Complaints about incomprehensible scientific writing

One of my bug-bears is academic writing that some author only seem to want to tell the chosen (by them) few what the text is all about. Incomprehensible texts are rampant in scientific English – to the detriment of science. This issue, however, doesn’t appear to be recent. A book* I have recently been reading quotes part of a letter of complaint by a retired Cambridge don to Newton about his book Principia, which was first published in 1687. The book, although written in English, was incomprehensible to most, and the don wrote “You masters doe not consider ye infirmities of your readers, except you intended to write only to professours or intended to have your books lie, moulding in libraries”.

So, for those of you out there who feel they must follow in Newton’s footsteps – please consider my infirmities. I am not a professor but, nevertheless, I really would like to understand what you are writing about.

*Fara, P. 2002. Newton: The making of genius. London, Picador

Anne Wegner

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