Monthly Archives: February 2019

Publishing in English as an additional language (a view from outside)

Last fall, I was asked to “blurb” – to provide some pithy promotional phrases for – a new book: Corcoran, Englander, and Muresan’s Pedagogies and Policies for Publishing Research in English: Local Initiatives Supporting International Scholars”  It’s a book about how training can be provided to support scholars who want to publish research in English, despite having English as an additional language (that is, being EAL writers).

I’m glad I agreed to read and blurb Publishing Research in English, because it turned out to be fascinating.  I’m not reviewing it here, though; instead, I want to share a few interesting points I picked up from the book.  Some are things I knew; some are things I didn’t. Some are things that may find global agreement among EAL writers; others are doubtless quite different.  If you’re an EAL writer, or if you advise or teach EAL readers, I hope you’ll share your reaction in the Replies. Continue reading

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Timelines in grant proposals are useless. Here’s how I put them to use.

Image: A completely useless Gantt-chart timeline, from a grant proposal I submitted before my recent epiphany

I’ve written a lot of grant proposals in my 30 years as a scientist, and that means I’ve jumped through a lot of hoops.  I can wring the most text from a specification of font size and margins.  I can describe a piece of research as simultaneously novel enough to be exciting and yet, at the same time, pedestrian enough to be risk-free.  I can justify the crap out of a budget.  But one hoop nettles me more than any other hoop held before me: the grant timeline (sometimes called “schedule of proposed activities”).

I can jump through that hoop, of course – I can make a Gantt chart with a veneer of plausibility.  But I don’t see the point.  Continue reading

What is science’s “Kokomo”?

Image: The Beach Boys (2012 reunion), © Louise Palanker via flickr.com CC BY-SA 2.0

It came on the radio again the other day: “Kokomo”*.  It’s a fundamentally and phenomenally stupid song, and yet it’s so perfectly executed that you can’t help singing along a little, even knowing that you’ll hate yourself for it later.  Even knowing that you’re hating yourself right now while you’re still singing, but you still can’t stop.  That such a stupid, stupid song can still grab you and not let go, and can still blight the airwaves 30 years after its release, is a testament to the song writing craftsmanship of its authors**  and to the performance craftsmanship of the Beach Boys.  It’s just astonishing how good “Kokomo” can be, while simultaneously being so very, very bad***.

So what is science’s Kokomo?  What scientific idea is fundamentally stupid, yet persists (or persisted for a very long time) anyway because it’s been argued with craftsmanship and polish enough to persuade? Continue reading

Power in the ending

Image: The ending of a long story (Lord of the Rings; Tolkien 1955, George Allen & Unwin, London).

If you’re like me (as a writer, I mean) you probably spend a lot of time thinking about the first sentences of things.  It’s true in fiction, and just as true in scientific writing, that the 1st sentence of a passage, a section, a paper, or a book has a big job to do.  A good opening sentence sets a mood, asks a question, grabs a reader and positions them for the journey to come.

It took me a long time to realize that the last sentence of anything is equally important. Continue reading

Some (more) great reads from the history of natural history

Image: Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland in the Amazon jungle, via wikimedia.org. Painting by Eduard Ender, circa 1850; from the collection of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Research for my new book has me reading a lot of books about the history of natural history. Some are well known, some are obscure; some are old; some are new. (Some were borrowed, although at least this time around, none were blue.)  Here are a few more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough.

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science (Yoon 2009, Norton).  This book, Yoon tells us, started out as a history and explanation of taxonomy – the science of naming and describing species.  It grew into something else, something a little bit strange, and something a bit difficult to put one’s finger on.  Continue reading

I’ve submitted the manuscript for my new book!

Image: the David Bowie spider, Heteropoda davidbowie.  KS Seshadri, CC BY-SA 4.0 via wikimedia.org

Last week I hit a big milestone.  I hit submit not just on another journal paper, but on something much more fun: my new book.  I’m both relieved and excited!

The book’s working title is “The Strangest Tribute: How Scientific Names Celebrate Adventurers, Heroes, and Even a Few Scoundrels”*Continue reading