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In Full Color: Long-form Science Writing

July 31, 2015

Back in the Stone Age (otherwise known as the 1990s) when I was in a science journalism graduate program, there was a lot lamenting of the fall of science magazines and science sections of newspapers. And for good reason – many outlets for longer pieces of writing on science fell by the wayside (anyone remember Omni magazine? Or the weekly science section at the Dallas Morning News?)  As people struggled to figure out how to make money in the new online age, many sources of print science journalism simply went away.

 

Out of the rubble of those traditional science media, however, many new and excellent virtual outlets have emerged. One of my favorites is Nautilus, a forum for long-form pieces on science. I really like how they pick one topic each month to focus in on and explore in many different ways.

 

This past month that topic has been color. They have looked at color from practically every scientific angle imaginable – ranging from psychology to neurology. Their latest article is on how people from different cultures can perceive color differently in some ways, yet with common ground in others. It’s a fun read.

 

I might be a little biased because we have just written a book on color in images from space, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of color in our lives. It’s something that many of us take for granted, and I find it fascinating that something as fundamental as color can be so complex. Yet it is.

 

 

 A colorized image of the Orion Nebula from the Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes.  

 

This is one of the main reasons we decided to write the book we did: many people often don’t understand what they are seeing in images from space. They might enjoy them or be inspired by them, but there are also misconceptions surrounding them.  And much of that confusion involves color. Just recently, I saw a video post that suggested -jokingly perhaps - the colors used in most astronomical images were a “lie.” I couldn’t disagree more (one of us will probably blog about this specifically soon.) Color, among its other roles in space images, is actually used to help convey more information about the data – not to hide anything or intentionally deceive anyone.

 

So thank you, Nautilus, for giving science writers a place to go into depth on a topic as well as a resource for those of us who want to go beyond the latest headline or tweet. In the book and on this blog, we hope to touch on many of the topics that were raised in this month’s suite of articles, as well as explore some other ways that color connects us to the cosmos.

 

Cross-posted to Coloring the Universe

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