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JAMA 100 Years Ago
February 11, 2004

WHY ARE SCIENTISTS POOR WRITERS?

Author Affiliations
 

JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.

JAMA. 2004;291(6):766. doi:10.1001/jama.291.6.766-a

Queries and Minor Notes.

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 31, 1904.

To the Editor:—Your editorial Jan. 9, 1904, discussing why scientists are poor writers, aroused my spirit of refutation, because I think your point is not well taken. I am like the man who can neither provide nor prepare a good meal, but who can enjoy it when it is set before him; I am neither a scientist nor a good writer, but I can appreciate a good article. It all depends on the viewpoint. No doubt the scientist believes himself a good writer; it is the non-scientist who thinks he is not. The scientist loves to indulge in technicalities, precision and prolixity, while the less scientific man thinks them prosy and pedantic. The scientist scorns to reduce his style to the popular taste, while the popular writer "stoops to conquer." The scientist either loses himself in the mass of details and citations of authorities and statistics, thus putting his readers in the position of the person "looking for a needle in the haystack," or he so overwhelms them with facts that they feel as if they were wrestling with the effects of a banquet. We do not "see ourselves as others see us," and it therefore takes a non-scientific man to criticise a scientist and a scientist to squash his critic; that is your opportunity, and I presume you will make the most of it.    E.G.

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