A comment from a retired professor of literature about my last blog has sparked today’s entry. The lady in question maintains that no form of scientific writing or health-related presentation can have ‘literary’ value: it should be simply referred to as ‘communication’. Of course, this comment was in response to my explicit admiration of Claude Bernard’s public writing and presentation skills. We know that people came from the world over to hear him speak: that he was invited to write material for popular science magazines. Above all, we know that his seat in the Académie Française – the prestigious sanctuary of the French language and ‘belles lettres’ – was awarded less for his science than for the manner in which he wrote his articles – and particularly his ‘Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine’.
Where do we go from here? Certainly, there is a view that scientific writing for the public (fr: vulgarisation) is a distinct genre littéraire (http://master-cs.u-strasbg.fr/IMG/doc/art-bj.doc). Beyond this, I believe that even articles destined for the desks of other scientists need to be made more easily readable and comprehensible: I rarely found the dry, factual writing of medical articles attractive: to read them was an obligation, a necessary evil.
We surely want our patients to understand what we advise, and even on what grounds we advise it. Is there any reason why they should not access and understand original medico-scientific articles? To say that they are ‘above their heads’ is surely patronising and begs the question of whether they have a right to access the source material on which their doctor bases his or her treatment. Please do not suggest ‘dumbing down’ (a horrible phrase) a scientific paper for public consumption: that is overtly condescending. Good clear speaking and writing is in my view an obligation of anyone wishing to convey an idea, a result or a conclusion to anyone else.
What do you think?