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Some Clarity, Please

March 19, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 12

George Kauffman’s review of “Energy, The Subtle Concept,” was clearly written and persuasive (C&EN, Nov. 14, 2011, page 42). On the basis of his article, I decided to purchase a copy of the book. Although I haven’t finished reading it yet, I’ve enjoyed the chapters I have read a great deal.

On Jan. 16, C&EN published a letter to the editor titled “Something About Energy” (page 4), which was nominally a response to Kauffman’s review. However, the actual content of the letter was gibberish. I was reminded of an algorithm produced by graduate students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and used to generate random computer science research papers (SCIgen <>). One of the stated uses of the algorithm involves shaming organizations with low submissions standards.

It’s not hard for science writers to be abstruse given the complexity of the subject, but being intentionally incomprehensible reflects negatively on the author, the publisher, and the field. If “Something About Energy” was included as a joke, I feel it was a poor one. C&EN should be setting a positive example by insisting on clarity and relevance, even for its letters to the editor.

By Kurt Frey
Lemont, Ill


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