the end of science writing by jon franklin l.
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“The End of Science Writing” by Jon Franklin. April 17, 2003 Jenny Schuster. About the Author: Jon Franklin. B.S., Univ. of Maryland, 1970 Currently Philip Merrill Professor of Journalism at University of Maryland

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about the author jon franklin
About the Author: Jon Franklin
  • B.S., Univ. of Maryland, 1970
  • Currently Philip Merrill Professor of Journalism at University of Maryland
  • Has served on the faculty at Univ. of Maryland, U. of Oregon, and Oregon State U. in various writing programs
  • Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes—feature writing (1979) and explanatory journalism (1985), and many other awards
  • Has worked as a science journalist for the Baltimore Sun and Raleigh News and Observer
  • He is well known for his work in creative/literary nonfiction.
selected publications
Selected Publications
  • Books: The Molecules of the Mind, Guinea Pig Doctors, Not Quite a Miracle, Shocktrauma
  • Articles: “The Extraordinary Adventure That Is Science Writing,” article in Nieman Reports, Fall 2002; “Bringing Judy Back,” April-May 2001. Multipart narrative series in the Raleigh News and Observer about a woman who suffered from a stroke; “To Make a Mouse,” December 1998, News and Observer, about genetic engineering; “The Angel of the White Plague,” February 2000 News and Observer, about tuberculosis; “Mind Fixers,” Sun series, won 1984 Pulitzer; “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster,” Sun article, won 1979 Pulitzer
  • Many, many more listed at his web site:

the end of science writing
“The End of Science Writing”
  • Delivered as the Alfred and Julia Hill lecture at the University of Tennessee on March 17, 1997
  • Citations: This lecture hasn’t been cited that many times.
    • Controversies in Science: A Resource for Journalists. Published by the North Carolina Association for Biomedical research;
    • “End of the era of—luxury of—science ‘translators.’” The Oak Ridger Online, Oak Ridge, TN.
    • I also found links to the article on several university composition course websites, including one at Purdue (COM 453).
franklin s opinions
Franklin’s Opinions
  • A lot of the statements made by the author are very opinionated. I am interested to hear if you agree or disagree with him and why.
rift between science community and public
Rift between science community and public
  • “Science remained separate from what we thought of as ‘normal life.’”
  • “Since the beginning of the Enlightenment people had tended to be either very literate in science or not literate at all.”
  • “Scientists saw the world as theory and fact, observation and prediction, statistical significance and probability. The rest of the world titrated experience in terms of motive and morality, right and justice, miracles and fate.”
  • “Scientists thought of themselves as apolitical. As soon as science started being financed by public dollars it was political…Scientists, innocents that they were, confused being in political favor with being apolitical.”
  • “It is time for scientists to come to terms with the fact that they're eating at the political trough and that they'd damned well better make their political case, and make it in a way that real people can understand it.”
anti science attitudes
Anti-Science Attitudes
  • “One study showed that people who watched a lot of television tended to be biased against science…It turned out that TV scientists had the highest fatality rate of any occupational group on the airwaves, with fully 10 percent of them dead before the closing credits. Even lawyers fared better. The message is clear: Science, like crime, doesn't pay. Or shouldn't.”
  • “It's no different in the movies. Look, for instance, at ET…The evil father, in Star Wars – what had happened to him? He had been touched by science. Or take Jurassic Park.”
science writing
Science Writing
  • “Much of it, as a result, is grossly inaccurate if not in fact then in tone, play, and context.”
  • “Scientists are forever complaining that they are misunderstood and misrepresented, and I agree. But imagine what it's like to be the guy in the middle, to be caught up in the distortion process, to find yourself bargaining passionately for a tad more accuracy in a story, say, about UFOs or cold fusion.”
  • “If science was ever a thing apart, a special way of living and of seeing things, that time is past. Today, science is the vital principle of our civilization. To do science is critical, to defend it the kernel of political realism. To define it in words is to be, quite simply, a writer, working the historical mainstream of literature.”
why i picked this article
Why I picked this article
  • I am a molecular biology and English double major.
  • I plan on pursuing a career in either scientific communications or scientific patent law.
  • I am fascinated by the challenge of explaining scientific research and rhetoric to people with no scientific background.
  • I think that communicating science is very important in this technical day and age, but I’m curious to know what you think about it.
group discussion
Group Discussion
  • Discuss the questions I asked in my prompt:
    • Do you feel that there is a division between scientists and the rest of society? Explain.
    • Do you think that mass media (print and otherwise) are doing good enough of a job explaining and justifying science to mainstream society? Why or why not?
    • Do you personally feel alienated from modern science? Why or why not?
    • Do you feel that our society can exist today with science being completely separate from the rest of society?
  • How many of you have read a scientific magazine like National Geographic for fun?
  • If not, why not?
group activity
Group Activity
  • Split up into groups and evaluate the following scientific publications’ websites:
    • Discover Magazine:
    • Scientific American Magazine:
    • New Scientist Magazine:
    • Popular Science Magazine:
Pick an article on a topic you aren’t familiar with and skim it. Then, evaluate the following questions in your group:
  • How good of a job do you think the author did rhetorically, explaining a technical topic to someone with no background in that topic?
  • If they didn’t do a good job, how could they improve? If they did do a good job, what made it so good?
  • Did most group members think the magazine’s articles were understandable or not?
bad examples
Bad Examples
  • Split into your groups and check out some of these “bad” examples of scientific journalism.
  • Why do you think they are considered “bad?”
    • List of some other examples:
franklin s writings
Franklin’s Writings
  • Now, start reading Franklin’s first Pulitzer-Prize-winning story, “Mrs. Kelly’s Monster.”
  • How does the style of this story differ from those you read in the other magazines? Do you like it better? Why or why not?

writing exercise
Writing Exercise
  • Now, everyone is an expert on something.
  • Pick a subject you know a lot about (it doesn’t have to be scientific) and write a short paragraph explaining the basics of your area of expertise to someone with no experience in the field.
  • How did you decide to include what you did? How did you decide to exclude certain details?
  • All people trying to communicate some specialized knowledge to a mainstream audience face conflicts.
  • The real challenge in writing like this is to balance accuracy with understandability.