If you’ve ever wondered why we accumulate tissue lint so compressed in the navel, then Graham Lawton has written the book that’s right for you. In “The Origin of (Almost) Everything”, the science journalist dives into the main scientific theories about the beginning of things that surround us, satisfying the interest of the most curious.
“The aim was to build a broad book that would have a global appeal, and I think we’ve probably made it,” says the writer in a videoconference interview from his UK home. After being translated into almost all European languages, “A Origin” is published in Brazil by the publisher Seoman.
Lawton is a reporter for the British science magazine New Scientist, where he was previously editor-in-chief. With 65 years of existence, the magazine is one of the main references in specialized journalism in the area. The book was released in the UK by the magazine in 2016.
The texts that make up the work are, in part, content previously published in the magazine, which gained a new look – and attractive graphics. “But most of the texts are original, created for the book with the magazine’s writing style”, explains the author.
Most of the book has the direct, humorous tone characteristic of New Scientist, and even more complex and thorny topics — such as the origin of life and the universe — are treated with lightness and scientific rigor.
“When you deal with issues that are very important to people, like existential issues, or the origin of the universe and planet Earth, we have a lot of origin myths that are surrounded by sacred values, and people have a spiritual connection to them. It can be very challenging to work with these themes”, says the writer.
“Even in more secular countries like the UK, people are not very comfortable with these issues,” he adds.
It was also challenging to choose what should be in the book. Lawton holds a degree in biochemistry from Imperial College London, but his career as a journalist has reached many areas of science. In the process, Lawton left out football, one of his passions: “We can’t have it all”, laments the author who is passionate about the sport.
The work arrives in Brazil at a time when the demand for scientific information grew during the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic. Scientific terms and processes that previously went unnoticed are now extensively followed by the international press and are constantly on the minds of the population.
As a reflection of this movement, New Scientist was bought by the company that publishes the Daily Mail, a popular English newspaper, for 70 million euros (about R$ 430 million). The deal was made earlier this year with a view to the high profits that the magazine should make in the coming months.
“During the pandemic, we saw a flood of unverified articles and theories. So it was difficult to navigate through all this information. A part of the material was good, another part was complete nonsense, and there were still things that were in the middle”, he says. “Our job as science journalists was to select good, solid, verifiable content.”
For the writer, greater scientific literacy among the population, that is, knowledge about science and its processes, would make it easier to deal with the pandemic.
“Imagine a pandemic without science, like the Black Death [século 14]. We would be lost! I think people understood that; the success in developing vaccines shows that science is very useful”, he says.
Greater transparency about what is done in the labs should help attract more people to careers in science, says the author. “We need to change the culture that says you have to be a genius to understand science,” he says.
But all the exposure of scientists and science can have a dangerous side. During the pandemic, scientists around the world turned to social networks such as Twitter to disseminate and comment on research results. Lawton says one of the results of this interaction is to make people better informed. “But there’s also a lot of bad information on Twitter,” he says.
“Many journalists switched from real journalism to Twitter. Instead of contacting sources and asking questions, they just look for something on Twitter, and that’s not journalism,” he criticizes.