Science is science writing; science writing is science

Meehan Crist writes:

There is a belief, particularly prevalent among scientists, that science writing is more or less glorified PR – scientists do the intellectual work of discovery and writers port their findings from lab to public – but [Rachel Carson’s 1962 book] Silent Spring is a powerful reminder that great science writing can expand our scientific and cultural imaginations.

In short, science writing is science. OK, maybe that’s too strong: it’s possible to do science writing without adding scientific content, simply reporting on a research project: “Scientists at Lab X conducted the following neutrino measurements, which they say implies that . . .” But any science writing that weighs multiple sources: “Scientist X reports A. . . but Scientist Y is skeptical because B . . . Scientist Z expresses agreement with Scientist X but they have friends in common and work in the same subfield . . .”—that’s science, as ultimately the scientific claims come into the story. Or, to put it another way, you can’t isolate the science from the story. Good science writing recognizes that, and bad science writing is, arguably, just making assumptions about that, i.e. bad science writing is “science” too, it’s just bad science.

Also consider the reverse point: Science is science writing. With rare exceptions, it’s impossible to express a scientific result without explaining it. Even in pure math, we like to have a “heuristic” explanation to accompany the proof. I can’t separate my “science” from my “science writing”: they’re different shades of the same thing.