My apologies in advance to the computer science journalists I haven’t found yet, but…
Why is there so little good long-form computer science journalism? (Tech journalism doesn’t count.)
When there’s an interesting development in biology, Ed Yong will explain it beautifully in 4,000 words, or Richard Dawkins in 80,000. Or Carl Zimmer, Jonathan Weiner, David Quammen, etc.
Several others sciences attract plenty of writing talent as well. Physics has Sean Carroll, Stephen Hawking, Brian Greene, Kip Thorne, Lawrence Krauss, Neil deGrasse Tyson, etc. Psychology has Steven Pinker, Richard Wiseman, Oliver Sacks, V.S. Ramachandran, etc. Medical science has Atul Gawande, Ben Goldacre, Siddhartha Mukherjee, etc.
Computer science has Scott Aaronson (e.g. The Limits of Quantum, The Quest for Randomness), Brian Hayes (e.g. The Invention of Genetic Code, The Easiest Hard Problem), and… who else?
Outside Aaronson and Hayes, I mostly see tech journalism, very brief CS news articles, mediocre CS writing, and occasional CS articles and books from good writers who cover a range of scientific disciplines, such as
- The Proof in the Quantum Pudding by Erica Klarreich
- Approximately Hard by Erica Klarreich
- The Future Fabric of Data Science by Jennifer Oullette
- The Mathematical Shape of Things to Come by Jennifer Oullette
- The last few chapters of The Code Book by Simon Singh
- Turing’s Cathedral by George Dyson
- Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future by John MacCormick
- The Golden Ticket by Lance Fortnow
Maybe CS is too mathematical to attract general readers? Too abstract? Too dry? Or simply not taught in high school like the other sciences? Or maybe there are problems on the supply side?
Arjun Narayan says
I would speculate that it’s almost entirely a supply side effect. Writing is a huge value-add skill for programmers (leaving aside computer scientists for the moment): the qualities that make for writing well documented, well structured, and readable code are very closely aligned to the those that make for writing well structured, well cited, and readable prose. If you’re a programmer that can do that, you’re not earning less than $100,000, and that’s probably off by a factor of two.
Now if you move on to computer scientists and academics, they definitely do a lot of writing, but they’re aimed at a technical audience. Scott Aaronson is a rare breed of academic who tries to write as nontechnically as possible (I think that his work is accessible to a good freshman computer science major). Most other academic blogs are not that accessible. I think we forget that the economics academe is bigger than the computer science academe. So the spilling out that results in a vibrant econ-blogosphere is not so available with computer science.
Good point re: computer science being more lucrative than other sciences in most cases.