The Little Book of Scientific Writing

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See page of the book, The Mind of A Mnemonist, for the mention of this section you might also want to check with a different English translation of the Russian here. And perhaps this should be a more common model in the science book realm as well. I totally agree that some of this needs to occur in order to communicate the science to a general audience. You commented that in my redescription of what Luria actually said, I had taken my facts from Lehrer. It would have to be a fairly general in terms of discipline, but b include a fair amount of research methods theory, and statistics. Brian Clegg on August 2, at 5:

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What Jonah Lehrer reveals about popular science writing

Write a customer review. There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later. It was fun and I loved the collection of quotes, which includes some I hadn't seen before and will definitely use. The reproductions from Keppler, Copernicus, Darwin and others are nice and remind us that the science writing we do today continues something we've been doing for Centuries: I was, however, left asking, "who is this book for?

But if you already know how to write a paper, you don't need this book. Its use will be as a set of shorthand reminders for advising students on how to construct their manuscripts. As a book for those students--the people who need the advice and guidance--it fails. The author argues "Condense, condense, condense" but you can over-condense, squeezing out the fruit and leaving just the skin behind. There isn't enough explanation to adequately illustrate and explain the messages to flesh them out and give them meaning to a novice.

They are part of the way we master our writing craft, but of course they are not all of it. How should grad students learn to write? A bit cheesy, perhaps, but grad students love it and it is a light-hearted entrance to the importance of punctuation and some other things. What makes a great scientist? I am familiar with only one book that I became genuinely excited about, for its academic rigor i. This book is the most recent edition of John C. Sorry to be unhelpful…. How to find a squirrel Scientist Sees Squirrel.

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Deals with writing of any sort. The Elements of Style Strunk and White. Writing of any sort. This may be the most famous writing book there is. The Sense of Style Pinker. This, despite its title, is largely a book about vocabulary and grammar. You could be forgiven for flipping quickly through Chapter 3, which diagrams sentences and dissects their syntax in more depth than you might want although there are lessons to reward you if you stick with it. But the remaining chapters are both useful and entertaining.

Well done on a thoughtful piece. When we write academic papers, these are meant to be very dry and precise, and we are discouraged from too much speculation. This writing habit can make it difficult to transfer to writing for a general audience, where less formality, and more dramatic padding is useful, and perhaps some wider speculation is appropriate. But I think scientists can overcome this with practice, especially with help from editors, journalists and so on.

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Buy The Little Book of Scientific Writing on ✓ FREE SHIPPING on qualified orders. The Craft of Scientific Writing and millions of other books are available for .. many people in science, including myself, write in a manner that is little more than.

Another dilemma that exists, I think, is basically to do with money. But money is the main thing that a general audience book publisher cares about, as otherwise it will go bankrupt and cease to exist. Profits come far more easily from the science writers who centre on the stories, and so a publisher can centre on this sellable feature more than the accuracy of the words.

I read large numbers of popular science books for review and whether they are written by journalists or scientists they almost always contain errors — its almost inevitable with something of that length. But the vast majority of the books by journalists are better than those by scientists which are often awfully written.

I agree that some scientists write awful science books. Part of the reason for this, as I mentioned above, is it not being part of their job description, so they have to squeeze writing in during their spare time, and lack the practice. But would you say that those science books that are classed as classics, and last for many years, tend largely to be written by scientists?

Hi Brian, thanks for this interesting perspective. Are these far more rare? Would you tell them me to simply stay away from the field? This is not a snarky question, but an honest one, because I am so interested in science and science communication, and so afraid of committing errors.

Some OTHER good books on scientific writing | Scientist Sees Squirrel

I have done this gladly for some of my journalist friends. I was feeling somewhat sad for Jonah, wondering if the pressure got to be too much, till I read this. Which is what Lehrer did in the Tablet story too— trying to get the reporter to print a fish story.

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Honestly, the way he reacts to getting caught is the biggest problem here. This is the age old and unresolvable culture clash between journalism and science regarding accuracy. Daniel, you seem to suggest PhD level specificity and accuracy. And I truly believe this can be done without disservice to overall accuracy.

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I researched each piece and then had scientists, other than those I had interviewed in many cases, review it for accuracy. They corrected glaring mistakes I made many…glad they were caught but were fine with the simplifications and omissions the form required. Egregious errors are unforgivable by any standards, but there need to be more wiggle room in the definition of accuracy than the high standard you seem to think is the right one.

Thanks for the comment, David. I totally agree that some of this needs to occur in order to communicate the science to a general audience. And level of smoothing over matters more in some fields than others — if you overly smooth a story about how spiders walk up walls, say, there are few consequences.

But there are some scientific issues in the newspapers, for instance in the medical sphere, or to do with global warming, where exactly what you report may really matter, and where ignoring certain caveats or details can paint a distorted picture of the science, with serious consequences.

Is a newspaper reporter without the relevant scientific background more likely to miss some crucial caveats here, and choose to write an essentially unscientific position, with dangerous consequences? But most science articles are written by specialists at this point. Sometimes the specialists mess up details, too. I come from a marketing background and have been interested in the subject of behavioral economics.

Like many other readers, I feel cheated as well. My question is more general. Coming from a non science background, books, articles, are the only sources for people like me to gain knowledge about these subjects. And someone like Jonah Lehrer does what he did, how do we trust anyone else? I guess more has to do with policy reform when it comes to book publishing and changes need to be made which keep stuff like this in check before the material reaches consumers. I agree that strategic changes, with more reviews and checks, would help build trust and accuracy.

If it is sourced, many academic papers are available and in many cases a general audience can get a gist or check basic facts. Finally, bug other scientists so many now on Twitter or with blogs with questions, other opinions, or potential corroborations. Great post, and the Shereshevsky anecdote is quite telling. Alas, though there were a handful of really spot-on early reviews like this—http: It was clear that when it came to science and anything having to do with the brain, they were uninformed and complete pushovers.

I think, as your post suggests, the Lehrer case argues not only for more careful, better-trained science journalists, but also for book reviewers with more subject-matter competence. Had there been more smart and tough-minded critics, this whole thing might have been nipped in the bud sooner. Props to you Daniel for creating a really good environment.

I think this was a great article. Thank you for writing it. I enjoyed your portrayal of the facts, as well as practical suggestions for how Lherer might rebound in his career and how the field as a whole might improve. I enjoy your different take on the situation. Hopefully lessons will be learned and the field may be improved with time. Stephen Pinker, to me, is the best example of supremely successful popular science writing. He is genuinely a scientist and believes deeply in hard data and verifiable claims, but he is also able to tell vivid stories that make the science engaging and visceral to the lay reader.

Thanks for the compliment and the chance for me to clarify this point. See page of the book, The Mind of A Mnemonist, for the mention of this section you might also want to check with a different English translation of the Russian here. And, of course, he was able to use his technique and reproduce several stanzas of The Divine Comedy, not only with perfect accuracy of recall, but with the exact stress and pronunciation. Moreover, the test session took place fifteen years after he had memorized these stanzas and, as usual, he was not forwarned about it.

I think a few minutes of slowly reading a few stanzas is about the right time for a single reading. And the implication in the text, given the context of the wider passage, is overwhelminngly that he just needs a single hearing, rather than the more mundane repeated presentation. But in page 48, the passage implies that he was both tested at the time and 15 years later.

So studying can only explain the later test, which happened 15 years after the fact, and, as you can see from the quote above, he was not forewarned about. The Shereshevsky point was not so much that Lehrer made a mistake, but that he lied about the editor making the mistake instead of him, then repeated the mistake in two later blogs. None of that applies to me!! The wider issue surrounding this is how much you critique your source, which I definitely think is a point relevant to Lehrer and some of his problems and very much worth discussing.

I think there are many factors that modulate how much you critique the sources — for instance, the length of article a hundred word piece can mean there is little space to be critical, but a whole book gives much more room for this , whether the source is making a side point as my Shereshevsky description above essentially was!

Getting this balance right means writing something that is both accurate and interesting and is probably one of the key features of a good science writer, I guess. Learning something like a poem is hugely more difficult if you have just one hearing compared with, say, two or three. However, a detailed reading of this passage makes this interpretation implausible.

This is a basic mistake on one of the most common words in the Italian language. That suggests that rather than memorising perfect Italian, at best S would have been memorising a poem spoken in a halting and incorrect Russian accent. Luria is a respected authority, but that respect should only go so far. In particular, Luria appears to demonstrate no understanding of the standard mnemonic techniques that have been used by showmen, magicians and memory performers through the ages.

The Little Book of Scientific Writing by Nancy Fox (Paperback / softback, 2011)

Typically, memory performers would use mnemnonic techniques, which allow feats such as remembering a poem after a few minutes. They may combine this with a certain amount of showmanship — for example, keeping a diary and revising things they might be asked to remember, and they may give colourful and misleading descriptions of how they do it. It should be treated as such. I mentioned Shereshevsky primarily to highlight that Lehrer was inaccurately reporting what Luria had written about, then Lehrer lied about the mistake, and then repeated it.

You commented that in my redescription of what Luria actually said, I had taken my facts from Lehrer. Luria is one of the most respected and insightful psychologists of the 20th century, and this book of his is written about a single person that he studied for decades.

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I am cautious about negatively interpeting his work, as some problems may have occurred during translation hence my linking of an alternative translation above. And I would strongly imagine that the event was recorded on audio tape, so that it could be checked years later if necessary. And thanks again for being so responsive to questions from the general public in your excellent blog. Popular science writing is difficult. It is difficult for those with scientific training and for those with journalism training. Only the problems may be different.

I made the conscious decision when I went to college that I would really be a better writer than a scientist. I read research papers and then read how writers have interpreted them. In this, Lehrer fell off the bandwagon. The insights of those commenting, the style of writing used by Daniel and all those who either agree or disagree with him, and the relevance of this topic in contemporary science articles for laymen make this worthwhile and thoughtful reading.