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“The End of Science Writing” by Jon Franklin

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					“The End of Science Writing”
      by Jon Franklin

        April 17, 2003
        Jenny Schuster
About the Author: Jon Franklin
       n   B.S., Univ. of Maryland, 1970
       n   Currently Philip Merrill Professor of Journalism
           at University of Maryland
       n   Has served on the faculty at Univ. of Maryland,
           U. of Oregon, and Oregon State U. in various
           writing programs
       n   Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes—feature writing
           (1979) and explanatory journalism (1985), and
           many other awards
       n   Has worked as a science journalist for the
           Baltimore Sun and Raleigh News and Observer
       n   He is well known for his work in creative/literary
           Selected Publications
n   Books: The Molecules of the Mind, Guinea Pig Doctors, Not Quite a
    Miracle, Shocktrauma
n   Articles: “The Extraordinary Adventure That Is Science Writing,”
    article in Nieman Reports, Fall 2002; “Bringing Judy Back,” April-
    May 2001. Multipart narrative series in the Raleigh News and
    Observer about a woman who suffered from a stroke; “To Make a
    Mouse,” December 1998, News and Observer, about genetic
    engineering; “The Angel of the White Plague,” February 2000 News
    and Observer, about tuberculosis; “Mind Fixers,” Sun series, won
    1984 Pulitzer; “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster,” Sun article, won 1979 Pulitzer
n   Many, many more listed at his web site:
    “The End of Science Writing”
n   Delivered as the Alfred and Julia Hill lecture at the University of
    Tennessee on March 17, 1997
n   Citations: This lecture hasn’t been cited that many times.
     n   Controversies in Science: A Resource for Journalists. Published
         by the North Carolina Association for Biomedical research;
     n   “End of the era of—luxury of—science ‘translators.’” The Oak
         Ridger Online, Oak Ridge, TN.
     n   I also found links to the article on several university
         composition course websites, including one at Purdue (COM
         Franklin’s Opinions
n   A lot of the statements made by the author
    are very opinionated. I am interested to
    hear if you agree or disagree with him and
         Rift between science
        community and public
n   “Science remained separate from what we
    thought of as ‘normal life.’”
n   “Since the beginning of the Enlightenment people
    had tended to be either very literate in science or
    not literate at all.”
n   “Scientists saw the world as theory and fact,
    observation and prediction, statistical significance
    and probability. The rest of the world titrated
    experience in terms of motive and morality, right
    and justice, miracles and fate.”
n   “Scientists thought of themselves as apolitical. As
    soon as science started being financed by public
    dollars it was political…Scientists, innocents that
    they were, confused being in political favor with
    being apolitical.”
n   “It is time for scientists to come to terms with the
    fact that they're eating at the political trough and
    that they'd damned well better make their
    political case, and make it in a way that real
    people can understand it.”
        Anti-Science Attitudes
n   “One study showed that people who watched a lot
    of television tended to be biased against
    science…It turned out that TV scientists had the
    highest fatality rate of any occupational group on
    the airwaves, with fully 10 percent of them dead
    before the closing credits. Even lawyers fared
    better. The message is clear: Science, like crime,
    doesn't pay. Or shouldn't.”
n   “It's no different in the movies. Look, for
    instance, at ET…The evil father, in Star Wars –
    what had happened to him? He had been touched
    by science. Or take Jurassic Park.”
              Science Writing
n   “Much of it, as a result, is grossly inaccurate if
    not in fact then in tone, play, and context.”
n   “Scientists are forever complaining that they
    are misunderstood and misrepresented, and I
    agree. But imagine what it's like to be the guy
    in the middle, to be caught up in the distortion
    process, to find yourself bargaining
    passionately for a tad more accuracy in a
    story, say, about UFOs or cold fusion.”
n   “If science was ever a thing apart, a special
    way of living and of seeing things, that
    time is past. Today, science is the vital
    principle of our civilization. To do science
    is critical, to defend it the kernel of
    political realism. To define it in words is to
    be, quite simply, a writer, working the
    historical mainstream of literature.”
      Why I picked this article
n   I am a molecular biology and English double major.
n   I plan on pursuing a career in either scientific
    communications or scientific patent law.
n   I am fascinated by the challenge of explaining
    scientific research and rhetoric to people with no
    scientific background.
n   I think that communicating science is very important
    in this technical day and age, but I’m curious to know
    what you think about it.
              Group Discussion
n   Discuss the questions I asked in my prompt:
     n Do you feel that there is a division between scientists
        and the rest of society? Explain.
     n Do you think that mass media (print and otherwise)
        are doing good enough of a job explaining and
        justifying science to mainstream society? Why or
        why not?
     n Do you personally feel alienated from modern
        science? Why or why not?
     n Do you feel that our society can exist today with
        science being completely separate from the rest of
n   How many of you have read a scientific
    magazine like National Geographic for
n   If not, why not?
               Group Activity
n   Split up into groups and evaluate the
    following scientific publications’ websites:
    n   Discover Magazine:
    n   Scientific American Magazine:
    n   New Scientist Magazine:
    n   Popular Science Magazine:
Pick an article on a topic you aren’t
familiar with and skim it. Then, evaluate
the following questions in your group:
§   How good of a job do you think the author
    did rhetorically, explaining a technical topic
    to someone with no background in that topic?
§   If they didn’t do a good job, how could they
    improve? If they did do a good job, what
    made it so good?
§   Did most group members think the
    magazine’s articles were understandable or
                Bad Examples
n   Split into your groups and check out some of
    these “bad” examples of scientific journalism.
n   Why do you think they are considered “bad?”
    n   http://www.ledger-
    n   List of some other examples:
           Franklin’s Writings
n   Now, start reading Franklin’s first Pulitzer-
    Prize-winning story, “Mrs. Kelly’s
n   How does the style of this story differ from
    those you read in the other magazines? Do
    you like it better? Why or why not?
           Writing Exercise
n   Now, everyone is an expert on something.
n   Pick a subject you know a lot about (it
    doesn’t have to be scientific) and write a
    short paragraph explaining the basics of
    your area of expertise to someone with no
    experience in the field.
n   How did you decide to include what you
    did? How did you decide to exclude certain
n   All people trying to communicate some
    specialized knowledge to a mainstream
    audience face conflicts.
n   The real challenge in writing like this is to
    balance accuracy with understandability.

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