Posted tagged ‘science writing’

Why I’m not spoofing Jenks

June 28, 2010


In a way, I’m a fan of Simon Jenkins’ work- it always provides easy blog fodder whenever he ventures into science commentary. His latest piece on the BBC’s Reith lectures painted a patently ludicrous comparison with a Soviet Academy, while the safety fears over flying through the Icelandic ash cloud were reminiscent of a McCarthyism of fear. Thoroughly daft exaggeration in my humble opinion, and worthy of a little satire.

The physicist Jon Butterworth is clearly of the same opinion, and posted a spoof Simon Jenkins piece on his Life and Physics blog, which then inspired Jennifer Rohn to declare Monday “Spoof Jenkins Day”- which quickly spread around the sciencey areas of the twitter-sphere. There is a summary of the resulting posts on Jennifer Rohn’s blog.

I know it’s intended as fun, but it just doesn’t feel right. One spoof post, if done well, is fine, but I firmly believe in attacking the ideas, rather than the people behind them. This post on the In the Dark blog is just unpleasant.

Satire takes skill and subtlety. This mass effort, though producing some gems, smacks too much of personal vendetta to my taste. Sorry folks.

Nanotech for eternal life?

February 2, 2010


I’ve  just watched the Richard Dimbleby lecture featuring author Sir Terry Pratchett, entitled shaking hands with death.

Pratchett, who announced he had Alzheimer’s in 2007, argued persuasively in this lecture for the right to assisted death at a time of his choice. This is obviously a contentious issue, and one which this post can’t hope to resolve. Suffice to say that Pratchett stated a thoughtful case case with humour and dignity.

Death is the great unifier- it is no more inevitable for Pratchett than for anyone else, it’s just that he knows the thing that is most likely to kill him without intervention, and has a reasonable idea of what the degenerative process associated with his condition will be like.

Pratchett’s lecture is not depressing, nor does it play for pity. Rather, he states that if he knows he can chose to die at any time, it will allow him to live every day to its fullest. If anything, his is a life-affirming message. (more…)

Why science writing is like sex

January 26, 2010


After last week’s depressing story, I wanted to write about something a bit more positive this time round. It’s about communication of science, and how attitude is everything.

Science is thought of as dull, but only because it’s often communicated in a dull way. As scientists, we’re trained to write in a particular way for the benefit of other scientists, but it doesn’t work if you try to use the same language with the lay public.

I want to talk about a different approach. Language is amazing. It lets you connect with people on a deep level, and share images and ideas and emotions. But language is a massive barrier if you use the wrong words the wrong way.

These are my three rules for science writing, and they have nothing to do with scientific knowledge or technical writing skill, but everything to do with attitude. (more…)


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