Honors Writing about Health and Medicine

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Reasons, Techniques, and Impact of Popularization

Read and respond to the chapter below from Greg Myers’ Writing Biology, about biologists’ efforts to construct popularizations of their research studies for less scientific forums. What do you think about his argument that such adaptations change the actual meaning and interpretation of the information? What might this suggest about the nature and impact of attempts to popularize medical knowledge?

Myers 2

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8 Comments

  1. sarahmhudak says:

    To me, being a good science writer is the ability to take a complex topic and simplify it enough so that the typical reader can understand the data, too. After all, the point of such research is generally for the public’s benefit. Taking the time to read scientific articles is a step that people should be taking more frequently. Popularizing medical knowledge can give the average reader the power to make informed decisions. Myers brings up a good point about this level of adaptation that I hadn’t really considered before. Sometimes, manipulating words too much can skew their meaning. To make the piece more engaging, writers will make the article more narrative. In one of Myers’ many examples, an article about butterflies contains three small and separate narrative sections about the observational experiments the researchers made on the butterflies. However, the narratives are not in chronological order; they are in a hierarchical order to frame the argument in a more simple way. This can skew the way a person interprets the results. These types of misrepresentations are more likely to occur and not be noticed or cared about because there is no public controversy over butterflies! However, if this same type of skew happened on data about nuclear weapons, as Myers suggests, claims of expertise and accurate information would be more demanded.

  2. kgardner1130 says:

    In order for the popular audience to understand and care about scientific research, it must be adapted quite a bit. With my limited experience and science background, I can understand most of what research papers is trying to convey, but if I am reading for my own general interest, I don’t really want to think and delve into the paper that much. While some of the meaning may be changed, altering the syntax and organization of the article, doesn’t bother me as long as the major point remains unchanged. It’s not like the actual data is hidden from the popular audience. If they wanted to see original methods and data and extract their own meaning from it, most research articles are readily available in some form online.

  3. hgmohan says:

    Scientific information should be presented in such a way that no outside knowledge is necessary to understand what the article is trying to say. So, when a study is transformed into a simpler version, you’re inherently trying to change the way the article is interpreted. However, I don’t feel that this changes the meaning. You could say “They are warm, nice people with big hearts” or “They are humid, pre-possessing homosapiens with full-sized aortic pumps”–the first way is easier to understand, but either way, you’re still saying the same thing. Medical writers should be able to be to-the-point when they’re writing the version of the article for the public. I think it would be okay to break away from the science with a narrative or example, if it makes the idea easier to understand, but when they start to rely on these techniques too much, THEN the meaning will begin to change. The “public” version should be as close as possible to the original version, deviating only when absolutely necessary.

  4. erahmes says:

    I feel that adaptations can definitely change the interpretation of information. I think that certain parts of studies can be emphasized to grab the public’s attention. For example, in the publication and popularization pieces I compared; the popularization article emphasized one small part of the actual study. This was the part that would grab people’s attention and would relate to people the most. I think a lot of information can be left out during adaptation and in return this can have an effect on how the reader interprets what is written.

  5. apectol91 says:

    As I have mentioned before, I believe that the ability to not only acquire and attain technical information, but to also be able to convey that information in a meaningful and understandable way is what separates an expert from the rest in their field. While an adaptation of technical information may change the way in which the information is being presented, as long as the content is accurate their should be minimal skewing of the information. However, the everyday reader most often has not been educated in the field and wouldn’t exactly know if certain information had been skewed. In many cases these adaptations are the only exposure someone may have to such information and will be the base of formation of their opinion about the topic of interest, which is why I believe it is key for these adaptations to be as accurate and understandable as possible.

  6. tamarabwi32 says:

    The inevitable change when data is processed in a journal article and when it is popularized for a wider audience cannot be underwritten or written out of either version. I like the way Meyer ultimately frames this mindset when he delves into real world examples of scientists and the articles on their research published for the scientific and more general communities. As scientifically minded individuals already it is difficult for us to observe the divide between the research we interact with and the way that the rest of the world should interpret it. Yes, the original articles are usually available for people to look back on but who (honestly) is motivated to check any news article with the original journal publication? As Meyers mentioned, popularization changes the rhetoric of the writing situation, but it cannot be abandoned because it gives meaning and significance to the scientific community from an outside perspective (people would not otherwise bother significantly with scientific discoveries). Both versions write to underline the significance of a scientific endeavor of some sort but while journals are finely tuned to the impact and precision of a study popularized versions tend to pick on subjects that can appeal to a wide audience (sex, environment, personal health, discovery of something new) and frame their article around this uniqueness of the study.
    The best we can hope for in terms of balance is mindful reading of both versions keeping in mind their purpose of giving significance to a study. .In popularized terms this means questioning the absolute phrases that get written into the results, while in scientific journals it means knowing how to assess methodology and accuracy within the article.

  7. ryanmarracino says:

    Adapting any type of information to fit an audience is inevitably going to change the meaning somewhat of that information. Otherwise it could be written in the simplest form to begin with and would only have to be explained once. As a scientist writing a journal article you should be trying to teach your audience what your study is about. When journal articles are written by people other than the ones who actually conducted the study, it would be like me trying to teach a class that I took last semester. So ideally the purpose of a journal article would be to teach, but in reality the writers don’t know enough about the subject matter to be able to explain to someone else what it means. A good point that Tamara makes is that these journal article give an outside perspective to the researchers who wrote the study initially, and provide them with feedback to possibly clarify and explain better the next study they write. When looking at the many puposes of journal artices that popularize medical knowledge, they can only have positive implications as long as they don’t try to persuade the reader into believing something that isn’t there, and as long as the reader keeps in mind the source of the information, and considers looking at the information from multiple sources. From my experience as a student it is only after you have been taught a concept from multiple perspectives and maybe even experience its application yourself before you can completely understand its meaning.

  8. igoldfarb says:

    Adaptations of an article are definitely going to change the underlying meaning and purpose of the article. But the author of the article must be aware of the audience they are writing for. At the beginning of the chapter, the text highlighted the typical reader of each journal. The author who is submitting must be aware of the audience and adapt the article for that audience. There are times when an article should have very scientific terms and statistics and there are times when an article should be brief and right to the point. As long as the article has the same conclusion at the end and focuses around the same points I don’t really see the problem in writing an article for a less “scientifically savvy” audience.

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