A Scientist Who Can Write, Thank God

A lot of scientists — not all, but a good number, I must say — see to regard the English language as a mortal enemy which must be evaded with jargon, neutered with utterly emotionless prose, and crushed under heavy statistical arguments. Often I find that the graphics are the only legible part of a climatological paper. 

It's puzzling, because in conversation as often as not scientists are charming, self-deprecating, and immensely informative. Why the disconnect?

But whatever the reason — and no one seems to know the answer — everyone agrees that a great exception to the rule is Bill Patzert, a climatologist and oceanographer at the Jet Propulsion Lab, a friend to reporters everywhere, and a good writer himself.

Here's the opening to a column he wrote for a paper in his neck of the woods last week:

I'm stressed out and exhausted. My Sierra Madre
neighborhood has been blanketed by ash and smoke. We've closed up
everything and set the air conditioner at 80 degrees, but the smoke
smells have seeped in and my sleep has been restless. My nerves and I'm
sure many others, are on edge. But, driving into JPL one morning last
week, I took a deep breath … cough, cough … and realized how much
worse all this could have been. Yep, I might not be driving into JPL,
if Santa Ana winds had propelled this mammoth fire out of the Angeles
National Forest and into the crowded foothill neighborhoods.
Wind-driven and out of control, this immense fire would have been a
full-blown disaster.

An important truth, memorably expressed. Thanks Bill! Please write more often…

John Fleck chips in with a good graph, showing what rainfall in SoCal looks like in recent years…


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