So you want to write a pop-sci book
March 15, 2010 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Thanks for the post. It's interesting to see how science writing gets approached by someone coming from the writing direction rather than the science one.

I want to disagree to some degree with Welland's opinion on jargon, though. Yes, there are phrases that are merely shorthand. There are also jargon words that exist because there isn't any simple, "plain English" way to express all the important distinctions a certain scientific concept includes. The natural world may come with no jargon attached, but scientific jargon is language made to represent the natural world more precisely and accurately, without the ambiguity that can be present in plainer speech. Good science writing manages to use plain language to convey these concepts cleanly and easily, so that the reader can comfortably slip into understanding the science and the jargon while enjoying their time reading.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:56 PM on March 15, 2010

it's worth checking out this book by my friend Randy Olson - he has a unique perspective on science and the popular media -

the problem begins in the schools, with the minimal emphasis on science, and then continues in the popular media, with the lack of consistent, intelligent, coverage of the vast amount of new discoveries occurring on a regular basis. we've ended up with a population that is largely scientifically illiterate. practically the only worthwhile show about science is "Mythbusters."
posted by TMezz at 4:31 PM on March 15, 2010

I see once again puts the blame on scientists failing to educate the public, as though that were their jobs. I'd say the biggest problem in popular science writing is writers dumbing it down too far (or maybe publishers only choosing the worst of the bunch).

Nobody wants to read a book purportedly about science but actually a vast soap opera of scientists with the science shoved the margins (a recent book about photosynthesis had this problem). Nobody wants to read a book that has maybe 3 pages of actual information spread over 300 pages of repetition, unfunny jokes and repetition. PUT SOME SCIENCE IN THERE. It can be done.

Stop being ashamed of brain activity being a requirement. If people don't want to think, no amount of "good" writing is going to force it on them.
posted by DU at 4:57 PM on March 15, 2010

Science writing horrifies me every day. If I wanted advice on how to write my own popular science book, I would be hard-pressed to think of three writers I could trust. No specific knock on these guys, as I don't know them, but I am wary.

This "dumbing down" -- you mean science writers aren't actually statistically illiterate buffoons who can't interpret experiments or ask basic questions about methodology? They're just pretending to be, to make their writing more accessible?

I mean, shit, I know there must be better and worse science writers, but the shit that makes it into the best glossy magazines and the top newspapers can be really disheartening.
posted by grobstein at 8:18 AM on March 16, 2010

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