Scientific writing: writing that bores, confuses, and frustrates

Lately, I have been pondering (a friend of mine might call it “internally lamenting”) the way science is presented in the written form. That is, why must scientific writing be so terrible to read? Why are certain practices — probably bad practices — encouraged?

I tweeted several links yesterday about scientific writing. Appropriately, today I stumbled across a post in the Science Careers section of Science, called How to Write Like a Scientist. It made me laugh… but also sad.

I don’t think that we should write as if we are trying desperately to captivate or move an audience (for example, poetically), but I also don’t think we should write in a manner that induces sleep… or the desire to stab oneself in the eye with the nearest sharp object. And why is the passive “It was concluded that…” preferable to the active “We concluded that…”? And on that note, I leave you with a few opinion pieces concerning use of the passive voice in technical writing, submitted to Nature in the mid-’90s.

‘Real Lives and White Lies in the Funding of Scientific Research’

I recently read an PLoS Biology Perspectives piece — about how ‘the granting system turns young scientists into bureaucrats and then betrays them’. I found it to be a very interesting read. Often, I look around myself and wonder how things got to be the way they are. I hear people saying that it’s ‘publish or perish’, and, understandably, I see them obsess about publications and publishing. It has always struck me as rather… unscientific.

The article criticizes the approach that granting agencies take in giving funding, and discusses the resulting negative effects. I wonder if anything can change — perhaps any time soon. The article ends with this statement: “…only false objectivity is offered by evaluating real people using unreal calculations with numbers of papers, citations, and journal impact factors. These calculations have not only demoralised and demotivated the scientific community, they have also redirected our research and vitiated its purpose.”

New home on the interwebs!

I’ve finally gotten around to putting some basic information about myself online. More to come in the future!

Also, I might have to work on the main page logo. I love bright colours, but I know things that I like can be an eyesore to others…