Recorded: 09 Sep 2003
I think that it always helps to write a scientific paper well, fluently so that people will want to read it, but people don’t read scientific papers from beginning to end. So it’s, you know, they dip in. They pull out the abstract, they read that, then they go and look at the results and then they will read some of the tables, you know. The important thing about a scientific paper is that it, you know, presents the results, presents the methods, discusses any problems honestly, and then only fourthly is it important that it be fluently written. And I don’t think that’s ever going to change and why should it?
Obviously it would be nice to make it comprehensible and comprehensible if not always—I mean, is usually well written, unambiguous and so on. But I think that that’s why scientists often have a problem writing fluently for the public because they can’t leave out details, they can’t step back from being comprehensive, you know, and realize that something—that you have to hold the readers attention and that kind of thing. So that there are different forms of writing inevitably. But, you know, I think every professional scientist should get a chance to, you know; write a popular article about their work. And some of them will find that they enjoy it very much and are very good at it, and should take it up as a sideline. And I think it’s a great pity that most of science, that on the whole the scientists who do a lot of that don’t’ get a lot of credit for it within the profession. Instead they often get quite a lot of jealousy for it. I mean scientists are not jealous of people like me writing about their work, but they are sometimes jealous of colleagues writing about their work.
Matt Ridley is a journalist and a leading science writer. He earned his Ph.D. in zoology from Oxford University in 1983. He worked as a correspondent and editor for The Economist, a columnist for Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph and as editor of The Best American Science Writing 2002.
His books include Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature; Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation; Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters ; Nature via Nurture: Genes, Experience, and What Makes Us Human; and Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. His books have been short-listed for many literary awards.
He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. Ridley is the honorary life president of the International Centre for Life, Newcastle-upon-Tyne’s park devoted to life science that he founded in 1996. He is chairman of Northern Rock plc, and other financial services firms.
In 1996, Ridley first visited Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and made James D. Watson’s acquaintance. In 2006 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and is a visiting professor at the lab.