Sleep to Songs

by Michael

I have to give a little talk on Wednesday about ‘science writing’. What is there to say? I am nearing the point of my first set of features being published at work, alongside the various blog posts etc that I’ve been working on in the three months since I started. But does this make me any more of an authority to talk about what science writing is and how it is done? No, of course not, but I do not have to entertain them with my authoritarian vision of the craft – instead, I can entertain them with the existential angst of being a writer – any kind of writer, I imagine – coupled to the would-be unique condition of science-writing.

Is writing about science different to writing about anything else? The output of research is new knowledge (supposedly) so I suppose it is challenging to research (in a writerly sense) the topic. But current affairs are generally new too (that’s why the news is full of it), so doesn’t the same apply? In any case, the writer has to talk to people and/or read stuff and gain an understanding of the story sufficient to write it for their given audience.

One possible difference is that people generally don’t have opinions about ‘science’ beyond the broadest of generalisations (scientists are trustworthy; scientists will prove what their paymasters ask them to ‘prove’) and knee-jerk reactions (tell me something I don’t know, Sherlock; woah, man). Unlike art, where even if you are aware of your lack of knowledge about a particular art-form or movement you usually feel capable of having an opinion (I like it; I don’t like it; I don’t understand it), science is a closed shop to most people, I think (I don’t understand science).

So perhaps science writing has to encompass the opening up of the territory as well as the specific information / entertainment value of a particular story. I’ll think about that over the next few days – in between, you know, surviving life, which is a not inconsiderable task some days….

Oh, I need to sleep, perchance to compose some songs.

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