Monday, November 05, 2007

Gonzo my arse

I thought John Bohannon's piece on the Libyan AIDS scandal in the November issue of Discover (can't see it online) was excellent. So I was interested to learn that he's just started a column called the Gonzo scientist over at Science.

I dimly remember a piece by Jon Turney from years ago asking where the gonzo school of science writing was. My guess is that science writers don't often get the opportunity to get deeply/improperly involved in their stories (although to a small extent I tried for ITBOAH, going off to collect vegetation samples in Costa Rica with Brian Enquist and his group. It really helped the book.). Scientists, meanwhile, have an excess of amour propre, which makes tham worried about dropping the veil of objectivity/looking like idiots.

The most honourable exception that I know of is Robert Sapolsky's A primate's memoir, which has some brilliantly funny passages (one about learning to fire tranquilizer darts from a blowgun springs to mind), in which he isn't afraid to look foolish.

So, what does Bohannon's gonzosity consist of? Well... he...(wait for it)...goes to vaguely off-beat conferences! And writes about them! At great length!

This, from the latest piece, might not be the worst line of science journalism written this year (the competition's always stiff), but...

"So those were American crayfish?" I asked, resisting an ironic smile.

Listen, sunshine. When you're in a Guatemalan brothel, having a naked fistfight with Martin Rees, after sinking a dozen temazepam and a bottle of Flor de CaƱa, then you can go around comparing yourself to Hunter S. Thompson. Until then, why not rename your column 'The wussy scientist'?


Oliver said...


Philip Ball said...

I thought Martin had promised to keep quiet about that. Anyway, he started it. And I don't think we were naked, but the memory is hazy.