Monthly Archives: November 2019

I answered 46 questions this week

Well, OK, I answered a lot more questions this week, but what I mean is that I’m the week’s featured interview on 46 Questions.  46 Questions is a great idea.  Every week they feature a scientist giving quick, short answers to 46 questions – questions that emphasize the scientist as a person with hobbies and personality and guilty pleasures, rather than the science they do.  I think that’s important.  There’s a stereotype out there that scientists are something apart – often, emotionless and personality-deficient automatons in lab coats behind a laboratory bench.  That’s dangerous: it makes it easy for the general public to reject science, because it’s separate and other, not part of our shared society.  Far better for folks to understand that scientists are people just like everyone else; that there might be a scientist in line behind you at the grocery store, in the next pew at church, or on the opposing team in the curling bonspiel.  Scientists have all the same virtues, vices, and personality quirks as everyone else (and that’s a major theme of my new book, by the way).

46 Questions has done a nice job of highlighting the humanity of scientists, and also the many axes of diversity among scientists that we can and should celebrate.  I’m happy to be part of it.

You can read my 46 answers here – but even better, browse around a bit.  There are all kinds of interesting people there!

© Stephen Heard  November 14, 2019

Image: 46 Questions logo

The scientific wisdom of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache

Image: Books 5 – 9 in Louise Penny’s Three Pines series, featuring Armand Gamache.

“I don’t know. I was wrong. I’m sorry”.  Lacoste recited them slowly, lifting a finger to count them off.

“I need help”, the Chief said, completing the statements.  The ones he’d taught young Agent Lacoste many years ago.  The ones he recited to all his new agents.

The Long Way Home, Louise Penny

 

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, knows a lot about homicide detection.  Gamache is the protagonist of Louise Penny’s Three Pines series of crime novels.  Over 15 novels so far, Penny has portrayed the usual assortment of crimes and their solutions, but also (unusually for the genre) Gamache’s approach to managing and mentoring the earlier-career detectives assigned to his unit.  His management philosophy can be summed up as willingness to utter, whenever appropriate, the Four Statements:

    • I don’t know.
    • I was wrong.
    • I’m sorry.
    • I need help.

These work very well for Gamache in the novels.  I’ve found they work pretty well in science, too. Continue reading

My worst writing atrocity

Image: “It was a dark and stormy night…”, from Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford (1830).  Check out similarly wretched prose at the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

I’ve been prepping recently for two different writing workshops: one on my home campus, and another half-way across the continent at the University of Wyoming.  A funny thing happens when you write a book about scientific writing: people infer from that authorship that you know things about writing, and even that you’re good at it.  I’ve come to accept the first half of that, although not the second.

I’m certainly a better writer than I once was.  (Writing The Scientist’s Guide to Writing helped me improve quite a bit; I can only hope that reading it has a similarly salubrious effect.)  There’s nothing unusual about my improvement: all of us learn to write better as we practice the craft.  And that means we get to look back and cringe at the offenses we’ve committed in the past. Continue reading