Science books vs science papers

We’re almost at the end of the SciBookChat videos! This is episode 5 of 6. After that it’s over. I filmed a very silly bonus video that’s related to today’s video (but I won’t say how!) which will go up in the new year. Otherwise, it’s just this one and episode 6 in two weeks.

In this episode I compare a passage from Carl Zimmer’s book Microcosm with the scientific article that contains the source material. Then I talk a bit about why scientific papers are written in such an uninteresting style. I mentioned the need to get all details across, but I’m not sure I quite explained why that means the papers end up with such long and dull sentences. Basically, there can be no confusion about what the authors meant, so no creative sentence structures or jokes, and they do need to include all the tiny details, which often leads to very long sentences. You’ll notice that I have a much easier time reading the passage from Zimmer’s book out loud than the section from the article. I have to pronounce complicated numbers and twice say “(Figure 2)”. I have to take breaths in the middle of ongoing sentences. It’s just not meant for reading out loud, it’s purely for conveying information!