28 July 2013

The strangest numbers

Compared with technical journalism, science journalism is in quite another realm. The contrast is perhaps most pronounced in the case of journals like NatureScientific American and a handful of others in English, plus a smaller number in other languages, partly because they attract skilled writers working on challenging topics, partly because the articles go through rigorous peer reviews combined with in-house editing and refinement, also because the production cycle is long. None of which is true of the types technical journalism encountered in trade publications and media focusing on companies and their products, which I mention simply because that is what I have worked on for most of my career.

These thoughts and others came to mind this Sunday after reading an exemplary piece of science writing/journalism. The article is entitled The Strangest Numbers in String Theory. The full paper is available here.

If you are interested in imaginary numbers, physics and fine science writing for a broad audience, I earnestly encourage you to download it, print it and read it through carefully and quietly. It deserves, IMHO, more attention than on-screen reading can offer. And, it may -- just may -- give you an early insight into what might turn out to be a paradigm-shattering breakthrough in theoretical physics. I had the considerable good fortune of meeting one of the authors, John Huertas, at an informal get-together here in Lisbon last weekend.

Like other areas of professional writing, science journalism is also in a state of flux. For an overview and links to more on the subject, read Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?, published in Nature in March 2009.

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