"Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works."
-- Carl Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World
To my mind, the greatest problem we face in our country and in the world is the lamentable lack of rationality and critical thinking in the population. It seems to me that, at least in democratic countries, this deficiency is the root of most social evils.
For some years, as my contribution to the war on stupidism, I toiled in the trenches of academe, teaching science and mathematics to undergraduates. It was not the Sisyphean nature of that work that drove me to leave it; rather a confluence of factors related to growth and self-realization led me to the then unheard-of step of walking away from a tenured position. I'll tell more about my career in science and technology later on in this blog. For the moment, I'll just say that lately my interests have turned towards writing, in particular, writing about science for the general reader, both my own writing and the writing of others, the science writing genre in general.
Science is the ultimate expression of the application of reason and critical thinking to our observations of nature. So the channels of informing the public on science-through print journalism, books, television, the Web-play a central role in encouraging reason in the public mind.
Science is a major force shaping our culture. The progress of science depends on public support and so, to some degree, on public understanding. These are all reasons that point to the importance of science communication, including science writing for the general reader.
Probably, for most of the "general public", exposure to science news is limited to the stories in daily newspapers, weekly newsmagazines, and television specials. While there are several newspaper science writers and editors whose work I admire-The New York Times weekly Science Times section being a gathering place for some of the best--, I am frequently appalled by some of the work I encounter in my local dailies. From time to time, I'll use this blog to hold up some of the worst examples to criticism.
Moving up a level from this least-common-denominator of science journalism, we have books, called science popularizations, and magazines such as Scientific American and Discover, aimed at the intelligent, educated and scientifically curious lay reader. These readers, these books, and their authors, are my main areas of interest.
I think a lot about the best ways of constructing metaphors and analogies. Good composition in expository writing, finding just the right order of presentation best to convey a proper understanding of the topic, is a craft that has always fascinated me, and one which I think I have practiced well on occasion. So, to the extent that I find time to read them and write about them, science popularizations in book form will be my main topic. I'll also be commenting on stuff I see in the science magazines and the daily press.