Less Drama, More Science

No matter where you go, writing is an important skill to have. This was one of the things that I wrote about in my application to the writing minor. Giving it some more thought, I realized that sure, writing is important, but the types of writing differ so dramatically that just saying a person is a “good writer” has a bunch of different meanings.

In the science field, there is only one kind of writing. I’ve practiced this kind of writing. State what you wanted to do, why you wanted to do it, how you did it, what the results were, and what implications it could possibly have. It’s tedious and not exactly fun, but it definitely accomplishes the goal of communication. No doubt, communicating is important, but this type of writing is not what I pictured myself doing. I’ve always wanted to take the boring literature and translate it for the layperson. I know that research is losing a lot of funding mostly due to the fact that scientists cannot communicate their ideas to the regular public.

Magazines like Discover are a perfect example of this. It is so important to close the gap between scientists and the general public so that more people can be interested in funding projects. There are two main issues  that I have with these magazine. One: they are too highly dramatized. Two: since they are print magazines, there is still a large delay in the time it takes for the information to reach the public.

I once read an article in Discover entitled “The Humans With Super Human Vision” (July-August 2012). I immediately perked up because hey, that’s really cool. I wondered about X-ray vision, maybe infrared or night vision capabilities. I was so disappointed upon reading the article because the apparent “super power” that these people had was an extra cone in their retina. This basically means that they had a different type of color receptor which allowed them to distinguish between very similar shades of the same color. The article made it seem like this was some sort of amazing discovery, that perhaps there was a whole new spectrum of light that we couldn’t see. But really, it was only found in very small numbers of women, and they could tell you when one shade of blue was actually different than another that a normal person would think was the same.

This dramatization really bothers me. I think that it is essentially counterproductive, because it sucks people in and then leaves them wanting more. They get instantly disappointed because they were expecting superman and they got “Actually I think this is more of a robin’s egg blue.” Who would want to support research about this? At least be realistic with the titles. Lead with what the implications could really be, not what people supposedly want to hear. I think it would be the best thing in the world to start a blog that has the same objective: communicate with the world the things that people are doing behind closed doors in research labs, but do it honestly. This way, there is no deception, and maybe the science world wouldn’t be hurting for money.

3 thoughts to “Less Drama, More Science”

  1. Kristen, I think you brought up some really interesting points in this! First off, I totally understand the requirements to write formulated results and how dull it is, and I think it’s super awesome that you want to translate such writing. Someone very seriously needs to do that!

    Also, in terms of misleading scientific titles, I’ve definitely experienced that frustration before when expecting something great and reading about an extremely dull topic. However, kudos to all of the writers who create titles clever enough to draw us in. After all, that is kind of the point. I guess there is a fine line between being dramatic and captivating, and as writers we will all need to figure out at which point our titles become lies by proxy.

  2. Hi Kristen!

    It was really interesting for me to read your blog. I don’t have a lot of talent or passion for science, so it was eye opening to me to hear about scientific writing from your perspective. I remember clearly doing the very structured scientific writing you talked about and I, too, found it dry and boring. I love the point you were making about the challenge of making scientific writing interesting and appealing to the general audience without using dramatization to create what is basically false advertising. Maybe incorporating new media would be a way to make science instantly available and more applicable to less knowledgable people? I think you’d be a great person to start exploring this!

  3. Hey Kristen,

    Although I don’t know a whole lot about the science field, I’ve definitely noticed this as well in journalism. Dramatization is actually a legitimate way that journalists “entertain” their audience to get more viewers, which is extremely unethical. I’m a firm believer, as I think you are too, that keeping the audience entertained should be one of the smaller concerns in the professional world, especially when there is deception involved.

    I agree that a blog would be a good platform to tell the public objectively about advances in science. I just think the one setback would be having it be credible, but there is bound to be something reputable out there that will become popular!

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