See that word?” he said. “Right there. That is not science.”
The word was “lone,” as in “PvPlm is the lone plasmepsin in the food vacuole of Plasmodium vivax.” It was a filthy word. A non-scientific word. A flowery word, a lyrical word, a word worthy of — ugh — an MFA student.
I hadn’t meant the word to be poetic. I had just used the word “only” five or six times, and I didn’t want to use it again. But in his mind, “lone” must have conjured images of PvPlm perched on a cliff’s edge, staring into the empty chasm, weeping gently for its aspartic protease companions. Oh, the good times they shared. Afternoons spent cleaving scissile bonds. Lazy mornings decomposing foreign proteins into their constituent amino acids at a nice, acidic pH. Alas, lone plasmepsin, those days are gone.
So I changed the word to “only.” And it hurt. Not because “lone” was some beautiful turn of phrase but because of the lesson I had learned: Any word beyond the expected set — even a word as tame and innocuous as “lone” — apparently doesn’t belong in science.
I’m still fairly new at this science thing. I’m less than 4 years beyond the dark days of grad school and the adviser who wouldn’t tolerate “lone.” So forgive my naïveté when I ask: Why the hell not?
Adam Ruben, Science, How to Write Like a Scientist.
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