I’m marching for science today, and so can you! You can find a local march at the official March for Science website. If you’re in Stockholm, I’ll be a volunteer with the activities at Medborgarplatsen at the end of the march. Come say hi, listen to some awesome and knowledgeable speakers, and try some cool science stuff!
At first blush, the March for Science doesn’t seem particularly relevant to my work as either a copyeditor or a language instructor. For me, though, the two fields are very much intertwined.
First and foremost, the bulk of my copyediting work has been academic work in the sciences, ranging from the “soft” to the “hard.” Science—as in the international practice of engaging in and publishing research—is my bread and butter. I consider myself a junior varsity member of the #scicomm team, and I hope that in some small way my copyediting work is helping further both research in general and the careers of well-deserving individuals. The same is true for tutoring. Many of the students I work with are either scientists (or science-adjacent), or have aspirations of finally working in that role: would-be engineers, biologists, chemistry teachers. While it might be naive to think that speaking a single language would erase any and all conflict, it certainly helps us communicate to and mobilize large groups in a timely fashion, and nowhere do we need timely communication and mobilization than in science. English isn’t necessarily the best tool for that, but it’s the one we have right now, and the more people who can use it, the better.
It isn’t just about my own work, though. It’s also a question of principles. The scope of copyediting generally includes a commitment to facts and the truth, as well as to clarity. A good copyeditor and a good scientist are both skeptics at heart. Neither one is an automaton who thoughtlessly applies rules and nothing more; they both take a look at what they think is correct, wonder if there are alternatives, and constantly come up against their own preconceived notions.
Moreover, since we think, theorize, and discover with language, it is inextricably connected with science. Just as science has shown us that, for example, gender and sex are much more complicated and nuanced than we originally thought, so do our language guardians help put forward and promote that new paradigm by enforcing new language norms that more accurately reflect reality. The (mostly tired, mostly worn out) debate over singular they, for example, isn’t just about social norms or “identity politics”; it is also about how, in tandem with a better scientific understanding, we have changed language to include groups of people who didn’t fit in the original, inaccurate paradigm. It’s about (among other things) physical, biological norms. As our science improves, our knowledge increases, and how we use that language affects how we spread (or don’t) that new knowledge. On a darker note, this is why “newspeak” was such an integral part of the dystopia Orwell imagined in 1984. As a writer, Orwell understood the power that language has over thought. Language, like science, needs to be open and accessible to everyone so that it can be used as a power for good—eradicating any number of biases—and not evil—desensitizing us to the complexity and humanity of others.