A Field Guide for Science Writers

A Field Guide for Science Writers

A Field Guide for Science Writers

A Field Guide for Science Writers


This is the official text for the National Association of Science Writers. In the eight years since the publication of the first edition of A Field Guide for Science Writing, much about the world has changed. Some of the leading issues in today's political marketplace - embryonic stem cell research, global warming, health care reform, space exploration, genetic privacy, germ warfare - are informed by scientific ideas. Never has it been more crucial for the lay public to be scientifically literate. That's where science writers come in. And that's why it's time for an update to the Field Guide, already a staple of science writing graduate programs across the country.
The academic community has recently recognized how important it is for writers to become more sophisticated, knowledgeable, and skeptical about what they write. More than 50 institutions now offer training in science writing. In addition mid-career fellowships for science writers are growing, giving journalists the chance to return to major universities for specialized training. We applaud these developments, and hope to be part of them with this new edition of the Field Guide.
In A Field Guide for Science Writers, 2nd Edition, the editors have assembled contributions from a collections of experienced journalists who are every bit as stellar as the group that contributed to the first edition. In the end, what we have are essays written by the very best in the science writing profession. These wonderful writers have written not only about style, but about content, too. These leaders in the profession describe how they work their way through the information glut to find the gems worth writing about. We also have chapters that provide the tools every good science writer needs: how to use statistics, how to weigh the merits of conflicting studies in scientific literature, how to report about risk. And, ultimately, how to write.


Timothy Ferris

Science, though young, has already transformed our world, saving over a billion people from starvation and fatal disease, striking shackles of ignorance and superstition from millions more, and fueling a democratic revolution that has brought political liberty to a third of humankind. and that’s only the beginning. the scientific approach to understanding nature and our place in it—a deceptively simple process of systematically testing one’s ideas against the verdict of experiment—has opened limitless prospects for inquiry. There is no known limit to the knowledge and power that may, for better or worse, come within our grasp.

Yet few understand science, and many fear its awesome power. To the uncomprehending, the pronouncements of scientists can sound as opaque as the muttered spells of magicians, and the workings of scientific technology resemble, as the French say of the law, a machine that cannot move without crushing someone. Technophobes warn that science must be stopped before it goes “too far.” Religious fundamentalists enjoin the righteous to study only one (holy) book, consulting what Galileo called the book of nature only insofar as it serves to confirm their beliefs. Fashionable academics teach that science is but a collection of socially conditioned opinions, as changeable as haute couture. Popular culture is so suspicious of science that, according to one study, scientists portrayed in American feature films are more likely to be killed by the last act than are members of any other profession, including Western gunslingers and Mafia hit men.

The cure for fear and loathing of science is neither propaganda nor persuasion but knowledge—conveyed, preferably, in stories that capture and reward an audience’s attention. Science writers, whose work involves crafting such stories, are few in number, relatively unheralded, and often underestimated: Like sportswriters and business journalists, they are too often assumed . . .

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