The West Coast: Is it the Blessed Coast?

When a piece of writing wins a Pulitzer, you know it’s gotta be good. And in the case of The Really Big One by Kathryn Schulz, I definitely agree.

Nature is beautiful, but it’s also extremely powerful. It’s unpredictable,and sometimes, we cannot fight nature’s acts. We just have to watch it happen, and hope it doesn’t affect us, and the ones we love. This article focuses on the power of nature, and how humans are sometimes so helpless in combating the effects of catastrophes such as tsunamis, hurricanes and in this case, earthquakes. This article focuses on how a giant earthquake will destroy the Northwest United States, but experts cannot say when. The sheer idea of something so permanent as land, civilization, culture all being destroyed again highlights the unpredictability and power of nature.

One amazing thing Schulz does in this article is the way she presents information. Many writers use comparison to get their readers involved in the text. Similes, metaphors, and rich diction that allows the reader’s experience to involve just their eyes and their mind. Schulz goes one step further. When she explains how the plates in the Cascadia subduction zone are behaving, she directs the readers to use their hands to mimic the movements of the tectonic plates in the area. This simple section of the text is a great example of transforming information to make it understandable to your audience. Another example of comparison she used that I personally enjoyed was when she used objects such as wineglasses, Humpty Dumpty, antique vases and hip bones to demonstrate the after effects of the earthquake on the people. “What breaks quickly, generally mends slowly.” This was a very interesting way to put into perspective the devastating effects of the potential earthquake, how people would have to rebuild their lives, and how the government would take a long time to restore basic amenities such as water and electricity.

Even though experts have predicted the earthquake, they still don’t know how to combat it. As Doug Dougherty, a superintendent of schools said in the ending of the article, there is no long-range plan. And I believe that ties the article together beautifully, it’s like a game of Uno with nature. You know Nature has the draw four card, yet you can’t do anything about it. It’s bound to hit you.

Nim Chimpsky: Special, or Mistreated?

I didn’t know who Nim Chimpsky was till my teacher told me we would be watching a documentary titled Project Nim in class. After watching it, I was disgusted at my ignorance on the topic. Project Nim is a documentary highlighting the life of Nim Chimpsky, a chimpanzee who was raised in a human family, as a psychological experiment to answer the age-old question: is language learned, or innate?

The documentary highlights Nim’s life through accounts of people who were involved in his upbringing. One interesting aspect that I noticed is that even though this was purely a scientific research project, it was difficult for the researchers involved to keep their emotions separated from Nim. In other words, it was difficult for the researchers to not get emotionally attached to Nim. And it was inevitable. The project was to raise Nim as a human being, and that isn’t possible without some sort of emotional connection to him. In a broader context, it’s difficult to differentiate emotion and logic in experiments, because we are human beings, natural feelers. Not only affection, we might also be stubborn to accept a new discovery even though by using logic, it’s right.

The documentary also presented the accounts made by these people in an interesting way: when the filmmakers had an argument, they only presented the views of the people who had the same argument. This technique was probably used by them to add credence to their argument, by omitting the points of view of the others.

The documentary also highlighted the inhumane treatment of animals, such as Nim, in the scientific world. For example, Nim was thrown into an environment surrounded by cages and other chimpanzees from being raised as practically a human child. He was also forced to participate in surgical research. It was extremely interesting that the project started off as treating Nim as a human, to have him go the way of so many animals in the scientific world.

Nim, Harambe, wonder who the next popular primate will be.

Science Writing: Much More Than Just Science

Science writing might be mainly focused on presenting scientific facts to the public, but in fact, it is much more than that. As important science is to this genre, the aspect of literature cannot be ignored. The whole purpose of science writing is to make this knowledge more accessible to the general public, and without the addition of literary elements, it becomes extremely difficult. The article Waiting for Light by Jake Abrahamson perfectly exemplifies how important literary devices and features are in achieving the purpose of science writing.

This article is written to highlight the fact that so many people in India do not have electricity and the efforts a solar energy company OMC (Omnigrid Micropower Company) are making to equip individuals with lanterns so that their day doesn’t end when the sun goes down. Every writer aims to transport their reader to the world of their writing, as this involves the reader and allows the writer to effectively communicate their views. Writers usually do this by using rich, detailed language. For example, in the first paragraph, Abrahamson describes the sky as “mango skin”, and uses adjectives to describe the people (colorful saris, bucktoothed kids, and sweat-stained undershirts). This choice of words paints a picture, and engaging the visual sense of the reader gives them a sense of “being there” and being more involved with the writing.

Even when Abrahamson highlights the number of people in India that lack access to electricity, he doesn’t only state the number, but makes a comparison, stating that this is “more than the combined populations of USA and Canada”. Like other writers, Abrahamson uses comparisons to make the information understandable to a larger audience. A sheer quantity has less effect than it being compared to a quantity that the audience has better knowledge of.

Abrahamson also uses conversations he had with real people. Accounts made by people are devices that writers use, especially in nonfictional pieces of writing such as articles as introducing the readers to such people increases their attachment to the issue as they feel like they’ve met a person who faces this problem. For example, Abrahamson’s conversation with Bhawana shows how much of an impact this lantern has had on people’s lives. It also shows that some things such as libraries, internet and college, which the audience might consider something that everyone has access to, might not be accessible to all, and the use of such conversations highlights the differences in perspectives of the different countries.

Exciting Robotics at Tech!

Robotics is such an exciting field of study, for the vast scope it has. They’re used in so many areas, such as manufacturing, research and medicine. However, have you ever thought that robotics could be used to understand how the first land animals walked? Well, scientists at Georgia Tech, Clemson and Carnegie Mellon did.

Two articles that I have read about this project have been published by Popular Science and Georgia Tech, and rather than writing about this experiment, I will be writing about how these two articles differ, even though they are about the same project.

There is already a video on YouTube about this project, and both publishers have embedded this video in their article. However, their dependency on this video to put across their ideas varies enormously. Popular Science’s article is not very long, and only talks about what the purpose of the project is, and their findings. They have attached the video at the end of the article. However, Georgia Tech has attached the video at the beginning of their article, and have paraphrased the video in the article, quoting scientists and talking about the scientific process. These differing techniques used by the two publishers display their differing rhetorical situations. Georgia Tech aims to inform their readers of all the important details of their project, and this is done through extensive explanation. Popular Science, on the other hand, aims to address a much larger audience than Georgia Tech, one that is not specifically entailed to ones with a good amount of scientific knowledge and interest. That is why they only present the basics of the project, and if readers are interested further, they would watch the video, hence justifying its placement.

The differences in title also implies the differences in rhetorical situation. Popular Science is trying to attract a wider audience, whereas Georgia Tech is just trying to make the details of the project public to interested people. So, Popular Science states how “robots help understand how our ancestors walked on land”, whereas Tech says “first land animals”. People will be more interested if the knowledge is related to their race, and hence Popular Science uses that choice of diction.

Even though these articles differ in their purpose and intended audience, it still serves the purpose of making science public and getting a larger population involved with the great discoveries science can create.


Links to the Articles:

Popular Science:

Georgia Tech:

Rats in Research – A-mouse-ing!

Whenever we think about research, one of the first images that come to our mind is a laboratory of scientists experimenting on mice. It’s interesting to think that science and mice have such a close relation in our minds. But, how much do we actually know about the role of mice in research? Two articles, Mice and Rats in Research by NAVS and Why Mouse Genetics by the Jackson Laboratory give two interesting views on this issue.

Jackson Laboratory is an organization dedicated to discovering cures for diseases and NAVS is an organization dedicated to advocating science without the usage of animals for experimentation. So, the goals of these organizations have a direct correlation to what their articles state. These are not objective articles as they do not present both points of view on animal testing; rather, they present their side of the argument using as many facts as they can. These articles serve as great examples of persuasive writing.

One thing that really amazed me was some of the facts that these articles presented. For example, it was surprising that a creature such as the mouse, which is so dissimilar to us, shares 95 to 98% of our genomes. That means, that a genetic level, we are much more similar to a mouse than seen. This fact was also extremely relevant because it answered the question: “why we use mice in experimentation?”

Another interesting fact was that mice aren’t defined as animals by the Animal Welfare Association (AWA). The reason for this was administrative differences and it would compromise the association’s attempt to protect other animals. This point is extremely interesting as it shows that defining an entity does not mean it means the same thing for everyone. If a common person was told a mouse wasn’t an animal without him knowing the context, he would be flabbergasted and just walk away.

Mice are not animals; it really shows how people can have such different ideas of the same entity.


Links to the Articles:

Why Mouse Genetics?:

Mice and Rats in Research:

Blog Entry: Into the Maelstrom

Into the Maelstrom is an article written by Eli Kintisch in SCIENCE Magazine about an atmospheric scientist, Jennifer Francis, and her unique theory on climate change. This article covers how Francis theorized that climate change is linked to changing weather patterns, and the struggles she faced to discover this information. It also focuses on how her theory has slowly gained acceptance, but still faces constant opposition.

The first thing I noticed was that the title was extremely apt. Maelstrom means a storm or a powerful whirlpool, or just a state of disorder and confusion, with a lot of emotions.[1] Francis loved adversity, and when she was in college, she and her fiancé sailed around the world to draw crude weather maps. They faced a lot of fierce weather, making a reference to the “maelstrom”. Even when Francis proposed her theory about climate change, she faced a lot of opposition immediately, with people constantly questioning and criticizing her theory, which was another form of a “maelstrom”.

Another interesting fact I noticed was that the reaction that Francis had to her theory represented the human tendency to quickly dismiss an idea. We do not like change, and we do not invite it easily. Francis also comments that she understands that people would be skeptical, but she advises people to be patient before dismissing a theory. It would still take some time for the data to become significant, and people need to wait before they judge a theory.

Lastly, I believe that this article isn’t for individuals who are unaware of the scientific world. The author uses scientific theories and jargon that everyone cannot understand. My belief was justified when I learnt that this article was from SCIENCE Magazine. So,I believe that the communication techniques used by authors are largely dependent on the audience they attempt to target.

[1] “Maelstrom.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 01 Sept. 2016.