Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Today's Word: Myrmecology

Myrmecology is the study of ants. It's from Greek myrmex, meaning "ant," and the reason I'm thinking about it is the wonderful essay about how to improve scientific writing in the New York Times Science section today: "Ants, Better with a Dose of Humanity (and Humor)." I mean, who knew all the trials and tribulations of scientists who must spend their days measuring the size of leeeeeetle bitty ant heads?


Blogger dottcomments said...

Live or myrmex?

9:17 AM  
Blogger Martha said...


I'm just amazed by that piece -- who knew ants had different hat sizes??

10:21 AM  
Anonymous daz said...

I'm afraid I think the NY Times piece mentioned is not wonderful. It is ignorant and arrogant.

The yocko-free science article the Times piece holds up as an unduly straitlaced example appears in Nature -- *not* a magazine for the layperson, but a professional science journal. Papers in professional journals are *supposed* to be "just the facts, Ma'am" -- and for good reason: Scientists prefer to judge an article on its scientific merits and not on the grounds that the author is a nice person or offers free coupons for chunky peanut butter on their website.

Meanwhile, science writing for the layperson has never been better! (At least not since April 6, 1992.)

What the Times guy hates is that he often has to glean science news from the professional journals -- something that's not only hard for a non-scientist but also for any scientist whose field is other than the subject they are reading about.

The trouble is that on the time frame of a daily newspaper, a reporter needs to report on a new science development before any "for the layperson" material has come out about it.

The secret is to have a network of articulate scientist informants who would alert him to any important science news. (On occasion I've served in that role for Times science writers, and it's fun to see an article appear in the Times that I've catalyzed.)

5:47 PM  
Anonymous daz said...

I wonder if MYRMECOLOGY is etymologically related to MYRMIDON (= a. member of legendary bellicose Thessalian group, b. loyal follower, . . . ). The OED does not seem to rule on this.

Though, Gk. MYRMEX is mentioned as related to *one* solely French meaning of MYRMIDON (= small, insignificant fellow).

10:41 AM  
Blogger Martha said...

Those are really good points, Daz!

(What stories have you catalyzed? That must be a really satisfying thing to watch happen.)

3:34 PM  
Blogger Martha said...

Re "myrmex" and Myrmidon -- indeed they are related, as far as I can tell, Daz. I wrote about it in Dog Days & Dandelions.

3:37 PM  

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