So says Carl Zimmer in the New York Times. Maybe he’s right. I don’t know. But here’s what struck me as odd. The last article by Zimmer I remember reading was all about how science is in crisis because papers aren’t being retracted.
Month: April 2012
As long as you’re boycotting Elsevier anyway …
why not add to your list all the journals on Allen Downey’s Hall of Shame? Elsevier may charge exorbitant prices, but at least they don’t (as far as I know) require authors to write in the passive voice.
I’m not a big passive-basher. I’m with Geoffrey Pullum: teaching students never to use the passive voice is largely passing on a supersition. But the reverse rule (always use the passive voice), which some scientists seem to have been taught, is far worse. The never-use-the-passive superstition is harmless, maybe even mildly helpful. The always-use-the-passive superstition, on the other hand, is wholly pernicious.
If you’re a scientist, use the active voice whenever it sounds better (which is most of the time). If an editor won’t let you, fight back.
For what it’s worth, I’ve never had an editor or referee complain about my use of the active voice in any of my papers. Fortunately, I don’t publish in the ICES Journal of Marine Science or the other hall of shame inductees.
Haven’t posted anything for a while. Busy. But I thought I’d at least throw up a link to my old friend Allen Downey’s post in which he offers a bounty for anyone who can find a scientific journal whose style guide explicitly requires or recommends the passive voice.
As I mentioned once, I think that the blanket advice to avoid the passive voice is often overstated. But the idea that you’re always supposed to use the passive in scientific writing is incredibly silly. If the active voice is better at clearly and concisely indicating who did what to whom (as it often is), use the active voice. If a journal editor tells you you can’t, well, at least you can collect $100 from Allen.