Monthly Archives: July 2019

Out in the forest, and out on a limb

Images: A field crew disappearing into the forest; field sites and gear for our soil-carbon project.  All © Stephen Heard CC BY 4.0

Warning: long and detailed – but the details are really the point, so don’t give up too quickly.

I called this blog Scientist Sees Squirrel in recognition of my lack of an attention span.  For 25 years, I’ve been bobbing and weaving academically, shifting research focus as collaborators, funding, access to systems, and just my idiosyncratic curiosity have favoured new projects asking new questions in new systems.  This has benefits and, no doubt, costs (so I’m definitely not claiming it’s right for everyone or even that it’s optimal for me), but it’s kept me excited about science for a quarter of a century.

And I’ve done it again.

Continue reading

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Even more great reads from the history of natural history

Image: Jackdaw by ivabalk, CC0 via pixabay.com

Research for my new book has had 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, and this time around, one was blue.)  Here are four more minireviews (in no particular order), in case the pile of books you’ve been meaning to read isn’t big enough.

Mrs. Moreau’s Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names (Moss 2018, Faber and Faber).  This charming book explores the etymologies of the common names of birds. Continue reading

What copyediting is, and what it isn’t

Image: a snippet of the (excellent) copyedit for my forthcoming book.

Over the last six months, I’ve had several pieces of writing go through the copyediting process: a few papers, and one book.  Over my career, I’ve seen closer to 100 pieces of writing through copyedits.  It’s a stage of publication that was, for a long time, rather mysterious to me, but contrasting two of my recent experiences provides a pretty good illustration of what good copyediting is, and what good copyediting very definitely isn’t. Continue reading

Every paper tells a story – or at least, it should

Image: Storytelling chair © BeyondTimelines, CC-0 via pixabay.com

There are plenty of strong opinions and controversies about scientific writing: the active voice vs. the passive, how to describe a result with P = 0.06, even – and perhaps most spectacular for ratio of strength of feeling to importance – one space or two after a full stop.  But one controversy that astonishes me is that over whether or not scientific writing is “storytelling”.  Spoiler alert: of course it is.

It may seem odd to use the word “storytelling” for scientific writing, because we tend to think of that word as associated with fiction. Continue reading

Internet trolls and integration by parts

Image: Don’t feed the trolls, © Sam Fentress CC BY-SA 3.0; plus integration by parts.

I’m usually pleased when people read my blog posts and ask questions about them.  Usually – but not when they’re trolls.

I ran into a very-likely-troll a couple of weeks ago.  I’d written a post I called Charles Darwin’s Other Mistake, about Darwin’s disdain for the use of authorities with Latin names.  It’s more interesting than it sounds – really – and it was picked up by Real Clear Science and (partly as a result) attracted quite a bit of readership.  And one reader left a question that had a distinctly suspicious odour to it. Continue reading

Is my worst writing habit also my writer’s voice?

If I have a shortcoming as a writer – and believe me, the only thing wrong with that proposition is that I don’t just have one – it’s my fondness for parentheticals.  (See what I did there?)  I love them; as I say in The Scientist’s Guide to Writing, “I use parentheses as if I’d gotten an irresistible deal on a bulk purchase of water-damaged ones”.  I even have a special step in revision of my early drafts in which I search for all occurrences of parentheses, with the intent of excising as many as I can.  Sometimes it even works. Continue reading