The Human Absence
Adam Ruben gives a wonderful deconstruction of the process:
I asked for an example, and [my advisor] pointed to a sentence on the first page. “See that word?” he said. “Right there. That is not science.”Never mind fiddling around with second-person narratives and unreliable narrators. Imagine writing a short story - a novel - shorn of anything that shows the slightest quiver of emotion. A properly post-modern hard science-fiction construction in which the author becomes a committee of ghostly puppeteers, and his characters objects acted upon: 'It has been proposed that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. This was investigated by introducing the subject into a location populated by family groups which each possessed unmarried daughters...'
The word was “lone,” as in “PvPlm is the lone plasmepsin in the food vacuole of Plasmodium vivax.” It was a filthy word. A non-scientific word. A flowery word, a lyrical word, a word worthy of -- ugh -- an MFA student.
I hadn’t meant the word to be poetic. I had just used the word “only” five or six times, and I didn’t want to use it again. But in his mind, “lone” must have conjured images of PvPlm perched on a cliff’s edge, staring into the empty chasm, weeping gently for its aspartic protease companions. Oh, the good times they shared. Afternoons spent cleaving scissile bonds. Lazy mornings decomposing foreign proteins into their constituent amino acids at a nice, acidic pH. Alas, lone plasmepsin, those days are gone.
So I changed the word to “only.” And it hurt. Not because “lone” was some beautiful turn of phrase but because of the lesson I had learned: Any word beyond the expected set -- even a word as tame and innocuous as “lone” -- apparently doesn’t belong in science.