Saturday, January 01, 2005

Literary Quality of Scientific Papers Declining

Henry Gee, an editor at Nature, has an article entitled The write stuff remarking on the decline in the literary quality of scientific papers.

Gee discusses several reasons for this development of "lexical sludge":

"[F]or those authors who are honestly striving to do a good job, much of the problem could be rooted ... with what I perceive to be the low standard of English teaching in schools. It seems that formal teaching of grammar has been abandoned, possibly in the cause of social and linguistic relativism.

Another possible cause is the desire of some scientists in certain specialities to write as densely as possible, so that the audience is restricted to a clique of peers. This is not literature so much as the delineation of territory: for the same reason that dogs mark fire hydrants in ways inaccessible to human apprehension, the message is not intended for everyone, only competitors."

"Their convoluted prose contains subordinate clauses stacked one after the other, indiscriminate neologisms and nouns prostituted as verbs. Reading it produces a general frustration akin to that felt by the boxer who, while still gloved, tries to peel a banana."

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