The Sexy Side of Science
The animal kingdom is filled with more variation and uniqueness than anything else on earth. This variation allows both the heights of beauty as well as the bizarre and absurd. It is this absurdity that the article ‘World’s most bizarre mating rituals’ celebrates. Written by Mara Flannery for Cosmos Online, it is about exactly what the title entails – the lewd and uncanny sexual behaviour of various members of the animal kingdom. The article outlines seven general behaviours that are repeated in different species worldwide and give a few examples of species in which they occur. It’s all there, too, from female angler fish dissolving and assimilating the, dozens of male spoon worms living inside the womb of the female, and something terrifyingly referred to as ‘traumatic penetration’ in the bedbug boudoirs.
The first thing that struck me about this article was the surprising dryness with which it was written. I had assumed, given the absurd and juicy nature of the topic matter, some humour would be injected, but little to none can be found. What I had anticipated to be a riotous journey full of double-entendre, hilarious puns and tacky sex jokes turned out to be simply a reeling off of a list of the crazy things animals do. It wasn’t that it wasn’t enjoyable by virtue of that alone; I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped I would. This article could’ve made so much more of an impact if it had used humour – as it was, reciting a list is not involving nor is it really enjoyable. This article will pull your through more by content than style, and while the content is very interesting – who doesn’t like reading about ‘sexual cannibalism? – it just lacked the punch and pizzazz that I wanted this article to have.
One benefit of this style, though, is that it communicates the science, and this article has done that very well. The behaviours are explained well through the individual examples that are given. The descriptions of these are short and sweet – they tell you everything you need to know in as short a time as possible. It even includes quotes from two experts – Zuk and Johnson, both behavioural ecologists – which serve to illustrate the context of these behaviours and how they came about through natural selection. The prescriptive style, for its lack in effect, made up for this with its simplicity, descriptiveness and ease of understanding.
Had I written this article, I would definitely have tried to interject some comedy; anything! A tacky pun here and a cheeky, Benny Hill-esque double-entendre there, just to add some more fun and draw the reader in more. Something to capitalize on the potential of the subject matter. It’s like I always say, the day you start taking sex too seriously is the day that you die. And, come on, who doesn’t find the idea of a female fish with dozens of testicles funny?
Nobody. That’s who.
The article can be found here, at Cosmos Online.
Up for discussion: do you think comedy can be an aspect which can improve and embellish science writing in particular subject areas? Or it dryness and humourlessness the way to go?