Usually, the abstract of a scientific paper is quite a wordy thing. Shorter than the paper itself by a considerable margin, but it still says a lot. It gives a general overview of what the paper is about and what techniques are used. But every now and then you see an abstract where the authors apparently decided the title was making their point for them thank you very much. And that’s how you end up with hilariously short abstracts.
Berry, J. Phys. A
It seems we keep coming back to Andre Geim. This time, the first author shared an Ig Nobel prize with him for frog levitation. There was quite stir at the time about neutrinos seeming to travel faster than the speed of light. Dreams of warp drive, or at least rapid communication. Berry and coworkers were looking at whether the observation could be explained with weak quantum measurements. So they made that question the title.
And for the abstract? Well, they answered it. And it turns out the answer is “Probably not”. They no doubt devoted all sorts of words to reaching that conclusion. But they really wanted to make sure their point was clear in the abstract.
Doyle, Transactions on Automata
Doyle was looking at the margins on linear quadratic regulators. The area was receiving considerable attention in the seventies. One thing that was not at all clear at the time was what the guaranteed margins were on those calculations. Doyle’s paper runs through a bit of math before reaching the conclusion presented right there in the abstract.
Which is, of course, “There are none”.
Gardner, Seismological Society of America
Gardner and Knopoff were studying the rather wordy question of “Is the sequence of earthquakes in sourthern California, with aftershocks removed, Poissonian?” That is to say, did it fit a particular model that describes the probability of events clustering. It’s a good question. It is not the snappiest paper title ever but it tells you what the paper is going to be about.
And it leaves them free to make the abstract “Yes”. This is what happens when you make your title a yes/no question.
Stork, Organic Letters
Usually the abstract for a total synthesis paper goes into detail about what specific strategies were used to make a molecule. How many steps, the overall yield, what sexy new reaction or catalyst let them get such an awesome result.
Gilbert Stork, however, was coming up on the end of his career and decide he’d had quite enough of writing wordy abstracts. So he told the reader exactly what’s in the paper: The total synthesis of 4-methylenegermine is described. What more do you people want from him?
Life is short. Better to spend it living than writing a really long abstract.