Events Spring 2019

When Scientists Write for the Public: Objective Consideration of Contemporary Phenomena

Feb. 6, 2019 2:00 pm3:00 pm

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Konstantin Kakaes (Simons Institute Journalist in Residence)


Calvin Lab auditorium

Science is complicated. So too are mathematics and engineering. (This talk will speak of these subjects as “science”, despite the imprecision in doing so, without loss of generality.) Most people do not understand most things—even scientists working in any given discipline often understand little about the work of their colleagues across campus.

Some popular writing by scientists is exceptional. But, with some frequency, such writing is what William Zinsser said of Richard Feynman: “An A-plus mind expressing itself in C-minus sentences.” Zinsser found Feynman’s writing impossible to bear: “In talking down to me,” Zinsser wrote, “he degrades not only me but himself.”

This talk will sketch some of the features that distinguish terrific popular scientific discourse from the terrible, with particular attention to how scientists themselves speak and write about their fields of expertise, and will try to convince you why that difference matters.

Light refreshments will be served after the lecture, at 3:00 p.m.