The Connection Between Great Science and Great Writing

Photo Credit: National Geographic
Photo Credit: National Geographic

Often great science depends on keen observation. Darwin built his theory of evolution on detailed observations of everything from birds to beetles. Jane Goodall revolutionized our understanding of primate behavior by staring at chimpanzees for hours and days. But not just staring at them, noticing them. She saw things most observers would not have picked up.
That keen observational ability shows up in her writing. Riding in a boat destined for Africa prior to the birth of her scientific career, she wrote about her view of the sea. It is a strong bit of writing, especially from someone only 22-years-old:

“The sea is dark inky blue, then it rises up a clear transparent blue green, and then it breaks in white and sky blue foam. But best of all, some of this foam is forced back under the wave from which it broke, and this spreads out under the surface like the  palest blue milk, all soft and hazy at the edge.”

The humanities and sciences are not always far apart from each other. That’s another reason to push for our best universities to encourage, maybe even require, science students to immerse themselves in other disciplines.

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