We all know that scientific names must be italicised. However, Stack Exchange does not support markdown for question's title.

This can create a problem in questions like this one, in which I edited the genus and species names in the body of the question, but obviously I couldn't do the same in the title of the question. Technically speaking the title is wrong the way it is now (italicising the name is not optional: we must italicise it).

So, we can do two things regarding scientific names (and also genus names) in the question's title:

  1. Nothing. Leave them the way they are now.
  2. Propose an alternative to highlight the name.

I wrote highlight above because old people here (like me) will remember that, in the time of typewriters and before personal computers became popular, the rule was not italicising the name, but highlighting it somehow, and the most common way those days was using an underline (like B̲o̲s̲ t̲a̲u̲r̲u̲s̲).

Underlines as such were deprecated in HTML5 and don't work with markdown... even if they did we would face the same problem of using markdown in the title.

So, my suggestion is using quotation marks (") for highlighting scientific names in question's title.

That way, instead of something like this is the title:

How many teeth does Canis lupus have?

We would have:

How many teeth does "Canis lupus" have?

This suggestion, if agreed upon, is not for (normally new) users writing the questions, but for people editing them.

Edit in 10/12/2017

So far we have two nice answers (one using LaTeX and other using Unicode). I like both, and we could reach a consensus. However, both of them have drawbacks, not working on all user agents (aka browsers) and OS.

Therefore, it seems to me that the solution will end up being doing "nothing", that is, leaving those titles the way they are now.

Edit in 12/12/2017

Unfortunately, Unicode is out: read this comment. This leaves us with LaTeX or "nothing", which increasingly seems to be the better option.

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    $\begingroup$ I understand the problem, and would like to see that italics would be used for latin names, also in titles. However, if that is not possible, I think making up our own rules of marking down would be impossible and maybe even be frustrating for new users that are not aware of these local rules. $\endgroup$ – user35628 Nov 29 '17 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ How about we don't use species names in titles, i.e. edit them out, if necessary? The subject can be introduced by the colloquial name in the title and the exact species will be...specified in the question's body. So how about: "How many teeth do dogs have?" "I know that dogs (Canis lupus) have very sharp fangs, but how many teeth do they have in total?" If the exact species matters a lot for the question we could say in the title: "a species of X" and then give the species name in the body. $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Nov 29 '17 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ Alternatively, I believe we can have MathJax in titles, so how about $Canis$ $lupus$ ? The text is not exactly italicized but it comes close. $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Nov 29 '17 at 15:05
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry but your example gives some issues already, Canis lupus is a wolf not a dog. Furthermore, especially many less known species would be difficult to translate to common English names. $\endgroup$ – user35628 Nov 29 '17 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @b.nota Yes, of course, I was wrong, but it does not matter at all for the proposal. You are right that this would not work for species that have no colloquial name, but I failed to find any questions with such species names in their title with a brief search. If they exist, they are going to be very, very rare. I tend to favour my second suggestion, btw. $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Nov 29 '17 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ Yes we can use LaTeX in titles, but (1) it looks odd to have two different fonts and (2) I think it would have the same issues as described in the meta post linked to in the question. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 29 '17 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ @b.nota Canis lupus is the scientific name for both wolves and dogs (technically speaking we could say just "wolves", since dogs are wolves). Other than that I agree with you in your comment: using common names is not a good alternative, it will raise even more problems (sorry for criticising your suggestion, vkehayas). $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 29 '17 at 22:17
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    $\begingroup$ Quotation marks are used for names not validly published. $\endgroup$ – user37894 Nov 29 '17 at 22:37
  • $\begingroup$ I believe Martin is talking about this: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Undescribed_taxon. Even that being the case, I still reckon that this option (using quotation marks) is better than leaving the name the way it is now, without any highlighting. But that`s a good point against the "quotation marks" solution, thanks for that. $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 30 '17 at 2:42
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    $\begingroup$ If you can't see the latin in Canis Lupus and need a "marker" to realize it (and you are writing in a Biology Forum), then the question is just a mannerism. $\endgroup$ – Billeeb Nov 30 '17 at 7:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Billeeb Most people here are professionals (I am, since 25 years ago), we all know what Canis lupus is. That's not the point. The point is that Canis lupus is wrong, it must be Canis lupus. That's a basic taxonomic rule that must be followed by any kind of publication. By the way, with very rare exceptions, you cannot capitalise the specific epithet, as you did in your comment. $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 30 '17 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ @vkehayas Great. And for many other similar "template" like situations, SE sites provides different MathJax and LaTex plug-ins. For example Music stackexchange have their special plugins. I also wish we should have plug-ins for writing floral-formulae and floral diagrams (for angiospermic plants), dental formulae (vertebrates), etc. $\endgroup$ – Always Confused Dec 1 '17 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ I agree that the inability to italicize scientific names is annoying. However, in the absence of being able to italicize the names directly in the title, I think any other solution would be too arbitrary, hard to "teach" others to use consistently, or result in other issues (e.g., searchability or rendering issues using some browsers). I am directly opposed to eliminating scientific names from titles as one comment suggests, and instead just say we all deal with it and make sure scientific names are italicized properly in the body of the text. $\endgroup$ – theforestecologist Dec 1 '17 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ Why are italics in the title "out of question"? This site wasn't made by a god out of contact, was it? $\endgroup$ – Rodrigo Dec 2 '17 at 2:11
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    $\begingroup$ @GerardoFurtado I think both would appear as a result for "Canis lupus" search, so still don't see what the problem is. $\endgroup$ – Rodrigo Dec 2 '17 at 14:40

Just use unicode

For example Canis lupus can be written as 𝘊𝘒𝘯π˜ͺ𝘴 𝘭𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘴. I did not use markdown for that, but unicode characters, which does work in question titles. You can use this utility to convert regular text to italic text (I was using the Math sans italic font). This one also looks good.

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    $\begingroup$ This seems like the best option. A question from someone with limited programming knowledge: if you searched for Canis lupus, would the Unicode version be found? $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 7:58
  • $\begingroup$ Depends how you search for it. It appears that Google doesn't care. Neither does Stackexchange. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Nov 30 '17 at 8:00
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of the inverse search. Searching for Canis lupus doesn't seem to recognize 𝘊𝘒𝘯π˜ͺ𝘴 𝘭𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘴. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer What do you mean? This answer showed up in the search. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Nov 30 '17 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ The search recognizes Canis lupus from this answer, but does it recognize 𝘊𝘒𝘯π˜ͺ𝘴 𝘭𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘴? In other words, if a post only contained only the phrase 𝘊𝘒𝘯π˜ͺ𝘴 𝘭𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘴, will a search for Canis lupus find it? $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 8:06
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    $\begingroup$ This link would seem to suggest so. The sandbox is a good place to play around with this. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Nov 30 '17 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ Ah okay, thanks. And thanks for the link to the sandbox, I was unaware such a place existed. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ In the app at least what you wrote appears as boxes, it's not rendered. $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Nov 30 '17 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez Unicode is not that simple unfortunately. For instance, I'm seeing the mobile page using chrome for mobile and it's not showing anything, just a bunch of boxes. So, at least for this browser, this is not an option. $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 30 '17 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ @GerardoFurtado Hmm, how about 𝘊𝘒𝘯π˜ͺ𝘴 𝘭𝘢𝘱𝘢𝘴? Or πΆπ‘Žπ‘›π‘–π‘  𝑙𝑒𝑝𝑒𝑠? $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Nov 30 '17 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ Nope, just boxes. $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 30 '17 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ For what it’s worth, this renders fine in the app for iOS. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ I was using the Android app. Is that a bug of the Android app then? @canadianer Does it also show up correctly in a browser in your device? $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Nov 30 '17 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ @PyRulez Just to let you know, it's working on my laptop. The problem seems to be that the HTML entities you chose are not covered by the android fonts. This is what I was seeing on my mobile, scroll down to "android". I am a web developer (Javascript), and I know that it is a pain in the neck writing a code that works on all user agents. So, I'd like to say that I liked your solution very much, but we have to find Unicode characters that work with Android, Windows, Linux, OS X, iOS etc... $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 30 '17 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ Please don’t do this. $\endgroup$ – Wrzlprmft Dec 9 '17 at 17:24

This is really not worth bothering about.

The standard of titles on SE Biology is in general awful: lack of initial capitals, lack of question marks and poor English. It would be nice if it were possible to apply more sophisticated markup to titles for other reasons (subscripts, Greek characters), but, until SE does that, there is nothing to be done.

In my opinion energy would be better spent ensuring that titles are clear, appropriate and indexable.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, since I speak a broken English I'll refrain from editing questions (and writing answers) on BioSE from now on, thanks for your advice. By the way you left a dash and a colon in your edit, that doesn't exist in English (or in any other 4 languages I speak). $\endgroup$ – user24284 Dec 12 '17 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ And that's precisely why I said that, following your wise advice, I'll not write here anymore. Have a lovely life. $\endgroup$ – user24284 Dec 12 '17 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ @GerardoFurtado β€” I'm sorry you seem to have taken offence. I did not mean to imply you should not contribute. Only that your written English is far better than my written German (or French, or Italian). Your point is deemed a valid one by other people. I just happen to disagree. Others have marked my answer down. That's life. $\endgroup$ – David Dec 12 '17 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ This question is not about the use of English and we are not here to learn English. Hence, your last paragraph is uncalled for which is why I can easily see how @GerardoFurtado may have taken offence. Feel free to open a new question about the subject or edit more posts as you have. $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Dec 12 '17 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ @vkehayas Oh dear. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I have edited my answer and removed an associated comment. I trust it no longer causes offence. $\endgroup$ – David Dec 13 '17 at 9:53

This is not an answer, but I thought it may be useful to show, since it was suggested in the comments, what LaTeX would look like for this use case. Note that this may suffer the same pitfalls as outlined in this meta post.

$Canis\ lupus$

$Canis\ lupus$

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ That's an interesting option. Does LaTeX work in the title as well? $\endgroup$ – user24284 Nov 30 '17 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ @GerardoFurtado Sometimes. It works in Edge, Chrome and Safari, but not in the SE app nor, apparently, will search engines render it correctly. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 0:56
  • $\begingroup$ In the app, for example, it will appear as $Canis\ lupus$ $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ If you search for "Canis" it will appear in the results, though. $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Nov 30 '17 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @vkehayas I don't think the worry is searching, I think the worry is that it is not rendered properly in some clients. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 8:10
  • $\begingroup$ Why do you add the "\" into the description? If you want to use a small space, this would be "\,". $\endgroup$ – Chris Nov 30 '17 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Chris Why? Because, beyond this site, I've never used LaTeX for anything and was unaware that that existed. The output seems the same, though. $\endgroup$ – canadianer Nov 30 '17 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ @canadianer True, but at least it appears as text where it is not rendered (contrary to the Unicode alternative), and can be searched within stackexchange. $\endgroup$ – vkehayas Nov 30 '17 at 8:23
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see. In LaTeX a "\" usually introduces a command, so it is one of the "protected" characters when writing texts. If it is followed by a blank, it is at best ignored, at worst it will crash the compilation of the text. $\endgroup$ – Chris Nov 30 '17 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ This font indeed looks like fonts used in old taxonomic keys. $\endgroup$ – Always Confused Dec 1 '17 at 17:37

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