SCI-ART LAB

Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication

Q: Ma'am, I am a science student. I want to  write on science like you do. You make things simple and easy to comprehend. What is the trick?  

Krishna:  I already wrote on this - a series of articles on science communication. But still I will answer your Q here. 

Before starting to write, you should first identify the target group.

Are you writing for the high end group like the scientists and science literates?

 Scientists publish their work in science journals with all the data and statistics and in a language that seems like Greek and Latin to the man on the street even if he is  literate. Then think about the situation of illiterates. To a large section of people, these science journals don't exist at all!

These journals are used by scientists to communicate their work only to their colleagues in their field.

Then there are people who understand science a little because they are science students or science enthusiasts. They have a little knowledge in science and therefore can comprehend even if the write up is a bit complicated. 

Finally we have people who don't know anything about science. This group is the biggest of all. Writing for them is a bit tricky. You have to completely remove jargon from your write-up, no  'sciency-looking' things because these things intimidate them. 

I am a member of several social  networks where some scientists, professors, research scholars and post-docs write. Now majority of the people who read these write-ups, answers and blogs are common people who belong to the third category I mentioned above. Forgetting this, the writers try to show their 'scholarliness', using all the jargon,  equations, references and all their 'skills'. They look good for the first category of people but the second and third ones usually don't even try to read them. 

One scientist lamented, " It took me 30 minutes to write my answer. Within 2 minutes of adding it, I got 20 upvotes and likes. It takes atleast 15 minutes to read it and another 15 minutes to understand it. 

So, people are upvoting my answers without even reading them! "

And a student, who 's his follower  told me, "We don't understand these things anyway. Why should we waste our time on them. The answers or write ups of these scientists would be good anyway, so I click on like or upvote them because they are  scientists and I am their follower! Cool, na!"

All the efforts of these scientists get wasted like this. What is the use? This is not science communication, sorry. 

I told this student not to upvote my write ups, but just read them instead as they don't have 'scholarly' things in them. They will be like news paper stories and you can understand them easily. I am a friend next door who you can chat with ease and without feeling uncomfortable.  The student started doing that and agreed with me!

Making people read and understand with ease what you write   are more important than any kind of appreciation. But these scholars don't understand that!

Writing for the first group of people will benefit only that group. Writing for the second one caters to both the first and the second group. But writing for the third group covers everybody. That is the mantra that works with science communication.

And another thing I noticed about them is these answers  or write ups will be like a compilation of series of quotes from other researchers, journalists and scholars. No creativity,  no originality, no simplification to attract masses. Eventhough I am from the same field, I too get bored to read these unending similar-looking products of factory outlets. Then why would people from other fields read them? 

Think about that!

So forget that you are an expert, think about common people who cannot understand  the language you speak. Think about their state of mind. Think about their difficulty. Simplify things. Remove all the things that frighten them. Be original. Be creative. Tell interesting stories, and mix them with your matter.  Be a friend they want to interact with.

That is the trick to attract common people to science. And that is how science communication should be done. 

Q: Can we use famous scientists'  quotes while writing?

Krishna: Yes, you can.

Unlike other styles of writing, scientific writing rarely includes direct quotations. Why?
• Quotations usually detract from the point you want to communicate.
• Quotations do not reflect original thinking.

The writer who understands her subject can always find a way to paraphrase from a research article without losing the intended meaning – and paraphrasing shows that the writer knows what she is talking about (1).

But ... I want to warn you about some thing.  On the net you get quotes attributed to some scientists. For people like us who were born long after these scientists died, there is no definite way to learn whether they are really said by these scientists are not. 

Recently I shared an article of mine [on a social media site ] in which I used a quote attributed to Einstein. 

There is no evidence to say that Einstein actually said this. There is no evidence that he didn't say this too. It is controversial. Now can we use a controversial quote? Several people use it. You find these quotes everywhere on the social media - on FB, on Twitter, on Quora, on Ning networks, on Linked-in, they are ubiquitous.

A website, quote investigator, investigates  quotes and this is what it says about this quote...

'There is no evidence that Einstein said this.' Because  there is no record of that. But it doesn't give a 'clear indication' of how it originated or who said it.

https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/04/06/fish-climb/

Now somebody commented that "Einstein never said that and it is weird to use the quote while writing on science". And my share was hidden from the public view by the administrators of the group on the site.

Some people are trying to find out whether Einstein really said these things or not. Read here an interesting analysis of that: Did Einstein really say that?

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05004-4

I too tried to find out whether Einstein really said the above things mentioned in the quote. I got the news that there is no genuine evidence either way. To register permanently  everything by mechanical means was difficult during Einstein's time.  If it is not there in his speeches or works people assume that he never said it! There is no evidence that he said it and there is no evidence that he didn't say it. All that people gave was vague explanations you cannot accept. So the subject remains controversial.

I discussed with my scientist friends about whether we can use these controversial quotes or not. This is what the scientists said during our conversations:

1. I understand your argument that it 's used just to make your write-up attractive like others do. Science has different set of rules to other subjects. Can we use those parameters of others  when we are dealing with science? If you are not writing for science journals and just for ordinary masses of the social media, anything goes.

If it doesn't break  science's rules, it is okay to use it. But attributing something to Einstein without evidence isn't correct either. I know you didn't do it, somebody else did it and you are just using the controversy to highlight a fact. Saying that he never said it is absurd too when you have no evidence to show. Taking only one view into consideration by the administrators while  judging is tunnel -vision.

I came across an interesting argument about this very controversy sometime back. The synonyms to quote are reciterepeat, say again, reproducerestateretellechoiterateparrot, takeextractexcerptderive. 

These quotes  might have been there before these famous people to whom they 're attributed. But nobody noticed them. Only after the famous people used and repeated them, they came alive and entered the public domain and got established. Some use famous names to stress a point as these names have more weightage.  As these famous people are responsible for their rebirth, spread and becoming popular, attributing these quotes to them is common and justifiable. 

2. If the quote doesn't impact the scientific integrity of the write up, you can use it, by mentioning about the controversy.

3. If it doesn't influence people in a negative way, you can use it.  

4. If it is not a made up one and actually exist, you can use it, by mentioning that it is attributed to some scientist and that there is no evidence either way to prove or disprove  the attribution.

5. If ends justify means and just to attract people to a write up, you can use it by mentioning the truth about it . The quote is not about your science. 

6. If it doesn't mislead people in anyway, you can use it. 

7. Just because of a controversial attribution of a quote that has no impact on an article, you cannot deny people their right to read a good write-up.

8. The quote is there. Whether they are Einstein's words  or somebody else's - is not going to impact the genuineness of your article. What is the big deal?  

9. When you gave this clarification " I must mention here that although several quotes are attributed to Einstein, there is no evidence that he actually said those things.  And the opposite, i.e., that he didn't say  these things too is controversial.  However, according to some people, the quote can be traced to a well-established allegory involving animals doing impossible things, used to illustrate the fallacy of judging someone by a skill or ability that person (or animal) does not possess. There is no way of knowing whether Einstein mentioned it or not in his life time now. We don't even know why it was attributed to him. So I leave it to readers discretion. You can  decide  whether the attribution can be accepted or not. The quote 's used just  to make my write up attractive like journalists and artists do, and there is no other motive to it" , it should justify the use of it and the controversy should end there. Why should anybody create a storm in a tea cup?

10. During Einstein's days we don't have these ubiquitous cell phones to record everything people said in private conversations. All that we have is a record of his letters, lectures, write-ups, etc. So there is a chance of somebody repeating what Einstein said  privately and that becoming a quote.  It might have been there before Einstein. But his name  made it famous.

11. How could anybody say Einstein never said it, unless the person 's with the scientist every moment of his living life? This comment is as ridiculous as the attribution itself.

12. I would have kept away from such controversies by not using these quotes. But when you are using controversy to make science famous like people in other fields do, you are helping science, although this  makes me uncomfortable. You are taking a calculated risk. It is upto you to decide. Who are we to judge you?

13. You didn't attribute it to Einstein. Somebody else did. You didn't make a mistake there. You are just using it as a prop to your argument despite knowing that the attribution is controversial. What difference will it make whether Einstein said it or somebody else did? A quote is a quote is a quote. If it supports your logic, there is no harm in using it after mentioning about the controversy. You are not misleading anyone. So don't worry.  

14. People who don't have any real stuff to show will fight over these silly things.  Just ignore them. OKAY, Krishna?

So I got a thumbs up from my scientist friends too and I am happy. Are they biased because they are my friends? My conscious told me the way I did it is ok and that 's why my friends supported me. 

Now decide for yourself what you should do.

Q: Can we quote from sites like WIKIPEDIA, journalists write-ups and news papers while writing on science? 

Krishna: NO! All these are highly unreliable sources. To beat falsehood you need absolute facts, not another falsehood. Read here why: 

lab-scientists-versus-internet-scientists

how-to-trust-science-stories-a-guide-for-common-man

CITATIONS: 

1. https://depts.washington.edu/psych/files/writing_center/quotes.pdf

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