Good science writing makes me purr

For my money (what little of it there is), good science communication starts with the familiar and gives it a twist. People connect with the familiar and are compelled by the twist. If you are doing it right, you don’t even have to bother telling people that you are educating them. Brian Switek gets it right in his article, “Why Margarita Can Purr, but Can’t Roar” for Wired:

I rolled out of bed later than I intended to this morning. I blame the cats.

Our youngest cat, a diminutive calico named Margarita, sprung onto the bed as soon as she heard me start to stir. She immediately started purring. . .Maybe the rarity of purring among big cats has something to do with particular modifications of their larynx. . .But these modifications may have left lions, tigers, and their kind unable to purr. . .but at least I have a better idea of how she’s doing it. I’m just glad our mischievous kitten can’t roar — a purr is a much nicer sound to wake up to.

It sounds simple, but is not easy to do. For slight contrast, take a look at Esther Inglis-Arkell’s “Why birds don’t like to watch movies” over at io9. The concept is great. Start with something we know about the way movies are made and viewed, then teach us something about variability in the way different animals see.

Unfortunately, the article tries to do too much and explain all the reasons a chicken would not enjoy Casablanca*:

Take a bird to a movie and it see the film as a progression of slides. Plus, it will hear the audio problems. . .it will see the film in much different colors. . .and you can understand why movie theaters are not full of chickens.

Theory and execution. Connect with the common. Compel with the cool.

*I hear they prefer The Maltese Falcon.

Author: Josh Witten

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