Science Communication Pt. 2 – freelance ain’t free?

Byfield, Massachusetts

Remember in the last post I began with thinking I should write about trees and their leaves?  Well, I went from thoughts to paper!  A newspaper even!  I just published an article about leaf-color change in the Daily News, a daily newspaper in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  Below are pretty pics for your viewing pleasure.  The article can be found here.

As I shared this wonderful news with my writer friends, I was repeatedly counselled that it’s okay to build up a resume by writing pro bono, but not to let it get out of hand.  David Berreby reminded this David Samuel Johnson of the words of Samuel Johnson.

None but a blockhead ever wrote but for money.

Well, fit me a square hat then because I got no money for the piece.  I got the joy, but no money.  As a scientist I may have been raised this way.

Scientists are complete morons when it comes to monetizing their talents.  Probably because that’s not our goal.  None of us went into science for the money.  For the fame and the sex appeal, maybe, but not for the money.

We constantly write for free.  The model for academic publishing is mind-numbingly and creativity-stealingly absurd.  We write the grants to fund our science (yes, some of our salary is covered by the grant but it’s not quite the same as getting paid to write), then we write the papers/articles on that research and submit them to journals who DO NOT pay us to publish in their journals (if the paper is accepted).  In fact, some publishing companies require US to pay THEM to publish (I’m looking at you Elseveir with severe and narrowed eyes).  And then…AND THEN!  We then have to buy our article back from the journal that we just published in.  The publisher gets FREE! content from scientists and then charges us to view what we just gave them.  It’s a strange bondage of  an intellectual serfdom as service to publishing feudal lords.  Though maybe my economic metaphor doesn’t work because at least feudal lords owned the land the serfs worked, publishers don’t own my data.  Running with the imperfect metaphor:  this intellectual servitude is reinforced by our peers and administrations because publications are the currency that we need to get jobs and promotions.  If that isn’t the most bass-ackward thing you’ve ever heard of, I don’t know what is.  For being smart, we scientists sure do have our heads straight up our ignorant keisters when it comes to publishing models.

I get it.  Freelancing ain’t free.  And I should follow the helpful advice from my friend Sarah White who has been a freelancer for the past decade.  Regarding writing for free, she blogs (in what I imagine is a stern ‘mom’ voice and stamping her foot):  “Right now. I mean it. Stop.”

Sigh.  It’s hard.  I say this as I write a blog without asking any payment from you.  Your support and kind words are all the currency I need right now.  But if you want to send me a big box of cash, my address is The Brilliant Dr. David Samuel Johnson, 297 Newburyport Turnpike, Byfield, MA 01922.  Remember to send large bills.  And some synthetic wool socks (size 9.5 shoe).  It’s getting cold up here.

But not all my writing is paid in love.  Some has real cash.  Like my essay on fracking in Arkansas published earlier this year in Sage Magazine.  Got me rent money it did!

Okay, now back to where I began.  I got published.  Take a look.  No charge.




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