What Do Babies Know About Being Human?

I found the article by Natalie Angier in the NYT to be very effectively written. Firstly I found the way in which the lede was written to be very interesting. It was admittedly on the longer side of what I would think appropriate; however, I still found it gripping because of the cleaver use of language through juxtaposition (ie. “cheerfully cramped”, and “the onerous task of watching cartoons.”) Did you find the lede to be effective?

I especially appreciated how well Angier humanized Dr. Spelke (the article’s subject). After reading the article I had the sense that I really knew the Dr. personally and was therefore more invested in learning bout her research. Do you feel that the author’s choice to write such a personally story based article for a science section was a good one? And if it was a good choice do ever think there is a time in non-specialist journalistic writing where the opposite approach would be preferred?


6 Responses to “What Do Babies Know About Being Human?”

  1. I agree with you; both the lede and the humanization of Dr. Spelke really added to the strength of this piece.

    The lede contained, as you mentioned, a lot of oxymorons that were humorous. Not only does it drag readers into the piece because they want to learn more about the subject at hand, the humor aspect adds an incentive to keep going. The the piece won’t be dry; it’ll be entertaining.

    I thought a particularly effective tactic the author used regarding the humanization was to jump back and forth between the “meat” of the research that Dr. Spelke was doing and the anecdotes about her life.

  2. I actually completely disagree that the personalization of Dr. Spelke added to this piece. Coming from a feminist background, I was actually sort of appalled at some of the quips added into the article. If this piece were written about a male doctor doing incredible research, I feel less certain that time and space would have been devoted to the doctor’s hair parted down the middle “like a college student,” would not have focused on her self-deprecating behavior of saying she “studies babies,” and would not have ended on a kicker about how good of a mother she is. This is a woman doing powerful things in the field of cognitive psychology. She’s impressive and intelligent, and yet the article uses her own daughter to say that she’s amazing? It devotes time to the way she sits and the clothing she wears, which detracts from some of the incredible findings she has made. I felt that the article, while enjoyable and interesting, was presented as a soft news piece because women fall into the soft news category, rather than a hard news story about science, details, charts, data, results. Throughout the article, it is the male voices, the male professors and doctors, that describe her research, rather than Dr. Spelke giving the details in her own words. Even her husband gets to make comments about the way she welcomes disagreements in the workplace. I understand that there are articles about men that also have some of these traits, but I found it hard to remove my feminist lens while reading this article as soon as the journalist focused on the outfits of Dr. Spelke.

  3. I tend to agree with Rachel about the characterization of Dr. Spelke in this piece. I felt that the amount of the article devoted to arbitrary characteristics of her personal appearance and the quips about her research detracted from this article. I really felt like it was detracting from the magnitude and brilliance of her work in an almost condescending manner. It was almost like the author refused to consider Dr. Spelke herself as a serious and credible source on her own research.

  4. As someone who has read Natalie Angier’s, Woman, I disagree with Rachel and Dina’s comments. To be honest, I was excited to read this article knowing it was written by her because of her extensive background as a science and feminism writer.

    Angier’s writing style with incorporated metaphors and voice made this article a pleasure to read, as it rarely felt weighed down by Dr. Spelke’s discoveries in cognitive psychology. I agree that all of Angier’s comments on Dr. Spelke’s personality, ranging from her dress to her body language to her role as a mother, served to make her more human and more personally known to the reader. Additionally, by including all of these details about Dr. Spelke, the reader really understands the sheer brilliance of this woman. Not only has she made several notable discoveries, she is also an effective and loving mother to her two children. Angier even points out that Dr. Spelke has challenged those who make connections between gender and success in research: her response to Dr. Summers at Harvard qualifies as such.

    Her research and personality as a researcher being related to us by her peers rather than herself allowed Angier to incorporate more praise of Dr. Spelke into the article. Dr. Spelke is hardly likely to describe her research as akin to what Descartes, Kant, and Locke aimed for, but this is an effective comparison that the reader can appreciate. I also think that there are several instances in which Dr. Spelke discussed her own research within the article, specifically when she related her discoveries about language and its role in the breadth of human knowledge.

    She is portrayed as a highly intelligent, meticulous (adjustments of a carseat), agreeable, and confident woman who also happens to have made several notable discoveries about human intelligence at its infancy.

    I believe this characterization is appropriate for this article as it is a Profile in Science, however, in articles that make their focus on the research rather than the researcher, this kind of approach can definitely fall short of informing the reader. I do think that I learned a lot about advances in cognitive psychology from reading this article though.

  5. I personally thought the lede was effective, I liked getting a sense of who Dr. Spelke is before learning about the research she does, it makes it more personal and made me want to know more about what she does. I thought that the idea of making a science-based article personal was definitely the right choice. This article was not published just for an audience who loves science. The personal touch can make people who want to learn more about the subject but not with a strong science background pulled in to the story. I liked how the author interviewed multiple people, it gave so many different perspectives on who Dr. Spelke is and let us know more about her than if the author only interviewed Dr. Spelke.

  6. I thought the lede was effective, but very different than the news stories I’m used to reading. Like you pointed out, there is a lot of juxtaposition and descriptive imagery used. You usually don’t run into that kind of writing when you’re reading a short news story. I really enjoyed it though; it definitely gave the piece character, and made it easier to read.

    I did think it was interesting how Dr. Spelke was described. The author went as far as to describe what the doctor wore to work everyday. I’m not really sure what he was trying to accomplish with this. Humanizing Dr. Spelke made the piece more interesting I suppose, but it didn’t really contribute to my understanding of the topic. Describing the way Dr. Spelke has an aura that demands respect showed me that she is a credible resource, and a master in the field. But in some ways, I felt that the piece was at times overly descriptive and took away from the purpose of the article.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s