January 28 and February 4, 2013
Instructor: Carl Zimmer
Meeting Place: Peabody Museum Auditorium, 170 Whitney Avenue
Workshop objectives: This workshop will introduce science graduate students to writing about science for a broad, non-scientist audience.
First meeting: Monday January 28 2013, 10 am to noon.
This session will begin with a discussion about science writing, considering techniques required for good science writing. We will use the assigned reading below as the basis for the discussion. The books are available on reserve. You might want to consider purchasing both of them; they are excellent introductions to science writing.
I will describe in some detail how I produced one of my own articles, starting with the paper on which it was based.
Finally, we will discuss the course assignment (details below). We will discuss the papers about which you will be writing, and begin to plan out your pieces. So please prepare for the discussion by reading the papers.
From A Field Guide for Science Writers
17. Deadline Writing, by Gareth Cook. (p.111)
19. Gee Whiz Science Writing, by Robert Kunzig (p.126)
22. The Science Essay, Robert Kanigel (p.145)
Questions to consider: These three writers describe three very different forms of science writing: short newspaper articles, long magazine features, and essays. What techniques are common to all three forms? What are the most important differences? Do you think that these differences are a matter of convention or reflect the essential rules of each genre? How do these techniques impair or strengthen articles about science? Do any of these techniques apply to other kinds of science communications, such as television or blogs?
EXAMPLES OF SCIENCE WRITING
From The Best American Science Writing and Nature Writing 2012
David Dobbs, "Beautiful Brains" Link
Robert Kunzig, "The City Solution" Link
Michael Specter, "Test-Tube Burgers" Link
Questions to consider: These stories each tackle big topics—neuroscience, genetically modified foods, and the future of our species. How did each writer narrow down the subject to a focused story? Dissect the story by writing down the outline, section by section. How does one section follow the next? What is the structure of each story? How do the writers manage controversy? How do they bring people to life? How do they explain complex science?
FROM PAPER TO ARTICLE:
The paper: Emergence of Fatal Avian Influenza in New England Harbor Seals
mBio vol. 3 no. 4e00166-12. Link
The article: Flu That Leapt From Birds to Seals Is Studied for Human Threat
New York Times, July 31, 2012 Link
Questions to consider: I will give a brief account of writing a news article based on a new paper identifying a new strain of influenza that infects mammals. Look at the paper and the story. What similarities in structure do you see? What is in the story that was not in the paper? What elements in the story are intended for a wide audience, as opposed to the narrower audience for the paper? How does the story balance different views on the research?
Write a 600-word explanation of this paper: Hochberg et al, Reach and grasp by people with tetraplegia using a neurally controlled robotic arm." Nature 485, 372–375 (17 May 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11076. Link
To explain this paper, tell its story. This does not mean rehashing it in jargon that only experts would understand. To begin with, avoid using these words: http://bit.ly/zimmerwords
Writing about science requires going beyond one scientific paper. Fill out your research by learning about the people who conduct it, about its social impacts, about unexpected connections it reveals.
Here are additional resources you can use to research this subject:
Assignments are due by Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 5 pm. Please email them to me at email@example.com
Please note that I will only be able to evaluate pieces by the first 20 students who registered for the workshop. However, all registrants are welcome to attend both sessions, write the assignment, and participate in the discussions about the assignment in the second session. In order to participate in the second session, waiting list students will need to read the writing assignments I distribute for discussion, and write comments.
On Friday, February 1, I will send all workshop students 2 pieces. All students will be expected to read them by the second workshop meeting.
Second Meeting: Monday, February 4, 2013, 10 am to noon.
We will spend this session discussing the writing assignment. Most likely, you will have encountered unexpected challenges, which you are encouraged to describe. We will also discuss the sample pieces I will have distributed the previous Friday. You will be expected to offer constructive criticism about how the stories could be improved. We should have additional time for any topics that students wish to discuss further.
All participants in the second session (including waiting list students) are required to write a 100-word critique of each article we will be discussing. The critique should describe a strong point of the article, and suggest a way to improve it. This assignment is intended to sharpen our discussion. Please bring two printed copies of your critiques: one for me and one for the author. Print each critique on a separate piece of paper.