BY HAMISH CAMERON
Gone are the days of the lone scientist hidden in their lab, publishing incomprehensible texts we know as academic papers. Today, a new type of scientific writer has emerged, one that interacts with the world as a whole, utilizing social media channels and relaying information to anyone with a screen and an internet connection. All hail the science writer.
And while science writing is a niche field, these writers have much to teach journalists about the practice of good writing.
For the inquisitive mind, a degree in Science, Medicine or the like should not be a prerequisite to understanding the world around us. Science writers fulfil this niche, taking their own research and research from other scientists and presenting it in a way non-scientists can understand and benefit from. They have evolved ways to communicate that reach well beyond the halls of academia, adapting to the interconnected world of journalism and social media, streaming their knowledge across the planet.
Science writers are as diverse as they are numerous. Let’s take a brief look at a few:
Marcus Chown (Cosmologist)
An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Marcus Chown is a Cosmology consultant for New Scientist. He has also published several books including, ‘Tweeting the Universe: Tiny Explanations of Very Big Ideas.’ (2011). When it comes to explaining complicated things (such as the Universe) simply, he draws inspiration from his mentors: “I was taught by Richard Feynman, a great physicist. He won a Nobel Prize and his criterion for whether he understood something was whether he could actually explain it to someone waiting for a bus.”
Rebecca Skloot (Science Writer)
With her fascinating and morally intriguing book ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.’ (2010), Rebecca not only tells a fascinating story about one woman and the cells that killed her, but sheds a stark light on the ethical dilemmas behind medical research. Not only is her book relatable and cleverly portrays the science behind it, it’s a damn good read too.
Ben Goldacre (Physician)
Where would science be without its watchmen? As the author of books such as ‘I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That.’ (2014), Goldacre has found himself a niche dispelling ‘Bad Science’ and ‘Bad Pharma’, making sure Science and Medicine puts its money where its mouth is.
Steven Pinker (Psychologist)
Perhaps the most famous on this list, Steven is a heavyweight in the Science writing community with immensely popular works such as ‘How the Mind Works’ (1997) and the more recent ‘The Stuff of Thought’ (2007). His clout needs no introduction.
Carl Zimmer (Science Writer/Journalist)
The last on this list is not a scientist per se, but is one of the most influential science writers out there, having won many awards for science journalism. Among writing columns for the New York Times and publishing a plethora of books (such as ‘Parasite Rex’ (2011)), Carl also teaches science writing at Yale. His expert hand understands the importance of fitting science in with the rest of the world. In his words: “It’s so important to bear in mind that big picture and not to get lost in the details. The details matter but they have to be fit into this larger scaffolding.”
The writers mentioned above are but a taste of who (and what) is out there. There are many other equally fascinating and entertaining science writers covering every aspect of science and technology. For more science writers to look out for you can find them here and here.
About the Author
As both a writer and a scientist with a degree in biotechnology, Hamish Cameron enjoys the challenge of making the microbiological world visible and engaging, with a hearty dash of “fun”. He also runs his own blog, the Tiny Science Blog, which explores the invisible worlds of bacteria. When he isn’t busy catching up on the latest trends in science and technology, you’ll find him working on other creative endeavours such as painting and drawing. He is currently based in Auckland, New Zealand.