Popular Science Essay

Popular Science Essay-49
Quite simply, I love to write." Says Gould, author of Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York, W. Ferris, who does not do research and considers himself a writer rather than a scientist, offers some inside, objective advice: "Scientists need to appreciate the time factor, as well as the fact that writing a mass-market book is most likely harder than what they're used to writing. Try your hand at a short essay and determine if it's enjoyable for you to take complex information and make it informative for, and entertaining to, nonscientists. Determine if you have an ability to use metaphors or other literary techniques, and most important, if you enjoy the process. Write up a proposal, consisting of an overview of what the book will cover, an outline, and a couple of sample chapters. Get a good literary agent who is willing to help you shape the proposal and take the book around to publishers. Once you get a deal, make sure you schedule the appropriate amount of time to do the project. During the writing phase, communicate with your agent and your editor about any problems or difficult passages. Hazen, who is also a professor of earth sciences at George Mason University, says that the most effective approach is to tell stories.

Unlike scientific papers, books are commodities--products that are packaged and sold. I didn't like the new one better, but it was a marketing decision." Some scientists shun writing for the general audience, convinced that it adversely affects one's credibility as a scientist.

"What you think is a good product for sale is not necessarily the final arbiter of what goes out," says Hazen. But the consensus among the scientist/authors interviewed for this article is that as long as you're publishing reputable material, there's no credibility lost; indeed, if you do your job well, credibility is gained.

"It's absolutely harder, and an enormous zapper of energy. I just found that I really enjoyed trying to capture the essence of scientific ideas in a way that nonscientists who came for dinner would not just appreciate, but enjoy." Making Science Fun How does one go about making science sound enjoyable? Says Siegel, author of Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise (New York, E. Dutton, 1989) and Fire in the Brain: Clinical Tales of Hallucination (E. Dutton, 1992), "No matter how well I may write a book that details the mechanisms of drugs at a molecular or physiological level, it's going to be boring and read by only a handful of people.

"Through the use of metaphors and other literary artistry," says Bantam's Meredith. People communicate with each other at a behavioral level, and they interact at a behavioral level.

"No one is ever forced to go on a publicity tour," says University of California, Berkeley, astronomer Timothy Ferris, a veteran of the radio and TV circuit.

"But if you are asked, the thing to remember is that your [main] responsibility is to communicate with the public."Certainly, it doesn't include the same form of mathematical argument, and it doesn't presuppose knowledge of technical terminology and concepts, but I don't think the conceptual depth is much different." Realities Of The Market One of the appeals of writing a popular science book, says Siegel, is that "you can express yourself a lot more freely.You can editorialize, and go beyond the bounds of your data, more than you can in an academic journal, where you're constrained not only by the journal's format, but by the scientific format." That freedom, however, is bridled on the one hand by one's own sense of responsibility--to present rational and logical evidence in support of the hypotheses presented--and on the other by the realities of the popular publishing world.This is not some celebration of how great a guy you are, and it's not a two-week vacation in Hawaii." Ronald K. He offers this advice to avoid burnout from lengthy book tours: "Watch or listen to the shows the publicist has scheduled for you, and be selective.Siegel, a psychopharmacologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, received much media attention from his book Intoxication: Life in Pursuit of Artificial Paradise (New York, E. Know that radio call-in shows can be done over the phone from your office. With so many scientists entering the world of mass-market publishing, maybe you're thinking about writing a book for a popular audience or have been approached by a publisher about doing so.If you're flying from city to city, you might want to consider taking rest periods." If you don't have the time or desire to go on a publicity tour, Siegel says, "you can ask the publisher to divert money from tour promotion to [giving away] free copies." Siegel, for example, had Intoxication sent to every member of Congress who has jurisdiction over drug policy, as well as to members of several Cabinet departments. Scientists who have written for the mass market say the experience can be very fulfilling--but it can also be tedious and time-consuming. The first thing to examine if you're thinking about writing a popular nonfiction book is your motivation."It's not so much for publicity, but more for communicating ideas--which is what popular science books are really all about." --A. Before visions of fame and fortune begin to orbit your mind, consider that Hawking's megasuc-cess--while always a possible payoff of the effort of writing a book--is rare for any genre. Professor of Science, usually relies on one of two methods."We're always on the lookout for science books," says Leslie Meredith, executive editor at Bantam.There are two stages to book publishing--writing, editing, and printing the manuscript serve as the first; marketing the product is the second.Metaphoric devices, she explains, "allow the writer to draw pictures in the heads of the reader that may not be as precise as a scientific experiment, but will lead the reader to a `eureka' experience in reading new thoughts." Publishers look for clarity of expression--verbal as well as written--from potential scientist/authors, Meredith says, as well as a writing style that incorporates metaphors. That's the level that is meaningful to them, and writing about my field--the effects of drugs on behavior--on that level then [makes for] a popular book." Simplifying and popularizing your topic, however, by no means implies that you should write "down" to the general audience.Following are some suggestions from authors and publishers on how to turn your scientific expertise into a book for a popular audience. "What I write for the general public is essentially at the same level as what I write for professional colleagues," says Gould.


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