Science writing: To the point

If you’re going to write about science — get to the damn point. All I need is the highlights, the topics, the bullet points. And if there are pertinent details, make them brief and absent of flourish.

So many of the literary news outlets publish narrative science articles that I’m afraid it’s become an art. A pointless and irritating art.

Take this one for instance (don’t go here, don’t give them the courtesy):

7,800 words in that frickin’ thing. I don’t have the time or patience to burn thirty minutes slogging through some “writer’s” portrayal of science dudes’ childhoods: “When he was 11, his mother bought him a subscription to a medical encyclopedia series.” Fuck-me-Alex.

Get to the point and get out. It’s science — just the pertinent facts, ma’am. All the actual data required to deliver the concepts of brain tissue reanimation could have been provided in a tenth the words. But no, the writer had to turn it into a biography.

And this happens time and time again. 10,000 word diatribes about artificial intelligence and machine learning, or meandering missives on Neanderthal DNA in modern Homo Sapiens. It seems that every sexy scientific topic begs a “story.” Sorry, I don’t want window dressing on my low earth orbit launch technologies, or thermal depolymerization of ocean plastic…

I just want the concise, to-the-point facts about the advances or failures of the science and technology. Spare me backstories, please. If you have to, write a sweeping expose’ on some social or historical topic or event — leave the science for the fact writers.


13 thoughts on “Science writing: To the point

  1. The easy answer is don’t write about science.
    I just put a book down from a well known author (James Lee Burke) because the story was buried in all things pertinent only to the writer writing about the character and the scenery and the other characters – shit that had nothing to do with anything but psuedo philo writerly ruminations. So yeah – tell me the story, don’t make me go look up Caladiums (Pink symphony, Iceberg, Florida, Creamsicle, Heart of Jesus, Miss Muffet …) or ride along on page after page of relativism modified discourse of good and evil. With a sidecar story line that was laughably improbable.
    Tell the effing story. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. 100% agree which is what makes reading even the newspaper fucking annoying. I “scroll” articles faster to create my own bullet points. In searching for an explanation for this weak Journalism, there was actually a great explanation in Sol Stein’s Book “On writing.” (Which I was reading to improve my own Sand Mandala Novel attempt) in which Sol explained that Journalists actually want to be Novelists, so the editors have allowed this type of reporting–back stories–human interest angles–which in your and mine opinions, actually distracts and interferes from communicating the news in the most succinct method possible. So, yes, please spare me the back-stories and childhood tales and bring on the bullet points!

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    1. Sand Mandala – indeed.

      I was reading an old post on Medium from Doctor Martina. I haven’t heard from her for a year or more. But, her writing got into Nihilism and Stoicism and I started pondering the meaning of existence again (there is none) and had a thought…
      The Universe is absurd and, HDotU — Heat Death of the Universe means nothing can possibly matter. Nothing we, or any sentient being in the cosmos creates can be permanent. For some reason that has been my go-to nihilistic heuristic — it’s all for naught so, why bother.
      OK, what else is there, then? Well, the only time I feel the opposite of suicidal is when I’m creating, writing (or whatever). Yeah it’s pointless, but, for a time, it separates me from the absurdity. Maybe the act of creation is enough.

      (This has nothing do with with literary science writing – bah!)


      1. Well, Greek Philosopher Epicurus believed the meaning in life was found in pleasure. Try that on for size. And, yeah, glad you get the Sand Mandala metaphor. And creating to bring yourself to feel the opposite of suicidal is…like…great motivation to keep writing! And ya know what? I get it.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t see “The Final Cut” Ripley’s remastering and expansion (I had to search for that). But I’ve seen the original and the more recent version.
      I went crawling down a rabbit hole and discovered that Dick’s story was actually a graphic novel. The Voigt-Kampff test questions are more numerous in the print version, and captivating:

      Allowing my suspension of disbelief to swell, the first movie pretty much defines everything great in a sci-fi story. And it looks like the graphic novel provided the true core of that movie.

      Oddly enough, I lived in Santa Venetia in the early 80’s. Dick lived there 1968-72, hooked on meth.

      I wonder if PKD and van Gogh would have been friends in life had they live in the same location and era. Tortured talent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi A.Mole,

        PDK, van Gough, TvanZandt, SShepard, WWhitman, EAPoe all of them channeling their view of how fucked up things are into their art, some more troubled than the others. There is always a pecking order to the pain an artist feels. That’s what got me to thinking about trauma. Some people are traumatized by things that others would totally blow off, yet it can be a debilitating condition. The old no shoes, no feet saw and soon enough we are down to Johnny Got His Gun. There always seems to be something worse. I was watching a French documentary about the Nazis digging up bodies at massacre sites and then having the workers burn them. They were trying to cover their tracks. They shot the workers and threw them on the final pyres. Some people reject the tortured artist idea, but it seems so obvious to me that trauma is the primary motivation in most of the truly great art created on our planet. Oh well, thanks for everything. Duke

        Liked by 1 person

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