16 May 2011

Another Introduction - Paula Johanson

Some of the writers on this website are career scientists, but not me. The closest I’ve come to being an official scientist is being a volunteer Naturalist for Elk/Beaver Lake Nature Centre. I haven’t always been a science writer, but I’ve always been interested in science and writing.

Since my first summer job as a summer maintenance worker in a provincial park, I’ve worked at a lot of jobs – one day I’ll post a note here telling about how some of the jobs led to some of my books! I got a degree in Writing, and a teaching certificate, before my children were born. I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor, and taught writing workshops. Most of the books I’ve written are for educational publishers who supply school libraries.

I enjoy writing introductory books on science. Four of my books for Rosen Publishing were from their series Understanding the Elements of the Periodic Table – they were Platinum, Cobalt, Lithium and Copper. The fun part in these books of facts was finding little anecdotes or things of interest about each element. For instance, one of the first scientists to study cobalt in the 16th century was accused of witchcraft, because miners and villagers didn’t understand his experiments. The methods of science – careful observation, record-keeping, studying materials or methods that have no ordinary purpose – were not familiar to most people then. One of the reasons that the Canadian and American school systems have science lessons is to help our citizens understand that science is a way to learn about the world and everything in it. “An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much you know,” wrote philosopher Anatole France. “It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you don’t.”

It was interesting to write four books on sustainability, too. There are so many technical facts to learn for books on Making Good Choices About Nonrenewable Resources or Biofuels: Sustainable Energy in the 21st Century. As well, the social sciences are an important part of explaining what makes a business or an industry sustainable.

The books I’ve written on health show the practical application of science to health care. Doctors and researchers help us understand how to maintain health and treat disease. Muscular Dystrophy was written for a series on Genetic and Developmental Disease. Frequently Asked Questions About Testicular Cancer was the first book on the topic that was meant for ordinary readers, not medical students. Of all my books, I’m most proud of HIV and AIDS: Coping in a Changing World. It’s written at a grade 4 reading level, even the section telling how protease inhibitors affect a person’s immune system! For another health book, I was teamed up with a psychologist and we wrote The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Conquering Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior. We had to write in plain language about how brains are affected by chemistry and behavior.

My books on the food sciences include Fake Foods: Fried, Fast, and Processed from the series The Incredibly Disgusting Story, and Processed Food from the series What’s in Your Food? Recipe for Disaster. I’m working now on a book for the series The Truth About The Food Supply. These short books are introductions to the same topics explored in challenging books by Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, Wendell Barry and others. Like all my science books, these food books have reference sections loaded with information on organizations to contact, websites to surf, age-appropriate books for young people, and a bibliography.

The other books I’ve written aren’t about science. But there are science facts in the books I wrote for the Poetry Rocks! series from Enslow Publishers. My novel, Tower in the Crooked Wood, has a tree-pruner for a heroine. On her quest she uses what she knows about trees when solving a mystery. It looks like science is everywhere in my writing.

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