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Scientist to write plain English? Like asking cat to bark

"It should be possible to write about science in plain English, though asking a scientist to do that is like asking a cat to bark."— Dr. Richard Somerville, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Coordinating Lead Author of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report.

Notes:   From the preface to the first edition (1996) of Richard C. J. Somerville's, The Forgiving Air:  Understanding Environmental Change, written to explain atmospheric science to general readers. 

Somerville later became the Coordinating Lead Author  of the IPCC's 2007 Fourth Assessment Report.   He upated The Forgiving Air in 2008 to reflect the latest findings in that report.

On writing for non-scientists, he related this anecdote:   Scientists often speak in

"ultra-accurate jargon, without realizing that those same words have other connotations.   As a reality check, I sometimes run my own writing by my mother, a perceptive critic and a fine writer.   Once I gave her a paper that employed a phrase like:  'the mean concentrations of chlorine for zonal mean conditions in the winter mean stratosphere.'  She said, 'It sounds so nasty, Richard, to use the word mean all the time!'"  (p. xxi)

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Submitted by
Tom Smerling
Com (2)
byMarc Hudson

September 18, 2011

1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Loved the Somerville interview on ABC that you guys point to in the "tools/home run" section - have fwded it to various people...
Owner's reply

Thanks for letting us know. It inspires us when we hear about a "tool" being used!


November 30, 2011

I laughed out loud reading this one. As for your rating system - could do without the "Title" line needing to be filled. an extra step that you might not need.

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