Nit-picking Scientific American

Scientific AmericanExcited to crack open my first issue of Scientific American.

My colleagues in the science writing and science information fields have recommended the magazine to me.

So, after receiving a bonus from the web-based superstore Amazon, I traded points for a subscription.

I drooled over the prospect of reading articles on biopolitics and the hegemony of the internet. Unlike the sometimes dry renderings offered by the journals Science and the New England Journal of Medicine—my steady diet—I looked forward to the dessert promised by Scientific American.


I am disappointed.

My expectations were too great, perhaps because I’d spent hours grading papers and urging students to define their terms and build transitions between paragraphs.

The lead article on how our brain cells build memory needed editing. Run-on sentences and split-infinitives eluded the editor (“the epileptic focus, which can potentially be surgically removed”).

And the dreaded word “myriad” was used three times in a story heaped with hyperbole.

Example: “Rather than remembering an overwhelming myriad of meaningless details.”

Myriad means “too numerous to be counted” thus obviating the need for “overwhelming.”

And you don’t need the preposition “of” because it becomes superfluous when myriad is used as an adjective.

Just say “myriad details.”


You bet. And it’s not because I had a hard day at the office. It’s because the credibility of the magazine’s content is interwoven with the way the content is presented.

And if the presentation is sloppy, readers might wonder if the research presented is sloppy.

You can break rules writing a blog—I rationalize the practice as someone who has been writing for several decades with a few prizes dotting my resume.

But when a science magazine breaks the rules it reflects on its very integrity.

[Scientific American was founded in 1845 and the image is in the public domain, obtained from


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in framing, health, human origin, journalism, Native Science, neuroscience, news bias, risk, science, science communication, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Nit-picking Scientific American

  1. Tony Rasmussen says:

    When it comes to popular science, Scientific American is the only one that has some respect for the literature. Try “Popular Science” or “Discover” magazines – your eyes will bleed 🙂


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