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Book Review Science as Writing. By D. Locke

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vibrations, as well as orbital correlation diagrams for diatomic molecules. The two fundamental rules, namely the
non-crossing rule and the Walsh rules, are only briefly mentioned, and the reader is apparently expected to understand
these already.
The next I00 pages are devoted to classical thermal reactions. These are analyzed from the OCAMS (orbital correspondence analysis in maximum symmetry) standpoint that
the author has himself developed. Compared with the Woodward-Hoffmann rules this has the advantage of providing a
rigorous formalism that leads directly to the thermally favored
reaction mechanism. avoiding the need to consider all conceivable mechanisms in turn (and perhaps to overlook the
one that is of most interest). The information that OCAMS
gives about a mechanism is of a relative nature, and is conceptually related, in a broad sense, to the Walsh rules. It
therefore undoubtedly comes nearer to the truth than topological considerations. About 40 topical examples are described in detail and clearly illustrated.
It is only in the final third of the book that the electron spin
is introduced. Spin-forbidden processes are incorporated into
the OCAMS approach, and examples that involve intersystem crossing are described. About a dozen carefully chosen
examples of reactions involving electronically excited states
are described. At the time when the Woodward-Hoffmann
rules were being applied to photochemical reactions without
sufficient care, inappropriate mechanisms were assumed in
many cases. Only four examples from inorganic chemistry
are described, and from these one can conclude that the
orbital symmetry approach is best reserved for carbon compounds, since there is always doubt as to whether the condition of kinetic stability is satisfied for inorganic compounds,
so that no reliance can be placed on results from symmetry
considerations. The appendix contains character tables and
group correlation tables that are a valuable aid in studying
the examples.
The text is excellent in both its intellectual content and
style, and the book provides ample evidence of the author’s
rich fund of experience.
Rudolf Janoschek
Institut fur Theoretische Chemie
der Universitat Graz (Austria)
Science as Writing. By D. Locke. Yale University Press, New
Haven, 1992. X, 237 pp., hardcover $30.00/& 18.50.ISBN 0-300-05452-1
The author of this book, David Locke, started as a chemist.
His mentor was S. William Pelletier, with whom he synthesised atisine, an alkaloid. The work was published in the
Journal of the American Chemical Society in 1959. At
present, David Locke teaches English at the University of
Florida. He is thus able to describe science as an insider.
When he refers to style in science, the example he brings
forward (who else?) is that of Robert B. Woodward. This
issue of scientific style is one that elicits considerable current
interest. A whole periodical, Science in Context, is devoted to
the question of style in science, not only on the part of an
individual, but within a field of science or a national tradition. This book is well-researched and jargon-free. It puts to
rest our cherished notion of science as methodically built
from the objective gathering of facts. It has other uses also. It
will help to devise an efficient rhetoric for one’s scientific
discourse. It should help to restore to science a measure of
personal style, as opposed to the fastidiously repetitive hyperspecialization that masquerades in its stead.
AIIFW. Chrm. Int. Ed. End. 1993. 32, No. H
(-3
Locke brings to bear on his precious little book an in-depth
understanding of the scientific process. The third chapter contrasts expressionless, humorless writing, as seemingly required
in publications, both with shop talk in the laboratory, and
with the emotional involvement in their work by eminent
scientists such as Charles Darwin. This empathy for one’s
brainchild is beautifully exemplified by Barbara McClintock’s animation of the genome; it is for her a living entity.
Locke deals next with the rhetoric of science, of which The
Origin qfSpecies is a prime example. He shows convincingly
that the lack of impact of Mendel’s discovery, even though
the contemporaries knew of it, stems from a revolutionary
finding having been presented in the language of normal, runof-the-mill science. He uses Einstein’s introduction of relativity theory to demonstrate the importance of story-telling
to conveying a novel world-view. In a chapter with the felicitous title “The Art of Artless Prose”, the author focuses on
the irony that permeates great texts, such as Galileo’s Diulogues o r The Double Helis. He draws attention also to the
virtue of understatement, as a device to prepare for the hardhitting punch line (such as that, one may add, in Woodward
and Hoffmann’s The Conservation of Orbitul Symmriry:
“Exceptions? There are none.”) The book throbs with vital
insights. In Chapter 5, on “The Putative Purity of Science”,
Locke comments perceptively on the existence of a scientific
oligarchy, in between decision-makers and the scientific
community: “ultimately, it determines what is scientifically
thinkable, until the unorthodox idea thrusts its way into the
arena, with the force of scientific genius, skillful rhetoric, and
iron determination behind it.”
The main virtues of Locke’s book are his intimate familiarity with living science: the smooth readability buoyed by a
constantly pleasing style and by recourse to major texts,
known by everyone, for its examples; the constant criticism
of the myth of science as an objective and neutral process.
These qualities are sometimes drawbacks. One might argue
that to focus on scientific revolutions and masterpieces is too
selective. Normal science is also to be considered advantageously as writing. One might also argue, on a different tack,
that scientific advances can be uncoupled from ideological
hangups: Jacques Loeb (p. 154ff.) is remembered for the
study of tropisms, more than for his obsession with getting
rid of free will.
Deconstruction has been a slogan during the post-modern,
post-structuralist period from which we are emerging. This
debunking movement has helped to jettison the myth of science as the progressive buildup of the laws of nature from
objective facts. Its own mythological view of science nevertheless borders on the ridiculous and, to this writer, is unacceptable. It rests on microsociological studies of laboratory
life. They find that science is akin to a power play: its conclusions would be, according to this critical analysis, merely a
negotiated settlement between the human participants.
Locke’s essay is far above such ultrasimplifications. He uses
various complementary approaches so as to provide a realistic, multidimensional view of science. His metaphor of science as writing is much more productive, and he pushes it to
all its implications without ever forcing the evidence to conform to his model.
Pierre Laszlo
Laboratoire de Chimie
Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau (France)
New Books
see next page
VCH Verlu~.~~esellscliuft
mhH. 0.69451 Wemheim. 1993
o57o-0833193joH08-1221 $ /0.10+ ,2510
1221
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