World of Words: Science Is the best story going

Many Yukon book-lovers are familiar with Claire Eamer’s science series for children, Super Crocs and Monster Wings, Spike Scorpions and Walking Whales, and the latest Lizards in the Sky.

She’s also had science fiction published in Polaris: A Celebration of Polar Science.

Alanna Mitchell writes about science and society. Although they have different approaches, they share many similarities, including appearing together at Live Words, Yukon Writers Festival.

Alanna Mitchell started writing about scientific things as a child in her own backyard in rural Saskatchewan.

Her curiosity spread and now focuses on the global picture, as seen in her latest book Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, which won the Grantham Prize for excellence in environmental journalism.

“Science writing is like solving mysteries. It’s asking the most important questions in the history of our species and what some of the solutions are,” says Mitchell.

“It’s the best story going.”

She took few science classes in high school and none in university. “There’s some really great science writing now, and that is an entry point into scientific thinking,” Mitchell enjoys New Scientistmagazine, the onlineScience Daily site, and the writing of physicist Richard Feynman.

“I figure I should be able to write so that someone like me can understand,” she says. “Ask big questions, dumb questions, never be satisfied with the answers,” she advises. “And don’t let scientists get away with using jargon.”

“Scientists actually appreciate it when you ask the simplest questions and the most basic, like: ‘Why are you trying to find this out?'” she finds.

Reading dry original science papers is a skill that can be learned, says Mitchell. “It’s like learning to read Shakespeare.”

It’s a skill that also belongs in science fiction. “Both are works of great imagination for which science is the starting point,” says Mitchell.

In an e-mail conversation with co-presenter Eamer, who writes some science fiction, they both said, “It’s all about telling stories.”

“Science is a way of looking at the world,” Eamer says.

“Most science is perfectly comprehensible by the non-scientist of whatever age, as long as the story is told in common language,” she believes.

“It’s harder for scientists to write about their own specialties because they’re so used to talking in specialist language. I’m enormously impressed by scientists who [write in common language] successfully.”

As for Eamer’s own writing, her motivation to write mainly about biology, ecosystems and environmental science was similar to Mitchell’s.

“I’m interested in how we fit into the world along with all the other organisms we share it with.”

Eamer, who has taken several university science classes, draws on the most current research for her paleo-geology series.

“I started writing about science long ago because I wanted the answers to some questions. If you’re writing a story about science, it’s licence to plague a scientist with questions.”

You’re welcome to plague either Mitchell or Eamer with questions during Live Words at the Old Fire Hall on April 27 at 7 pm, signings at Mac’s Fireweed on April 27 and 28 from 4-5 pm, or at Mitchell’s Yukon Science Institute lecture: An Ocean of Hope on Sunday, May 1 at the Beringia Centre at 7 pm.

Mitchell also brings her lecture to Dawson City on May 3.

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