How many times have you looked at an authors’ affiliation, e-mail signature, or other address-including text and been inundated by 2-5 abbreviations?  It’s a phenomenon that’s more common in Europe than North America, but it’s iron claws are gradually finding a grip on this side of the Atlantic, too.  Here’s a (made-up) example:

Dr. John Smith
Centre for Studying Exciting Things
Department of Exceptionally Amazing Research
Middle Earth University, Shire Campus (Buckland)
123 Long Road
Buckland, The Shire
Middle Earth

Or,

Dr. John Smith
CSET-DEAR
MEU-SCB
123 Long Road
Buckland, The Shire
Middle Earth

Please, stop.

First of all, it doesn’t save much space in the grand scheme of things.  And if the researcher at CSET-DEAR, MEU-SCB grows tired of typing out all that address, may I suggest using Autocorrect in Word (or another favourite word processor)?  It’s lovely for those often-typed long phrases.

And, for goodness sake, please avoid trying to make an existing lab/project/grant title into an acronym by selectively choosing letters to spell out a single word.  Nothing cries out “lame” so much as the Laboratory for Massive Experiments (LaME). You get the idea.  Well, some of you don’t, but that’s why I wrote this post in the first place (so, thanks?).

Abbreviations obfuscate meaning, and create a separation between those who know what it means, and those who don’t.  It’s fine to use them colloquially, but for professional correspondence like a work email signature, or affiliation on a manuscript, it looks like crap, and won’t matter to anyone outside the abbreviated institution or country.  If I don’t know that the Centre for Studying Exciting Things is abbreviated CSET, I won’t associate the two when I read papers, correspond with other researchers, or review the CV of an applicant.  I could have two different opinions – one for the Centre, and one for CSET.  Or I could have no sweet clue what the abbreviated form stands for (this is actually true for some real research centres – I know the abbreviation, but not what it means).

Why has this trend of AEIS (that’s “abbreviating everything in sight” for those not in the know) taken off?  It could be related to university’s increased desire to manage their “brand”, or the proliferation of individual researchers giving their labs names (i.e., rather than “Dr. Smith’s lab”, call it “The Very Exciting Things Laboratory”, or, heaven forbid, “VETLab”).  Whatever the reason, I don’t see a point to it other than corporate branding (which, I should point out, can occur just as easily when things are spelled out in full, but aren’t as “catchy” and don’t make for a good “sound bite”).

Science is all about communication.  If you can’t be arsed to spell out your address in full, it doesn’t speak well for your thoughts about communicating the science you do.  And like many things, it’s an easy fix.

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