Nancy Lord | The Need for Science Writing

The Need for Science Writing—And the Pleasures in Writing It

According to polls, Americans say they’re very interested in science. According to the same polls, they don’t know much about the scientific process or are very able to distinguish between science and not-science (astronomy versus astrology, for example). We also currently live in what might be called an anti-science age politically, when important (inconvenient) science is rejected and opinions substitute for facts.

I do not have a strong science background but have become convinced that science and environmental stories are the stories of our time and that writers should rise to the challenges. In Alaska we live amidst all sorts of scientific study—and the interesting people doing that work. There’s not much more fun for a writer than accompanying scientists into the field—whether it’s tagging whales, looking for fossils, or counting migrating geese.

In recent years I’ve written a great deal about climate change. For Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North (Counterpoint Press, 2011), I visited communities in Alaskan and northwest Canada to see how communities were coping and adapting, in hopes that examples of the creativity and resilience of northerners would help others prepare for the future. In my latest book, pH: A Novel, I take on the issues of ocean warming and acidification within a framework of fiction—that is, real science embedded in a story with an invented plot and characters. My hope is that this book, which has both drama and humor, might appeal to a wider circle of readers.

For the last couple of years, I’ve also been teaching science writing for general audiences in a graduate writing program. In that program, I learn a lot of science from students while helping them develop their writing skills. We work in multiple genres and forms—journalism, communication (PR) writing, personal essays, opinion and speech writing, radio and podcast writing, museum writing, book writing, and even some fiction writing.

On Wednesday, Oct. 25, I’ll be presenting a free 49 Writers craft talk and reading at the Indigo Tea lounge at 7 p.m. We’ll consider the art of writing science into fiction. Science fiction has been with us for a very long time, but embracing scientists as characters and scientific concepts and practices within all kinds of fiction—speculative or not—gives us new opportunities as readers and writers. I’ll talk about that, read a bit from my novel, and invite conversation.

I’ll also be giving two 49 Writers writing workshops about science writing for general audiences.  In Fairbanks on Sat. Oct. 28 from 1-4 at the Bear Gallery and in Anchorage on Sunday Oct. 29 from 2-5 at the Alaska Humanities Forum office. Details at

Homer writer Nancy Lord is the author of ten books of environmentally-related writing, including the new novel pH. She served as the Alaska Writer Laureate from 2008-10 and teaches for the University of Alaska Anchorage and Johns Hopkins University.

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