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Brief: goodbye to a quirky perspective on science


I am writing to protest at your decision to cancel the Brief Communications section (Nature 443, 246; 2006). I have always enjoyed the high-quality yet rather quirky things published there. Where else would I learn about synchronized hand-clapping, the photonic band structure of beetle exoskeletons or mathematical models of bilingual societies? I turn to the Brief Communications section to see ways in which rigorous scientific approaches can shed light on very novel questions.

I have not yet come across something appropriate in my own research to submit as a Brief Communication, so I suppose that, having done nothing to alleviate the quality problem, I have no right to complain. (I am working in my spare time on a result that fits the spirit of the section, being a mathematical proof that there's a 'best' way to vote, but I can't think of a way to reduce it to a single page.) Still, I doubt I'm the only reader who's disappointed by this loss.

Brief Communications have always served to remind me that science can be both excellent and quirky. When I was teaching optics and discussing novel optical phenomena in the animal kingdom, I would show students the article “Opal analogue discovered in a weevil” (Nature 426, 786–787; 2003). The second page included a Brief Communication titled “Health benefits of eating chocolate?”. Without Brief Communications, how would I be able to teach students both that insects are talented optical engineers and that chocolate may be good for your health?

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