Plain language, mitochondrial donation, and sketchy science – all under the Science Borealis roof

Share this:

by Brian Owens and Stephanie LePage

General Science editors

Occasionally, when it comes time to write one of these highlights posts, the General Science editors feel a little envious of the other subject categories on Science Borealis. While Sarah and Sri over in Earth & Environment had a ready-made topic in the International Year of Soil, and Alex and Kasra in Biology & Life Sciences had World Wetlands Day, we’re blasted with a firehose of topics and ideas to share and summarize.


Sometimes our task as General Science editors seems astronomical (Sun Over Earth, from NASA, International Space Station Science, 11/22/09; CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the good side, however, we get to peruse a cornucopia of topics and ideas and find all the coolest nuggets. Here’s a selection of the latest things that caught our eye in the General Science category.

Sketchy Science: Pretty much everything on this blog is worth checking out. Steve Kux and Geoff Lee alternate between in-depth but entertaining explanations of things like how concussions or camels work, and quick facts about how much your feet sweat and the discovery of Antarctic fish. All illustrated with charmingly crude sketches, of course.

Yvan Dutil at La Réalité Existe has a nice explanation (en français) of the science behind a recent vote in the UK to allow so-called “three parent embryos” to be used for in vitro fertilization. The idea behind this procedure is to prevent the transmission of mitochondrial disease (sheesh, 10 years as a science journalist, and it still takes Brian three tries to spell “mitochondrial”). As Yvan points out, if you think adding a bit of genetic material from a third person makes human reproduction complicated, be thankful you don’t have to deal with the 28,000 sexes of the Schizophyllum commune fungus!

Finally, a topic that is dear to the heart of any science writer (or reader): the campaign for plain language. Scientists, like any specialist group, have a habit of communicating in an impenetrable language of their own, making it almost impossible for anyone outside that particular specialty to understand what’s going on. There’s a movement afoot to encourage people to use more accessible language, but Roma Ilnyckyj, an editor at Talk Science To Me, has written a well-reasoned plea to be less judgemental and condescending when highlighting examples of overly complicated prose. Compassion and respect will get us farther than snarky aggression.

Those are the highlights in our general science stream this time around – add your favourites in the comments below, and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we highlight more posts from the Science Borealis feed!

Share this:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.