When writers talk to scientists

My friend and faculty colleague, science writer Ann Finkbeiner, is part of a trio who maintain a lovely little blog called The Last Word on Nothing. Her most recent post is a gem, about being a writer asking questions of scientists. I love this:

My problem is made worse because I write about the physical sciences which, with the exception of gravity, are rarely part of an English major’s life experience. Nevertheless, on the whole, scientists are tolerant of my questions. Maybe they understand the unfathomable distances between their education and mine. Maybe because they usually teach undergraduates, they are used to such questions. Or maybe they don’t expect much from me in the first place:  like the dog walking on its hind legs, they think, the wonder is not that she does it well but that she does it at all.

And there’s this:

The all-time best was over a nice business dinner full of wine and charm, and the astronomer said philosophically, “You could almost say that the future is a Taylor expansion of the past.”   I said, “What’s a Taylor expansion?”  And he said, “Oh you know, you take the first derivative and then the second derivative and so on.”  And I couldn’t help myself, I said, “What’s a first derivative?”    He said—poor guy, it just slipped out—”How did you get so far with so little fuel?”

Ann has a new book coming soon, A Grand and Bold Thing. It’s about the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and I guarantee you it will be good.

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