Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Steven Pinker, James Gleick, Brian Greene, Lone Frank, and Joshua Foer debate what makes good science writing
Ian Tucker in The Observer:
Joshua Foer: When the Royal Society was founded in 1660, it was still possible for an educated person, a polymath, actually to know something about everything. Today, that is not possible. Steven Pinker might be a great cognitive scientist but I bet he can't explain how they discovered the Higgs boson.
Brian Greene: He just explained it to me earlier and he did quite a good job.
JF: That speaks to why we need great interpreters more than ever. And what we do becomes more and more important because as science becomes more esoteric it requires people to help the rest of us to understand it.
When you are writing where do you set the difficulty dial? Do you want your readers to finish your book in one sitting or work hard at every sentence to glean some insight from it?
Steven Pinker: Before I wrote my first cognitive book, I got a bit of advice from an editor, which was probably the best advice I ever received. She said that the problem many scientists and academics have when they write for a broad audience is that they condescend; they assume that their target audience isn't too bright, consists of truck drivers, chicken pluckers and grannies knitting dollies, and so they write in motherese, they talk down. She said: "You should assume your readers are as smart as you are, as curious as you are, but they don't know what you know and you're there to tell them what they don't know." I'm willing to make a reader do some work as long as I do the work of giving them all the material they need to make sense of an idea.
Posted by S. Abbas Raza at 10:57 AM | Permalink