Readings & Reading Responses

1 Introduction to the Course  None
2 Rosenblatt, Roger. “The Desire to Tell a Story.” PBS Online NewsHour. December 24, 1999.

  • What kind of stories do you tell and why? Here at MIT?
  • What choices do you make when telling stories?
  • How are your choices based on your audience?
  • What stories have you heard so far here at MIT? From students? Teachers?
3 Martin. Demetri. “Bee Sting.” In This Is a Book. Reprint edition. Grand Central Publishing, 2012. ISBN: 9780446539692.

  • How do the speakers in the text use naming conventions to shape the audience’s understanding of the events and characters being described?
  • Does every character describe the same event?
  • What elements of their description reveal their perspective?
4 No assigned readings None

Wilson, Jacque and Stephanie Smith. “3-D Printer Saves Toddler Struggling to Breathe.” CNN. March 28, 2014.

Quammen, David. “Deadly Contact: How Animals and Humans Exchanged Disease.” National Geographic Magazine. October, 2007.

Rhetorical Appeals and Choices (PDF)

  • Any moment in either article that appealed to your emotions (e.g. sadness, anger, sympathy, humor)? Note: these will likely be very subtle, so pay close attention.
  • Are there any important pieces of data (i.e. evidence) that support a statement (i.e. claim) made by the author?
  • Do the authors reference or quote any expert (and share their credentials)? If so, why do you think they chose this particular person?
  • What’s the impact of these moments on you as a reader?
  • How do these instances shape your understanding of the issue? For example, do they increase or decrease the trustworthiness or persuasiveness of the information?

Stewart, Iain. “A Rare Glimpse of the Cave of Crystals.” BBC News. January 19, 2010.

Shea, Neil and Carsten Peter. “Crystal Palace: Mexico’s Cave of Crystals.” (PDF) National Geographic Magazine. November, 2008.

García-Ruiz, Juan Manuel, Roberto Villasuso, et al. “Formation of Natural Gypsum Megacrystals in Naica, Mexico.” (PDF) Geology 35, no. 4 (2007): 327-330.

  • The three articles cover the same topic, yet each article is progressively specialized for a particular audience, and each is written in a different genre.
  • What are the main differences among the texts (e.g. length, organization, and word choice)?
  • Why might one genre be valued more by certain audiences, and less (or not at all) by other audiences?
  • Note: The peer-reviewed journal article is difficult to read because it’s for a specialized, expert audience. Do not try to understand all of the content, and instead focus on the form and organization.

Hoffmann, Roald. “The Metaphor, Unchained.” American Scientist 94, no. 5 (2006): 406-407.

Rolnick, Davie. “Cities at Your Feet: A Closer Look at the World of Ants.” The Tech Vol. 133, Issue 49. October 29, 2013.

NPR Staff. “Net Neutrality, Shall I Compare Thee to a Highway? A Showerhead?All Things Considered/NPR. July 21, 2014.

  • What is the role of metaphor in science and scientific communication?
  • Choose one effective metaphor or simile from each article, and share why you think it is effective.
  • Share one metaphor/simile that you have used or heard in your daily life. What does the comparison communicate, and why utilize this metaphor rather than a literal description?
8 No assigned readings None

Angier, Natalie. “Nature’s Drone, Pretty and Deadly.” The New York Times. April 2, 2013.

Paloma T. Gonzalez-Bellido, Hanchuan Peng, Jinzhu Yang, et al. “Eight Pairs of Descending Visual Neurons in the Dragonfly Give Wing Motor Centers Accurate Population Vector of Prey Direction.” (PDF) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110: 696-701.

(Note: MIT students used their skills learned in the librarian’s workshop to locate and download this peer-reviewed article from a database via the MIT Libraries website.)

  • How does the author translate and explain the central concept, “accurate population vector of prey direction," throughout the article?
10 No assigned readings None
11 Group drafts of Translation assignment None

Kelly, Kristine. “Translating Science: From Academia to Mass Media to the Public.” In Taking Science to the People: A Communication Primer for Scientists and Engineers." University of Nebraska Press, 2010. ISBN: 9780803220522.

Tu, Chau. “Why Do Songs Get Stuck in Our Heads?Science Friday. May 28, 2014.

  • What is the biggest threat to science, according to author Kristine Kelly, and why?
13 No assigned readings None

Freeman, David. “Why Revive ‘Cosmos?’ Neil DeGrasse Tyson Says Just About Everything We Know Has Changed.” The Huffington Post. March 4, 2014.

  • What was the purpose of the interview?
  • How does the interviewer react to Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s answers?
  • Why does the interview ask Tyson questions that extend beyond the show ‘Cosmos’?

Watch two online MIT Profile videos:

Watch two Science360 Profile videos

Schembri, Frankie. “Brave New Worlds.” Angles. 2016.

  • For the profile videos and the article, generate a list of all of the questions that the author-interviewers might have asked the profiled scientists in order to elicit their meaningful responses.
  • In “Brave New Worlds,” why does the author include the perspective of critics who view “games as unworthy of academic study”?
16 Angier, Natalie. “Insights From the Youngest Minds.” The New York Times. April 30, 2012.

  • What is the impact of the Angier’s initial descriptions of Spelke?
  • What information do these descriptions communicate? How about the first quoted words from Spelke that Angier chooses to share with us?
  • What is the function of the subheadings throughout the article?
17 No assigned readings None
18 Group drafts of “Awesome” profile assignment None
19–21 No assigned readings None

Angier, Natalie. “True Blue Stands Out in an Earthy Crowd.” The New York Times. October 23, 2012.

Biochem Belle. “In the Shadows of Greatness.” January 22, 2011.

  • Do you think either author is passionately curious about their topics?
  • If so, what evidence can you identify in the text that conveys passion and curiosity?
  • How does Biochem Belle seek to better understand her central question?
  • What rhetorical appeals do the images convey in Belle’s article?

The Guardian Staff. “Penny Bailey on Science Writing: ‘You Need to Know How to Tell a Good Story’.” The Guardian. March 27, 2013.

Goldman, Jason G. “Do Animals Like Drugs and Alcohol?BBC Future. May 28, 2014.

  • Based on Bailey’s advice, what are the human elements in your article’s story?
  • Whose lives are or will be affected by the developments you describe?
  • What is the impact of the introductory image in the article “Do Animals Like Drugs and Alcohol”? What information is this communicating to the reader about the topic? About the article itself?
  • Why does Goldman begin his article by describing a “legend,” rather than an established fact?
24–27 No assigned readings None

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights