Yvonne Carts-Powell

Harvard’s Whitesides Gives Brilliant Critique of Mammoth U.S. Brain Project

In Science, writing on June 5, 2013 at 7:55 am
diagram of brain

Image by Polina Tishina.

This is pretty cool. George Whitesides is a much-revered researchers and a very smart cookie. And what he’s talking about here is, basically, the importance of science writing. Given Obama’s backing of massive funding for neuroscience, the scientists have an obligation to tell (non-expert) people what, they are doing with the money, and why it is important. He talks about creating a narrative (something science writers do All the Time), and about answering questions like “what are you doing?”, “what do you hope to learn?”, and “how is that going to help us?” in the simplest terms possible.

I tell you, this is really hard. If you’ve ever tried to explain a subject that you love to a hyperactive 5-year-old, then you have some experience with this: if you can’t catch their interest in the first half second, they’re gone, off to something more rewarding like playing in the mud. (I’m not actually being facetious here: playing in the mud is an important part of childhood and it gives instant feedback.) Editors have little more patience, because they know that their audience has plenty of playing-in-the-mud alternatives. You gotta hook ’em, intrigue ’em, and keep them reading to the end of the sentence, and then next, and the next.

Whiteside is articulate and interesting as he tries to teach his colleagues the why and how of science communications: Harvard’s Whitesides Gives Brilliant Critique of Mammoth U.S. Brain Project | Talking back, Scientific American Blog Network.


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