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When Vikings explored, mice accompanied them

Re-enactment of a Vikings battle

Re-enactment of a Vikings battle - Courtesy: Wikipedia. Picture by Tone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Tone)

Here is my new piece for The Hindu. It is the first time I have written about a recently published paper. This is more like science journalism, as I talk about a new paper rather than about a particular concept. The challenges with this kind of writing are that in most cases a layperson cannot understand a scientific paper. The terminology they use, the mathematical tools adopted etc. So understanding a paper fully is, for me, near impossible in most cases. But there are other problems too.

When writing about new papers, you need to know the context. You need to know what research has already been done on this, whether this is a genuinely new finding or a repeat of an earlier study. This requires one to have a good idea of a specific area of Science, say evolution or genetics or particle physics. Googling too helps quite a bit to find out whether this research is indeed new and interesting. Another smaller problem is that people like me, non-scientists non-journos kind, do not have access to scientific journals (they are pretty expensive). I get around this problem by asking friends in scientific circles to get me copies of the papers. Except in cases where they themselves don’t have access, they unfailingly help me out.

This paper I wrote about is a relatively simple one to read. It is also open access. You can download the paper from here. Once I saw this paper, I consciously avoided reading other articles on this, lest they influence my own take on it. Only when the piece was finalised did I look at what others have to say on the paper.

The article I initially submitted had about 480 words. It was edited by the paper, in the process bringing down the word count to about 340. Though it is a small piece, it took me close to 3 hours to come up with. Have a look at the article and let me know what you think.

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