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Saturday, August 4, 2007

On Science And The English Language

posted by on August 4 at 21:55 PM

Last week, I found myself writing for the Stranger and my General Exam more or less at the same time; these are orthogonal forms of writing. It caused me to reflect upon science and the English language.

(Committee members, stop reading here.)

The first paragraph of my alternative proposal:

I. As it is now.

With an undisputed ability to differentiate into cells from all three germ lineages, embryonic stem cells may provide a replacement cell source for grafting into weakly regenerating tissues. This broad potency can result in the introduction of inappropriate contaminating cell types—including teratoma-generating undifferentiated cells—during grafting.

I hate this paragraph, and will change it a dozen times before turning in the exam.

II. Short, simple declarative sentences.

Embryonic stem cells become everything. That includes heart or brain cells. Sick people need new heart and brain cells. Great! They also become unwanted cells. We only want the right cells. Grafting undifferentiated cells causes tumors! Bummer.

I would write this in crayon.

III. Passive (more so) and (increasingly) awkward.

Tissues have the potential to fail in regeneration. Formation of cells from multiple lineages, all three germ lineages, can occur during differentiation of embryonic stem cells. There are desired and undesired cell types that can be made to exist. It has been observed that teratomas can form. This event occurs particularly when undifferentiated embryonic stem cells were grafted.

This version is depressingly close to what I actually have in the draft.

IV. Mudede(-like)

The embryonic stem cell desires to become everything; being the total of the body is the central purpose of its existence. Our purposes require the embryonic stem cell to go against its most fundamental nature; we must turn the cell that can become anything into a shadow of itself. Such crimes require powerful tools. acorn.jpg

I would love to turn in this version. Alas, I would promptly fail.

RSS icon Comments


Well, you could just take out the 'an undisputed' from the first sentence, replacing it with the word 'the', and add an 'unfortunately' (by way of badly needed transition) to the beginning of the second sentence.

Once you do those two things I don't think the original sentence looks too bad. But I don't know the context which might add to the addmited awkwardity of the two complicated thoughts.

I would like to mention though, that the impression that such sentences are maladroit is pure social construction. The Germans looove such sentences. Check out the first sentence of Mann's Death in Venice, and by no means the longest, I'm just being lazy. In fact, the next sentence is longer.

Gustav Aschenbach oder von Aschenbach, wie seit seinem fuenfzigsten Geburtstag amtlich sein Name lautete, hatte an einem Fruehlingsnachmittag des Jahres 19.., das unserem Kontinent monatelang eine so gefahrdrohende Miene zeigte, von seiner Wohnung in der Prinz-Regentenstrasse zu Muenchen aus, allein einen weiteren Spaziergang unternommen.

Posted by john | August 4, 2007 10:46 PM

The Mudede version needs to relate to Marxism. Or possibly Star Wars.

Posted by supergp | August 5, 2007 1:18 AM

"Mudede(like)" Oh, my god. You are fucking hilarious. & clearly intelligent (& not for making fun of Charles). Good luck!

Posted by ka-chunk | August 5, 2007 1:40 AM

As a half-wit science mjr/artist, I absolutely love this Jonathan. And very nice drawing too!

Recalling an earlier Slog bit about Artist's Statements, I would love to see your entire post (minus the proper nouns) as a month long show in a Seattle gallery. What species of acorn is that?

Have you seen the Sci. Illustration exhibit at the Burke? You may have to call ahead; the viewing room has selected hours.

Thanks much for sharing your studies. If your interested in working at Children's Hospital, I'm fairly close with someone who helps with research in the morgue. Let me know. Talk about seeing an Ugly Baby, I'd have to say that's one of the worst band names ever.

Posted by pathological groot | August 5, 2007 3:22 AM

The Mudede version is perfect.

Posted by Gabriel | August 5, 2007 3:30 AM

slow day at the slog - thanks

Posted by Freddy | August 5, 2007 3:32 AM

the sad thing is i only understood the mudede version. there other version confused me.

Posted by charles mudede | August 5, 2007 12:12 PM

Charles, the Touche medal shall be yours.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | August 5, 2007 12:19 PM

I really is my favorite. Any NIH grant written in that style would be instantly funded by me.

My scientific mentor has cautioned me about writing clearly. ;p

Posted by Jonathan Golob | August 5, 2007 12:23 PM


Posted by Mr. Poe | August 5, 2007 4:43 PM

im with charles. your his version is by far the most dramatic and lucid. i suppose it depends on who youre writing for, JG.

you ought to submit your general exam via slog.

Posted by jz | August 5, 2007 5:56 PM

The best science writers I know actually write versions of II, *NOT* I. After all, how useful is your science if only four other people on the planet can understand it, and the meaning is buried behind pointless jargon?

Of course, as you've pointed out, you're dealing with a committee, which is known to be an irrational entity anyway. Sympathetic committee members might enjoy all four versions, though. When you go to write grants, you'll find you will have much better success if your writing is easy to read and at least moderately entertaining.

Posted by Rebecca | August 6, 2007 12:34 PM

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