Skip to main content

Einstein does a funny

A journal which I'm sure is very readable
A while ago, straying through the depths of Nature Network, I saw an item on writing more readable papers. There may well be several out there - it's a hoary old topic.

I don't dispute the suggestion that many scientific papers could be better written, but in the end, however approachable, they are unlikely to get a reprint in Heat magazine, so it is still a matter of writing to the audience. Without doubt, though, it's a relief when the writer of a paper adopts a lighter tone and writes like a human being, rather than a robot.

I suppose the best known instance of putting a human face to a paper, which some have held up as a shining example of what's possible, is Einstein's paper on subjective time. The abstract reads:
When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute - and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.
In the paper he allegedly describes undertaking an experiment to test this, with the help of film star Paulette Goddard, who he met through mutual friend Charlie Chaplin. However there are three big problems if anyone considers Einstein's very approachable sounding paper a model of how to write more effectively.

First, get real. This was Einstein. He could have written a paper in mirror writing and someone would have published it.

Second, we usually only hear of the abstract. The main body of the paper sounds very unlikely. Einstein undertaking an experiment? That's fishy.

Finally, though I have only ever seen this mentioned as if it were a real paper, I haven't been able to find any reference to the journal it was supposed to be published in anywhere, other than references to Einstein's contribution. It may be this is a really obscure journal (or even a very famous one in its own field), but given what its significant initials spell, I'm inclined to doubt it. And if the whole thing is fictional, maybe it doesn't provide such a great role model.

Where was it allegedly published? In the Journal of Exothermic Science and Technology.

This post first appeared on my Nature Network blog - I'm bringing some of the old posts over to my new home, as the NN blog is liable to disappear soon.


Image from Wikipedia

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou