Today’s quote means a lot to me, reflecting my own beliefs regarding the communication of scientific concepts, discoveries, and debates, to the interested public.
A typical paper plucked from a science journal will mystify most laypeople with somewhat unhelpful jargon and an unfriendly presentation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the general public aren’t always treated as equals in science communication attempts. Many science books baby the reader, present lists of facts with pretty pictures, and ask that the reader take it in at a distance. But no scientific training is required to ask questions, to consider contradicting hypotheses, and to understand the meaning of varied and interesting concepts in science.
Science causes scientists to think, to doubt, and to comprehend exciting theories, concepts, and problems. Why shouldn’t science have the same effect on interested laypeople? It’s no surprise that Stephen Jay Gould, once described as “the finest scientific essayist writing today”, puts it better than I ever could.
“I have fiercely maintained one personal rule in all my so-called “popular” writing. (The word is admirable in its literal sense, but has been debased to mean simplified or adulterated for easy listening without effort in return.) I believe – as Galileo did when he wrote his two greatest works as dialogues in Italian rather than didactic treatises in Latin, as Thomas Henry Huxley did when he composed his masterful prose free from jargon, as Darwin did when he published all his books for general audiences – that we can still have a genre of scientific books suitable for and accessible alike to professionals and interested laypeople. The concepts of science, in all their richness and ambiguity, can be presented without any compromise, without any simplification counting as distortion, in language accessible to all intelligent people. Words, of course, must be varied, if only to eliminate a jargon and phraseology that would mystify anyone outside the priesthood, but conceptual depth should not vary at all between professional publication and general exposition.”
– Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life, 1990, p.16.