Unit 1: Science and Science Writing Discussion

Read Mary Roach's introduction to The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011 (xv-xx). As she describes Bilger's piece on milk fermentation, she writes,

this_is_not_science_writingPeople are not drawn to his writing for the science as much as for the things that bring it to life: characters, setting, stories, wit.  These are the sugar, to be all cliche about it, that makes the medicine go down.  Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine/  It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blinders, generates wonder, brings the open palm to the forehead: Oh! Now I get it! And Sometimes it does much more than that. (xv)

Consider this idea in terms of other pieces of science and nature writing you have read. You are welcome to consider books. articles, or news articles as examples. Do believe this quote describes the necessary elements of successful science and nature writing? Why or why not? How should scientists connect with their audiences in writing? Does a science writer need to use different skills to connect with both lay readers and other scientists?

Write your response as a comment to this page.

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36 thoughts on “Unit 1: Science and Science Writing Discussion

  1. Angelica Kougl

    In this quote from the introduction of The BASNW 2011, Mary Roach accurately describes the importance of the connection between the writer and the audience for successful science writing. Science writing needs to present readers with raw facts and at the same time be delivered in a way that is easy to “swallow” or comprehend. Roach describes how science writers use witty narrative writing to “quietly open their eyes to the direness of the situation”. A science writer writes with the intention to share his or her valuable message with the world. Whether their message is meant to provoke thought or present a call to action, the message will not be heard unless people want to read it in the first place. In order for people to read their work and understand what they are reading, the scientist must find a way to connect with a wide variety of readers that have different educational backgrounds and levels of knowledge on the topic. One way writers do this is by nestling their call to action within a story or relatable real life event that they may find more interesting. Roach gave a good example of this clever technique of making people aware of the truth with “New Dog in Town” by Christopher Ketcham. By opening with a fascinating story about how coyotes are quickly and effectively adapting to living in close quarters with humans, Ketcham is able to grab the attention of his audience and then is also able to tell readers about the coyotes’ fate of dying out due to habitat loss . From reading Roach’s opinion on what successful science writing looks like, I think science writers can be thought of as a translator of sorts. They take raw, factual information and package it to be as universally comprehensible as it can be without losing the power behind the message.

    1. Erin Dodds

      This is an interesting way to view science writers; calling them translators makes sense. They do have to keep in mind who their audience is and I think they have a greater duty to make published papers more palatable to the average Joe. Because if you think about it, scientific studies are not written with any fluff at all, and so these writers have to fill in where the scientific paper is lacking. They make data and numbers mean something to people who do not even work in that particular field. So a LOT of filling is necessary!

  2. Matthew Wetherington

    RR #1

    In this introduction, I think Ms. Roach does a very good job at laying out what goes into making an essay on a science subject stand out. She talks about how it’s not just the educational value of the work, but also its ability to capture the reader’s attention, and make the subject fascinating. I think this captured paragraph is very truthful, when I recall the scientific essays I can easily recollect, the one point they seem to all have in come is; they were able to tell a story. Either of how science was at play, or a story of a biological issue facing the world, or a country. Essays like “Fish Out Of Water” are my favorite, because they present to you the issue, but in a very silly and entertaining way. I know if Frazier would have just started going in-depth on DNA analysis I would have dropped the article, and moved on to something else in my life. Ultimately, these essays; articles, and stories made me stop and mentally act like “Oh! Now I get it!”.

    1. Angelica Kougl

      I like how you added your own personal experience with scientific writing. Just like you, I would only remember the articles that gave the information in the form of a story as opposed to articles spitting out facts about DNA analysis. I think that it is important to note that this is what Roach is saying science writers need to strive for: making readers WANT to read their content and making their work memorable and shareable. If no one is willing to read or remember your work, the work may as well have not been written at all in the first place.

  3. Emily Nerbonne

    Reading Response #1

    Throughout the indroduction, written by Mary Roach, of “The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011”, you are shown how exceptional science writers connect with their audiences. Ms. Roach sums it up in that one quote on how science writers should write their work. The writers should bring their work to life for their readers. The writing shouldn’t just sound like a bunch of scientific facts accumulated onto a piece of paper. The essays should have elements in them that make the reader want to delve into the subject more and understand more about the natural world around them Writers should get their readers to laugh, cry, become amazed, and be completely studded over the subjects they describe in their writings. Science writers don’t want their readers to become bored; they want them to be enthralled with the story. Science writers need many skills to weave their stories together. Most anybody can write a ton of facts, but a truly gifted writer would be able take those facts and make them into a story that draws readers in. They need the skills to attract not just the science whizzes but also those who are on different levels of education. Mary herself even used this approach in the last paragraph of the introduction, on page twenty (xx). She briefly describes Hawking and Mlodinow’s M-theory and says ‘although physicists are on the verge of assembling a unifying network of theories to explain the workings of the universe, none of them “seem to know what the M stands for.” ‘ With that passage, Mary uses great writing skill to connect the different education levels. She also brings humor to the fact that genius physicists also have their faults. With those few lines, Mary shows how scientific writers should write their works. They should write their essays to bring in all different kinds of reader, to make all different people want to learn, to cause all different kinds of human to make a difference.

  4. Cassandra Lane

    I do believe that this quote from Mary Roach’s Introduction to The Best American Science and Nature Writing describes the necessary elements of successful science and nature writing. If the piece has numerous facts thrown at the reader, it makes it boring and hard for the reader to read and comprehend. A good piece has life to it, along with the facts and makes it easier for a reader to read and comprehend. Like Mary Roach says, “the things that bring it to life… These are the sugar, to be all cliché about it, that makes the medicine go down.” There are different ways to write scientific articles depending on the subject that is being written about but the one thing that they all need is a good hook to engage readers and keep them interested and reading the entire article which can be difficult to do. I do not read a lot of scientific articles but I did read a few this summer when I was researching the effects of fertilizer runoff on the Chesapeake Bay. It was a fascinating topic to research but some of the articles had so many facts that it was difficult to get through reading some of them. Scientists should try to engage readers with real life, descriptive scenarios. I think that a writer does need to use different skills to connect with both lay readers and other scientists. The writer will need to use different writing skills depending on where the article will be published. At the end of the text we read, it talked about how Frazier’s piece, that was published in The New Yorker, would have been different and the DNA work would have been expanded if it had been published in a science journal. Different wording would have likely been used and some stories, like the Redneck Fishing Tournament, would have been omitted based on the viewing audience. It is more appropriately added into the piece for the New Yorker to grab the reader’s attention and to keep them hooked than it would be in a science journal.

    1. Angelina Lund

      I agree that throwing a bunch of facts at the reader can be boring. If a piece doesn’t catch my attention right away, I am pretty much done. Then I have to read it several times to understand what the author is trying to say or the point that they are trying to get across.

  5. Tarean Allen

    I believe this quote describes the necessary elements of successful science and nature writing, because it will enable the writer to engage a wider range of audience. Scientist can relate to their audience by making their writing relatable to the average person’s daily life. Lay readers may not know all the scientific terminology, but they can understand how it affects their lives. The recent eclipse is a prime example of how scientists could communicate to the public the importance of not looking directly into the eclipse. They utilized all forms of media, to get people excited and informed. Mastering communicating with lay readers is as important as communicating with other scientists. Scientifically articulating one’s theories or ideas is necessary for validation from the professional scientific community. Many believed the Earth was flat until proven incorrect repeatedly using scientific data. Acknowledging your audiences’ scientific background is important to tactfully explain one’s theories. The ability to connect with your audience is a necessary skill for science and nature writers.

    1. Angelina Lund

      I like the way you mentioned a recent event to compare with science and nature writing. Nice touch. I believe that science and nature writers do have a more difficult time ” meshing” with their audience.

  6. Sara Church

    I do believe this quote by Mary Roach to be true. I love to read a lot, but is the writing is dull I tend to not absorb what i’m trying to read. Now add a little bit of sugar as Mary Roach says will help a lot for me to digest what I have just read. Mary talks about an article she read that was about making cheese. On its own the story would be quite boring but the writer Bilger was able to liven it up with the Nuns.
    Adding a way for people to relate to a story gives people a way to connect. This connection helps your regular everyday readers understand the science that is going on. Which allows for your article to reach more people than just the scientific communities. You are trying to open more minds to a new discovery or a plight on the other side of the world. The more people that can and will read your article the more people you can effect in the world.

    1. Tarean Allen

      I agree, it hard to absorb and relate to writing that is dull. The ability to enhance or embellish writing to attract more readers is essential to connect with people. I love your statement about opening minds to new discoveries and the ability to engage more people to change the world.

  7. Thomas Vordebruggen

    This quote correctly illustrates the connection between science and lay writing, in that it acknowledges the necessary frosting that is required to attract people to a cake of scientific jargon. It pinpoints the fact that oftentimes, if a reader does not have sufficient knowledge of the subject, readers will feel frustrated, ignorant, as if they’re being talked down to. Jokes, casual talk, and a more personal view from the author can make any documentary look more like a friend holding a conversation. In a recent book I picked up, Deep Survival, Laurence Gonzales retells personal adventures and delves into the science and psychology of why and who survives in an emergency. Although neuropsychology is beyond me, Gonzales did an excellent job of prefacing the book with many examples and explanations that keep the reader engages and understanding of his book’s deeper points. However, the important thing when writing anything is knowing your target audience, and if a scientific work is directed towards those of similar thinking, it is perfectly okay for a lay person to put down the work after picking it up. It’s a concern of who the scientist is writing for and their purpose in writing the work.

  8. Amanda Carr

    After I read this assignment I thought back to my Junior year in high school and the biology books that we had to read. What do I remember reading from that book…nothing? I am sure I retained and learned something from the book but nothing was coming to mind. Trying my hardest to remember something, I Googled “High school biology books from 2001” and I found it, Essential Biology by Cambell and Rees. I remembered the picture on the front but nothing in between the covers.

    This made me think …Do I remember reading anything from high school?
    “The Giver by Lois Lowery”! This was the first book that I can remember not being able to put down. It was a mandatory read for my Junior High English class and I absolutely loved it. It was not scientific but it is was science fiction, which in some ways did make me think scientifically. Could the things that happened in this book actually happen to the human species someday???

    I believe that the Mary Roach’s quote “Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine/ It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blinders, generates wonder, brings the open palm to the forehead” does describe “the necessary elements of successful science and nature writing” to about 95% of the human population (I made that statistic up).

    There is a reason why I could not remember reading or learning things from my high school biology book. The writing was probably painfully dry, but The Giver quenched my thirst for captivation and interesting writing.

    1. Cassandra Lane

      It has been many years since high school so I didn’t even make the connection until reading your post. I agree completely. I had such a tough time and still do with classes when the material is just dry. Material with a lot of facts jammed together makes it hard to concentrate and comprehend what is going on. I even took Chemistry in college but that was back in 2005 or 2006. I struggled in that course as well.
      I do not remember a whole lot of books that were required to be read in high school, but I do know that my group did not choose “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry. They chose “The Scarlet letter,” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and I did not make it entirely through that book. We also had to read, “1984,” by George Orwell and I did make it entirely through that book. My husband tells me how good, “The Giver,” by Lois Lowry was though and it sounds like it’s something I need to read in the near future.

      1. Brooke Mattice

        I can also relate to this. I cannot recall very much information from any of my science classes. The one class I do have some knowledge stored from is Anatomy. iI think this is only because it was relatable. It was informing me of information i could relate to myself and body.

        I wish we would have read more relatable pieces of writing in other classes. I feel like I would have enjoyed and appreciated going to class and doing the work a little bit more.

    2. Jessica Mathews

      hello there, I like how you related this specifically to a science book, made me stop and think about my science books in high school or even my math as I would put both hand in hand with each other on the “scientific note”. I do not remember anything with in those books either, but I do remember vividly all the movies I had to watch in my biology classes and that too would be, because of natural effects that would brought into these movies.

    3. Christie Hinrichs

      Post author

      I agree! I loved the Giver. Hope you find some fun/memorable reading in this class!

  9. Amanda Carr

    How should scientists connect with their audiences in writing? The only answer that keeps coming to mind for this question is: Try and write something you would want to read.
    It seems that scientist’s may only want to read what other scientists have written in “scientist language”. This is great for most of the scientist’s out there, but what about the rest of us “lay readers”? I think that good “science writer(s) need to use different skills to connect with both lay readers and other scientists”. After reading Mary Roach’ introduction to “The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2011 (xv-xx), it sounds like this exactly what she is trying to accomplish. Making it easier and enjoyable to read and learn science.

    1. Roger Vang

      It does seem like scientist’s only right for other scholars. The way they explain their hypothesis, methods, and results are very dull. Us “lay readers” want all the sentences to flow together and a reduction of all the jargon. A good science writer should be able to adapt different writing skills into their research papers or articles.

  10. Roger Vang

    I agree that most people probably do not expect character development, drama, or jokes when reading a science/research paper. These added sugars make scientific articles more enjoyable, but many writers have a difficult time making their articles sound humorous and more entertaining to read. Good scientific articles are not about entertaining writing, however, but about “peel[ing] away the blinders” (Roach, pg. XV). I enjoy reading scientific articles, but I have a tough time reading them because they are so often dull and dry. There is so much information used to back up the researcher’s hypothesis that it often becomes a real chore to decipher which information is relevant for my purposes. I think the best way for scientists to connect with their audience is to reduce the jargon and better express how their research helps the audience. Scientific writing is about sharing facts and their new findings. None the less, the facts must not be sacrificed.

    1. Michael Williams

      I agree with what you are saying about how scientist could be better served to cut down on the jargon and focus more on connecting the readers to the information. I think many academics forget what its like to be a laymen trying to read through heavy scientific research. This is very unfortunate as it helps contribute to the growing divide between the scientific community and the casual scientific enthusiast.

  11. Erin Dodds

    This entire introduction is both informative and confusing for me! I thought I understood the difficulties of making scientific findings appealing to the average person, but it has now become even more complex in my eyes. Then there is the differentiating between the writing of scientific papers, and the writing of scientific materials, which, as far as I know, are very different in their presentation of scientific findings. I’ve read a few scientific materials like “Salt” by Mark Kurlansky and “Freakonomics” by Dubner and Levitt that presented scientific papers, historical documents, and their own interpretation of some materials. Any good book is capable of entertaining their audience while being informative. But what Roach describes in her book is more than merely enjoyable packaging.
    Roach describes an important aspect of scientific writing, and that is the ability to reveal to the scientific community any inconsistencies within materials. “Ioannidis looked at the forty-five of the most often cited and highly regarded medical research papers of the past thirteen years…forty-one percent of those, Ioannidis found, ‘had been convincingly shown to be wrong or significantly exaggerated.’ Science writing regularly honors the accomplishments of science, but is equally important to expose its shortcomings” (xvii, Roach).
    This passage struck a chord within me. In statistics and any basic biology course we are all taught how to approach findings from an experiment; how to examine new information from every angle and what mistakes or assumptions for which to look. Therefore, my take on it was that scientific papers are, for the most part, correct in their findings and any erroneous published papers would be quickly recognized and dismissed accordingly. Of course even the best of us make mistakes. But I always attributed these mistakes mostly to inaccurate interpretations of data. I never realized how often incorrect data could become part our common perception.
    It is now obvious to me that someone writing a book would have numerous materials to categorize and analyze. It makes sense now that scientific writers would accumulate mass amounts of information, then be able to distinguish flawed data from an accurate set. I also believe that I had a bias against any writing not in the format of published scientific studies.
    I suppose the reason I considered writers of scientific materials to be less associated with any actual scientific studies is because of the few examples that I have witnessed of incorrect interpretations of data. I am talking about things like news articles taking data and manipulating its significance into something completely different. I assumed that these types of news stories took information from scientific writing that was in turn interpreting data from scientific papers.
    I think it is terribly ironic the way I viewed scientific writers and their lack of importance because I am always trying to employ my critical thinking skills. And obviously this has led me to write off (yes, I did that) some crucial elements in scientific writing.

    (P.S. My understanding from reading the syllabus is that we choose our own passage/questions from the materials, so I am confused as to why you have chosen a passage for us to discuss. I hope I did this correctly!)

    -Erin Dodds

    1. Kristopher Dunkle

      I remember reading an article about Ioannidis’ work a few years ago and being similarly struck. Like you, I’d thought that journal articles were largely correct and any significant mistakes would be caught quickly after publishing. It’s still a little mind-boggling how far off that is from his findings. Your mention of it spurred me to look for more current information and from what I’ve found in various articles, he believes that if anything, the problem is getting worse.

      (I was also confused by the differences between instructions here on the assignment page and in the syllabus. In the end I chose to go with the ones here, since they’re specific to this unit and narrowly-scoped rules generally supersede broader ones. That said, I’d love some clarification.)

      1. Christie Hinrichs

        Post author

        Sorry for the confusion, guys! But yes, following this page instructions is best!

  12. Michael Williams

    Personally I connect very strongly with this quote from Mary Roach, as so much of the scientific articles I read for my Wildlife major are so hard to read. Even on subjects I find fascinating it can be difficult to sift through the lifeless articles that present the information as though it were a eulogy. As she said “people are not drawn to his writing as much for the science as for the things it brings to life”. No matter what the subject of writing or how utilitarian it may be, it is so important to be able to bring the writing to “life” or the readers will never really connect with the information being presented.

    One of the main reasons I got into Wildlife research was because one team of researchers came and presented at my high school, and with only a few power point slides they were able to convey so much heart and passion through their work that I was hooked. I certainly aspire to learn to write in such a way that even the most mundane research can be at the very least interesting enough so that readers can relate with and understand the work in an informative way.

    1. Gin Blake

      I think that is so awesome that “a presentation” helped find your passion in life. What makes this all even cooler is it wasn’t the presentation it was how it was written and presented. I am such a firm believer that tone and presentation of words can effect how things are portrayed. I use this in my everyday of work, friendships, relationships, strangers and even talking to myself!

      Science is probably my worst subject however I believe because its so hard for me to understand. However, I am a nursing major so I know this will be challenging. I have a lot of experience in the medical field and as I have been told by many, “The bookwork is the hardest part.” It’s quite inspiring you shared your experience and gave an awesome example of how something that could be difficult to understand affected you so much. Have a great semester!

  13. Brooke Mattice

    “People are not drawn to his writing for the science as much as for the things that bring it to life: characters, setting, stories, wit. These are the sugar, to be all cliche about it, that makes the medicine go down. Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine/ It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blinders, generates wonder, brings the open palm to the forehead: Oh! Now I get it! And Sometimes it does much more than that. “(xv)

    I believe this quote perfectly describes how scientific writer should make readers feel, when they are reading their work. I have read many scientific article, some of which I have had that “now I get it” moment. Those are the articles or pieces of writing that I have retained information from. They always have a great break down with simplistic yet detailed descriptions. I guess I would say scientists’ need to “dumb it down” for the general public. In my experience, if I is simple and relatable I can relate to and understand it, so I actually can take information form it and apply it.

    If a scientist is writing to the science community there is not a need to make things relatable like it is with the general public. They are knowledgeable in the field that you are talking about or have a better understanding of terminology and are more able to use that to figure out what is being said. One does not need to ad “fluff’ when writing to the science community.

    I am really appreciative of the scientific writer who can take their knowledge and transform it into something that everyone can understand. It is important for the general public to be able to expand their knowledge in the scientific field because incredible and life changing things are happening and being discovered daily.

  14. Kristopher Dunkle

    As cliche as it is, I love the sugar analogy. If the criteria for success are defined to include connecting with a wide audience of lay readers, then I have to agree that successful science writing requires both medicine and sugar, for the same reason that Roach gives: people generally find “raw” science (or similarly informative) writing bland and unappetizing. It seems to just be human nature, for better or worse. Since the subject alone isn’t enough to engage them, then logically the writer has to provide something more to draw them in, and who doesn’t love a good story or a good laugh? It’s certainly not something unique to science writing; I’ve heard similar advice about “writing for your audience” given for just about any writing task.

    Similarly, I was glad when she later acknowledged that characters, setting, and stories aren’t always necessary or appropriate: “[w]hen your characters are galaxies or subatomic particles, different standards apply. If your topic is “time” or “the elusive theory of everything,” simply helping the reader to understand will more than suffice” (xx). Just like too much added sugar in your diet is unhealthy, too much sugar in your writing gets in the way of the wonder and enlightenment that it was meant to support. I’ve read plenty of science articles that were entertaining and engaging, but in the end were unsatisfying: “empty calories,” to exend the analogy. In this way, “good” and “successful” are not only distinct but somewhat opposed. I think the key here, though, is that a little sugar can go a long way.

  15. Gin Blake

    I agree with some of the other responses that science writing cannot always be the easiest or appealing thing to read. Many articles/essays that are written about science in my opinion need to be written differently to reach all types of readers rather than just other scientists. I think scientist should try to use analogies in there writing to help connect with various types of readers.

    This reminds me of a church I have been to in the past. The pastor would read directly out of the Bible the entire sermon. The younger crowd had a hard time relating or being able to follow as they were looking for him to read the passage, not to change it, but be able to turn it into better understanding terms. Obviously, there is a ton of stuff scientist know and understand that someone without a background in science would know therefor to me it can kind of relate to each other.

    I agree with the authors opinions about science writing and the elements she believes in to make science writing more widespread for various readers. “Good science writing peels away the blinders, generates wonder, brings the open palm to the forehead: Oh! Now I get it!” To achieve this type of writing the writer must be able to acknowledge not everyone can understand science terms and they need to be able to “peel” away parts to retain the readers interest.

    1. Hunter Young

      I really thought it was interesting how you brought in your own experiences from church (which is something that is often taboo to exist alongside science) but I know exactly what you mean. If you have anyone presenting, like a lecture, it’s killer (in a bad way) to see someone just read off of their powerpoint rather than connect with the audience. There is something so confident about seeing someone know the material so well that they can easily draw comparisons and parallels to life.

  16. Chris Chapman

    This introduction is somewhat confusing yet sheds a light on what life has to bring. Reading, writing and living all give a layer of our lives to ourselves and to others. Though I have not done much reading of books in my life, I do understand the importance of it. Understanding one’s life is as important at times as understanding your own. I am not going to “quote” any books or articles due to have living various experiences of my own.

    Understanding what is written is not as important as what you interpret it as for yourself. I realize that scientists have many variables and theories to figure out an experiment. The only thing cliché in writing is having the same outcome. With the “lay reader,” many have the option to choose their own path. That is what makes writing personable. With having stated the obvious with the two variables, they are similar in the way with the experience that they have had with an experiment or life. I find it off putting that we could ever compare the two together knowing that one goes off science and the other goes off living and putting themselves in a situation. Though, many things that happen, happen from experience and/or an experiment. With that being said, everything in life is an experiment and can either become a solution or a theory. It all starts with what hypothesis is chosen for the beginning solution.

  17. Angelina Lund

    I do believe this quote describes the elements needed for science and nature writing. Science and nature writings have more of a challenge gaining the audiences interest and keeping it. Science writers should connect with their audience by using imagination, facts and a way for the audience to connect to the subject. I have never been much of a reader unless it is a subject that catches my attention from the beginning. The part of this quote that stands out the most to me “Good science writing peels away the blinders, generates wonder, brings the open palm to the forehead: Oh now I get it” A successful science writing makes their audience think outside of the box to understand what the writing is trying to portray.

    I enjoyed reading the Introduction piece by Roach. I liked how it looked into several different Science and Nature pieces to help us understand the difference lengths a Science and Nature writer has to go thru to get their audiences attention and keep it. How they take a subject that most people would find boring and turn it into an experience that the writer will never forget.

  18. Hunter Young

    I will be the first to admit that I do not read much scientific or natural essays or pieces. It’s something that I just have a hard time dissecting and understanding. I constantly battle between 1) wanting to enjoy the piece, but also 2) just wanting to know the facts and what’s important about the piece I am reading. I do think Mary Roach does a great job in her introduction satisfying both of those for me and giving some examples quickly of what makes this achievable.
    I think it’s so interesting her take of this type of writing. She makes great points about how the writer and the reader (or audience) must connect for the piece to work right. Making it anecdotal is a way to keep people interested, but also just basically making it personable can help as well. I really like her analogy about the sugar. It is a bit cheesy, but who doesn’t love cheesy things? It’s just such an accurate way to describe how great science writing can be both informative (the medicine) but also easy to swallow (because of the sugar).
    She does touch on something that I really found interesting and found really relatable. I think this next quote applies to why I have a hard time reading these types of writings enjoyably. She states: “In simpler times, good, careful writing about the natural world fostered awe and wonder … Today’s nature writing, more and more, fosters disquiet and concern. Much of this years [2011] best nature writing is a call to action …” I have a hard time reading about bad or negative things that are happening no matter how important they are. And most of the writing I’ve enjoyed reading (mostly sociological readings, which is kind of like science or nature [in a very abstract way]) come from earlier times. Those writings were more about discovery versus solutions. This type of writing really is based off of truth. Sometimes that truth can hurt. Roach describes how this type of writing can be done skillfully to “impart urgency without sowing despair.” That leads me back to the personable traits I believe Roach is trying to highlight in the great examples of this writing.
    Roach describes how scientific writing almost needs to be “dwindled” down not only to not scare or make people feel too sad, but also for it to be understandable. In her closing prose, she says, “When your characters are galaxies or subatomic particles, different rules apply.” Although you are not going to get an action thriller out of an essay written about quantum physics or how to make a baby in a test tube, I do think (and I’m really excited to learn and explore) there are ways that this type of writing can be greatly informative while still keeping an audience awake.

  19. Jessica Mathews

    After reading the Introduction by Mary Roach in “The Best American Science and Nature Writing” I feel like it helped open my eyes and look at everything with a different perspective. The quote “People are not drawn to his writing for the science as much as for the things that bring it to life: characters, setting, stories, wit. These are the sugar, to be all cliche about it, that makes the medicine go down. Make no mistake, good science writing is medicine/ It is a cure for ignorance and fallacy. Good science writing peels away the blinders, generates wonder, brings the open palm to the forehead: Oh! Now I get it! And Sometimes it does much more than that. (xv)” is on both a serious note as well as a fun laid back note made me think a little differently than I typically would have. I do believe that the quote described both the necessary elements of successful science as well as nature writing like it says make no mistake science writing is medicine which I think means, do not make it more difficult than it needs to be it will all work itself out. Scientist should connect with their audiences in their writing(s) by keeping everything in a non- scientific format. When stories are clearly written out they are much easier to follow as well as more enjoyable, at least for me. Science writers do need to connect with both lay readers and scientists on a different level, other scientists know the lingo vs lay readers will get lost and confused when reading.

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