11 June 2010

Why science writing differs from every other form of writing

A bane of many professional writers is people asking, “Will you read my...?”

If the pro has one whit, one iota, one remaining pair of neurons to fire together, the answer will be no.

And probably not a polite “No,” either.

Robert J. Sawyer is one of the more polite authors on this score. But most of the time, the response is much more likely to be something like Josh Olson’s essay, “I will not read your fucking script.” David Gerrold’s response may not be blunt as Olson’s but  is much more... thorough:

The only proper response when an amateur attempts to hand you his manuscript... is to take an axe to his laptop, follow him home, burn down his house, and salt the ground.

But even more fun is Harlan Ellison reading a poem about why he will not read your fucking script. (In fact, this post is an elaborate contrivance to link to Ellison reading this poem.)

Scientists get far fewer amateurs asking them read things; I suppose that occasionally mathematicians have to put up with people claiming to be able to trisect an angle (i.e., cranks). But scientists are not only asked to read their colleagues’ work (sometimes by strangers), but they tend not to pull out the torches and pitchforks when they are asked. I'm not just talking about peer review; I'm talking about pre-submission work. I think the difference is that scientists are not paid directly for their writing, but only indirectly through "prestige," which may later generate grants and such.

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