Facts Are Facts, and Theories Are Theories

On Tuesday, when beginning its discussion about science nonfiction manuscript writing, Innovative Editing wrote:

If you’re writing science nonfiction, you’d better be a rocket scientist. Or a biologist. Or a chemist. Or some other kind of scientist in the particular field you’re writing about. Because writing science nonfiction means focusing entirely on current scientific understandings.

And then you were promised a further exploration of what it means to entirely focus on “current scientific understandings.” Sure enough, that’s what we’ll be going into today with our Writing Rule.

This is where it gets a bit tricky, admittedly, but only when it comes to word play. Because on the one hand, science nonfiction doesn’t always cover mere facts. On the other hand, that’s all you’re ethically allowed to deal with.

Here’s a better way of understanding it…

You’re dealing with the facts here.

When writing a science nonfiction manuscript, you may be working with proven ideas. For instance, the Earth is round. Or you may be dealing with theories. For instance, evolution (yup, it’s still a theory) vs. creation vs. intelligent design.

But either way, the onus is on you to deal with facts. Not opinions. So if something is controversial (like the paragraph above), it’s your science-nonfiction-manuscript-writing job to say as much.

Let’s give an example that shouldn’t be controversial but is anyway right now: that already referenced fact – not theory – that the Earth is round.

According to British firm YouGov, a full third of millennials aren’t absolutely convinced this is true. Discounting mankind’s many travels into space, its globe-circling satellites and so many other scientific realities such as gravity, they either have doubts on the subject or simply think it’s wrong.

So let’s say your topic of choice is the Earth from space. You would be within your ethical science-nonfiction manuscript-writing rights to acknowledge the major minority millennial position. But then your next job would be to use facts to show how wrong they are – not just call them names, no matter how foolish the flat-Earth theory may be.

If you stick to name calling only, no matter how accurately, you’re no longer working on a science nonfiction manuscript writing project. You’re working on an opinions piece, regardless of how bookstores choose to classify it.

And yes, that’s a direct dig at someone: evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, to be exact. That’s not to say anything about his core belief, mind you, only about the man and his writing style.

Dawkins’ supposed science nonfiction books, as far as I’ve seen, are heavy on the name-calling to the point where any actual facts he uses are hard to find. He presents theories as unquestionable truths and then mocks anyone who questions those theories... all without using facts to support anything.

Again, that’s not to say that a better case can’t be made for his position. Only that he fails to do it. (He’d do much better looking to his American contemporary, Heather Heying, for formulating arguments in his side’s defense.)

In writing the way he writes, Dawkins makes a mockery out of himself, out of his scientific field of expertise and out of science in general.

Who knows. Perhaps it’s supposed science nonfiction writers like him who have paved the way for massive amounts of American millennials to discount scientific facts.

Just a theory.