Peter Little on Science Writing
  Peter Little     Biography    
Recorded: 30 May 2003

Yes. I think that is very important to actually be able to communicate science to other scientists. It’s surprising how many bad papers there are; I mean very imprecise words where you’re not quite sure what the meaning is. So every scientist actually has to be taught to write scientific writing properly. And that’s not so much being done. I was never taught, and it shows. But it’s something that I think we need to do properly. If you talk about writing other sorts of things, then I think that’s also very important. I think the ability to simplify and communicate. The reason that science has a poor press frequently is because scientists simply don’t explain carefully enough the very complex work that we do.

So that’s what I’ve tried to do and I’ve been very successful in that. I write a little commentary articles for things. And I mean I taught myself how to do that in the end. But part of it was just trying to really think very hard about what was important in the science that was going on and trying to just write about that and not about the detail. And if you ask me what I am doing, I’ll tell you something which is unbelievably complex because that’s what I actually am doing at this moment. I’m tied up in statistics that I don’t understand, and you’re not going to understand. But if you ask me what I’m doing, I’ll tell you. You could be my grandmother there or you could be someone who is educated at the high school and no further or you could be a university professor, and I can tell you by choosing the words carefully enough. I wish there were more scientists who spent time doing that, then we wouldn’t have to undo some of the damage that we do to ourselves.

Peter Little is a bioinformatics researcher, professor of medical biochemistry and the head of the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. He received his Ph.D. working with recombinant DNA under Ed Southern and Peter Walker at Edinburgh University. In 1976, Little cloned a human gene – the second time this was ever accomplished.

Little’s laboratory studies the genetic basis of gene expression, and genetic variation as it pertains to the regulatory regions of the genes. He has hypothesized that there are two types of genetic variation that alter gene expression. His lab has also created advanced techniques for testing genetically influenced transcript variations.

He comes to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory regularly for genome meetings and symposia.