“Studies suggest that literally everything causes cancer”
“Are bagels killing your kids?”
“Brain scans reveal that tiny demons are to blame for ADHD”
Everyone wants to write a good headline. A catchy headline drives clicks, ad views, and thus revenue and recognition for the writer. And nothing catches the eye like a well placed scare tactic or hyperbolic generalization. But when it comes to science journalism, misleading writing can be more than a faux-pas; it can be downright dangerous. Miscommunications can propagate quickly, and it can be hard to bring people back around once they get an idea stuck in their head.
Journalists face a tough situation. As a non-expert, it can be hard to accurately understand what is happening in a scientific study. On top of that, results that sound promising at first can turn out to be rather unsensational when studied with a fair, rational eye. But writers have a responsibility to convey this information with accuracy and as little bias as possible. For this, compoundchem.com has created an infographic outlining some of the pitfalls commonly seen in science writing. It’s a great resource for both science writers and science readers alike. Some of these pitfalls are already well-known even among laymen, like the correlation/causation trap, but even if everyone knows of the pirates/global warming fable, it is an easy trap to fall into. Others are more obscure, or harder to avoid when reading casually – how can you tell if results are misinterpreted? Where do you look to find information about sample size? Nonetheless, it’s a writers job to find this information and relay it to the best of their ability.
While you can’t change the way we write and read about science single handedly, just changing your own habits can be a great first step. As a reader, try and keep a healthy balance of skepticism and curiosity, and try to check original sources when possible. As a writer, make sure you follow through on research and value accuracy the same way you value every other part of your writing process. Conscientious readers and writers make the world a better, more informed place.
I’ve become obsessed with NoiseTrade. This website has such a great database of music and books to choose from; everything is free but they sincerely suggest you donate a tip because “a little generosity goes a long way.” The site leads users to artists based on the sound of artists they choose or search for. By looking at the label “For Fans Of”, users can find artists that are similar to the one they are listening to. The same applies to the books and authors they provide. By providing your email, a download link is sent to you and your free music or book is only a click away. eBooks are provided in .epub, .mobi, and .pdf formats for different reading platforms while music is in the standard .mp3 format. Although neither the authors nor artists on NoiseTrade are going to be the big sellers on iTunes or New York Bestsellers, they are the well-loved unknowns that we should know. Go explore NoiseTrade’s libraries and discover new talent.
Companies and individuals offer to give out freebies online every day, but it can be pretty impossible to be at the right place at the right time. Luckily, you can find a lot of this free stuff using reddit. The site is organized into “subreddits” which serve as categorization for particular communities. The larger reddit community can be kind of love-it-or-hate-it, but certain subreddits can be a great tool in finding good deals. Subreddits dedicated to free stuff essentially become a giant crowdsourced gallery of links to cool offers.
Finding these subreddits themselves can be tricky at times, so I’ve provided a few below:
Some communities are more active than others, but you can easily find the best content on any subreddit by clicking the word “top” on the navigation bar and adjusting for time scale (top this month, top this year, top all time).
Books are expensive; textbooks are outrageously expensive. And heavy. So even if you’re a die-hard print lover, this list of free books available online can ease your burden (both financially and physically).
The first and most obvious is the heavy hitter: Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg runs off of donations and impressively manages to provide over 42,000 high quality free e-books, and most are available in multiple file formats.
For textbooks, we have textbookrevolution.org. The site can be a bit annoying to navigate – broken links scattered through the navigation become frustrating quickly. On the bright side though, textbookrevolution has over 1000 free textbooks available on a variety of subjects. There’s also en.wikibooks.org, an open source/open collection of informational books that utilizes the familiar wiki structure to crowdsource the content.
Finally, if you’re looking for a beach read to throw on your kindle, there’s publicbookshelf.com. Public Bookshelf has a community built around romance novels, and as such some of their top hits include Sense and Sensibility, Princess Zara, and a fictional biography of Jane Austen.
The full list at justenglish has 103 entries separated into even more categories, like foreign language novels, poetry, and even illustrated children’s books.
Is there a sure-fire way to make someone chuckle? A secret word? A fancy structure? Maybe there’s an equation? Nope. The truth is that humor isn’t funny. You’re backpedaling now and re-reading the title aren’t you? Well, don’t worry because this is, in fact, an article on how to write funny. But the point of this is that if you look too closely at humor, jokes, and comedy skits – it isn’t funny. Most humorous statements are implausible and plausible at the same time, but the catch is that it must be more implausible than plausible.
Comedy is usually inappropriate for the situation and outrageous in context, but it keeps your audience from realizing that humor isn’t funny. Humor is downright logical. For example, most knock-knock jokes are about word play and have a strict structure about them. “Knock Knock!” “Who’s there?” “Doris!” “Doris who?” “Doris locked, that’s why I knocked.” Knock-knock jokes revolve around the identity of the person or thing knocking on the door. The absurdity comes from the mash up of the announced identity of the knocker and the prodding additional question “Who?” of the one who answers the door. Now, doesn’t that take all the fun out of knock-knock jokes? I’ve stripped the jokes of their humor by looking too much into it. Humor is logical because it’s all about the undeniable truth. Exposing the nugget of honesty in the bowl of absurdity. Read more about funny writing at Write to Done.
Irony (n): the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.
This is a blanket definition of irony when in fact; there are many different forms of irony. Too many people use irony as a catchall term to refer to anything out of the ordinary, amusing, or dramatic. The ignorance stops here. By understanding the various forms it comes in, you will (hopefully) use irony correctly.
If one of your friends or classmates comes to you and says, “I wish my professor would call on me more, I love the feeling of absolute terror you get when everyone in the class is staring at you.” Unless they’re some kind of masochist, they obviously don’t enjoy being spontaneously called on and suffering the scrutiny of their classmates. This is known as verbal irony though it is usually referred to as sarcasm.
The most common irony is situational irony, which refers the actions of someone based on an expectation that lead directly to the outcome they wish to avoid. For example, in the movie Shrek, it was expected that “love’s true form” for Fiona would be human when in reality it was an ogre because Shrek loved her ogre form.
In the works of drama or fiction, dramatic irony is when the reader or audience is let in on a fact that is unknown to most of the characters. The most famous example is in Romeo & Juliet when the audience knows that Juliet has taken a potion to merely appear dead, while Romeo only sees her dead body and proceeds to kill himself.
Cosmic irony would only be used for dramatic effect in real life, but it basically blames the gods or fate for having a hand in our struggles. For a fictional example, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort’s motivation throughout all the books is to kill Harry and in the end, that’s what destroys him.
The juxtaposition between a historical event and what has happened since to contradict it is historical irony. Leading up to its departure in 1912, the Titanic was declared unsinkable – and then it sunk on its maiden voyage.
Based on the Socratic teaching method, Socratic irony is feigning ignorance in order to get a certain reaction or answer out of someone. So when your professor asks you to read the material and then you come in the next day and they say “I don’t know the answer” as they sit back and ask you question after question and you end up teaching yourself – you’ve just become the victim of Socratic irony.
Contrary to popular belief, people are actually reading more now than they ever have before. However, we’re not all cracking open Charles Dickens or Emily Bronte. The majority of information we absorb is through reading in the media. Even social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr require us to read, albeit in a very different way. Our reading comprehension is not actually suffering as it has been strained of late. With too much stimuli bombarding us at every moment, our attention spans have become shorter and shorter, limiting our ability to comprehend and absorb what we read. We need to reconsider our relationship with reading and what it means to us.
Nowadays, we are more interested on having an opinion on a topic rather than thoughtfully and critically thinking about it before commenting. While a lot of us gravitate towards sources that validate our own opinions, we should be seeking out opposing voices. This will slow down one’s reading consumption and help create a more well-rounded reading base. If reading, in whatever form that comes to you, causes you anxiety and you feel like it’s more of a chore that you have to keep up with, then you need to reevaluate how and what you read. To learn more about boosting your reading comprehension and being a smarter, more conscientious reader, check out Lifehacker’s article.
With the ever-growing world of eBooks, the lifespan of printed books are dwindling. As a frequent bookstore visitor, I loathe the day printed books die out. I think it’s still a long time coming, but it stills gives me panic attacks whenever I think about it. (And then I proceed to run to the nearest Barnes & Noble and breathe in the soothing smell of freshly printed books – seriously, that needs to be a body spray or something.) But in the meantime, we need to focus on the benefits of physical books versus the cheap imitations of the real book-reading experience. Nothing beats the feel of quickly fanning the pages of a new book or hearing the spine crinkle when you open it or perusing the aisles of an entire building dedicated to only books. And then there’s the satisfying feeling you get when you close a book after you’re finished reading. EBooks just don’t quite live up to the experience that is reading a physical book. Read the complete list of reasons at Thought Catalog.