Strange Company

Being part of Australia’s most important research institutieon, CSIRO Publishing was the logical place to go with a book about Australian scientists. Nevertheless, I am sometimes reminded that popular science represents a small part of their list. That woud be true for most other publishers as well, but whereas other publishers would have a catalogue full of popular non-fiction of other sorts, CSIRO Publishing is loaded with specialist books on some quite obscure topics.

Let me stress that I am not mocking these books at all. I imagine that most play an important role in the development of their field. But that doesn’t stop some of the titles sounding pretty funny to the layperson, and even as a science communicator, I’m enough of a generalist to be amused. Here are some of my favourites:

Marine Decapod Crustacea of Southern Australia

Nutrient Requirements of Domesticated Ruminants

Predators with Pouches

Beak Trimming Handbook for Egg Producers

and that blockbusting best seller

Otoliths of Common Australian Temperate Fish*


* Otoliths are ear bones. In fish they grow like tree rings and can be used to tell a fish’s age. They have significance in other ways – there is evidence that pollution is causing distortions in the shape of otoliths of reef fish, causing them to struggle to find their way home to their reefs. In one (tropical) species where the males have a substantial harem of females it has been shown that the otoliths put on a burst of growth once the males aquire a mate, and grow more as the harem gets larger. So you see, both interesting and important – but the title still raises a smile.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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