Scientific writing I can't forget

*English follow below*

Dans la dernière semaine et demie, j’ai lu l’excellent The Scientist’s Guide to Writing de Stephen Heard. Je vous le recommande chaudement, spécialement si vous débutez dans le domaine de l’écriture scientifique. Stephen, que j’ai rencontré virtuellement sur Twitter et en personne à la SCEE, conclu son livre sur la beauté et l’humour dans la littérature scientifique. J’ai eu envie de vous partager certaines de ces touches d’originalité qui m’ont marqué depuis que j’ai commencé ma carrière scientifique. Malheureusement, elles seront en anglais!


Since the last week and a half, I’ve read the excellent The Scientist’s Guide to Writing of Stephen Heard. I strongly recommend it, especially if you’re starting in scientific writing. Stephen, whom I met virtually on Twitter and in person at the CSEE conference, concludes his book with a chapter on beauty and humour in scientific writing. I wanted to share some of these touches I’ve found since I start reading science.

Sentences I can’t forget

“To many ecologists, such an approach risks the peril of being drawn into the black hole of reductionism,  in which one becomes so preoccupied with the details of every situation that generalizations never emerge.”

Wiens, J. A., N. C. Stenseth, B. Vanhorne and R. A. Ims (1993). Ecological mechanisms and landscape ecology. Oikos 66: 369-380.

“Avide recording of herbivores feeding is not the sort of footage that leads to many Trials of life-type, glossy documentaries, narrated by important natural historians with English accent”

Now, I sadly lost the reference to this. Old-me only noted: Newman in Stephens. If someone knows the exact reference to this citation, I would be delighted.

*Edit: My amazing friend Aimée found it! It's in J. Newman chapter of Stephens, David W., Joel S. Brown, and Ronald C. Ydenberg. Foraging: behavior and ecology. University of Chicago Press, 2007.*

Title to remember

A friend of mine included in one of his title the phrase « There and back again », to talk about caribou migration. If you are not a Lord of the Ring fan (1), I need to say that this is the title of Bilbo Baggins book.

The article that took it over the top

Fischer and collaborators wrote one of my favourite article ever (Fischer, S. F., P. Poschlod and B. Beinlich (1996). Experimental studies on the dispersal of plants and animals on sheep in calcareous grasslands. Journal of Applied Ecology 33: 1206-1222.) Here are some citations from it:

“After a sheep (named “Lotte”) had been tamed [...]”.
“[...] another sheep (“Berta”) was tamed.”
“The examination was conducted by intensive hand searches similar to the way monkeys groom each other.”
“While the animals were on the sheep, some behaviours were observed which indicated that they apparently enjoyed their ride.”

And I’m not even talking about their sheep dummy attached to the leg of one of the researchers. Do you know other examples of fun scientific writing that doesn’t get in the way of a crystal clear message?

(1) Why wouldn’t you be?