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Argonne writer’s new book provides overview of scientific communication


The University of Chicago Press has published The Scientific Literature: A Guided Tour by Joseph E. Harmon of Argonne National Laboratory and Alan G. Gross of the University of Minnesota.

The book is an overview of scientific communication from the first research articles and how they have changed over time. The collection of short excerpts from more than 100 scientific articles was chosen to represent the broad sweep of discoveries in modern science, from Newton’s theory of light to the decoding of the human genome. Also reproduced are 60 tables and illustrations.

Harmon is a senior technical communicator in Argonne’s Technical Services Division. Gross is a professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota and author of several scholarly books.

Appearing in this anthology are the original words and images related to paradigm-shifting discoveries by illustrious scientists like Christiaan Huygens, Robert Hooke, Isaac Newton, Antoine Lavoisier, Dimitri Mendeleev, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Alfred Wegener, Enrico Fermi, Werner Heisenberg, Lise Meitner, Richard Feynman, Francis Crick, James Watson, and Barbara McClintock. Also displayed are selections fairly typical of normal science through the ages.

Accompanying each selected passage or image is an extensive commentary that explains its scientific and historical context and analyzes its communication strategy.

“Our aim,” Harmon said, “is to reach the general reader interested in science, scientists interested in their literary legacy, and students and teachers who are looking for an accessible treatment of scientific thinking and writing over the last four centuries. Our ultimate goal is that readers will experience the deep satisfaction we have had reading original scientific articles of the past.”

This book is not the only collaboration between Harmon and Gross. They earlier wrote a research monograph called “Communicating Science: The Scientific Article from the Seventeenth Century to the Present” (Oxford University Press, 2002) and are now working on an instructional text, “How the Best Scientists Write.”

The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory conducts basic and applied scientific research across a wide spectrum of disciplines, ranging from high-energy physics to climatology and biotechnology. Since 1990, Argonne has worked with more than 600 companies and numerous federal agencies and other organizations to help advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for the future. Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.


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