the documentation for the VMS operating system for minicomputers, that this was referred to as an explosion of TLAs. Enjoy that one.

    As for taxonomy, go here for a wealth of bizarre instances of taxonomic levity.

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