Mosaic, the new publication at work, finally launched this week. I’d missed a lot of the build-up, as I was in India researching a story for a week beforehand, and also because I am not really an integral part of the project team, though I will be writing more for Mosaic than most. So launch day was a bit anticlimactic for me: it was my first day back in the office after India, and although I had a piece in the first batch ever to be published on Mosaic, it wasn’t getting as much attention as some of the other four pieces.
I had a blog post drafted here all about how I had always struggled to convince my Dad that I was grateful for the Christmas presents he bought me. It detailed how I usually was grateful (our family circulated lists of desired gifts well in advance, so it was rarely a surprise but usually wanted and appreciated), but my innately low-beat expressions of gratitude failed to persuade him of my sincerity, so I had to exaggerate, to display or perform gratitude, which stank even more of insincerity, thus leading to rows and ill-feeling on all sides.
This tension between sincerity and the display of sincerity remains. It was particularly challenging this Christmas because my Dad bought me presents from my Amazon wish list – except that he managed to find a different Michael Regnier on Amazon and bought me books about intellectual progress in 19th century Hapsburg Vienna. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised when I say that I could not have been happier to receive books about the history of Austrian philosophy, but how could I persuade my Dad of that? I must be getting better at it, because I think he was reasonably convinced this time round….
But why did I want to talk about sincerity on the occasion of the publication of my first piece on Mosaic? Because I still worry that my sincerity gets lost among a certain degree of intellectual posturing in my writing (such as making the links between Edgar Allan Poe and Jorge Luis Borges a fundamental motif in my explanation of the science of Alzheimer’s disease). Speaking sincerely, of course, this is utterly sincere: I believed this approach would genuinely facilitate an appreciation of the difficulty of doing medical research in this disease area and in all diseases, actually. And it is important to me that a feature of this length (5000 words and up) does more than just describe events or understandings at a particular point in time. I think we authors need to tell our stories in order to create something over and above that, to construct a deeper argument, to layer meanings and interpretations so that the scientific content becomes one element of a broader, more ambitious tale.
Mosaic offers us the chance to construct that kind of story, but I was worried that the emphasis was on more of a science journalism approach, which, though no less valid, assumes an existing degree of engagement from the reader, I think. Mosaic is intended, as far as I can make out, to appeal to a wider readership than that which already consumes science journalism, and I think there is an opportunity here to try different styles of science writing and see what else is possible.
My piece, then, is not just an attempt to explain Alzheimer’s disease; it is also an attempt at a different approach to science writing. I know that this particular piece is imperfect – it is my first go, after all – but it was important to me that Mosaic should be seen to be capable of innovating in terms of content as well as in terms of how that content is distributed. And my approach seems to have won some admirers: it was picked up by Pacific Standard magazine, and has garnered some positive comments on Twitter and elsewhere. It’s more than I’d hoped for on launch day, and I hope it means I get to do more in the same vein in the future.