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Richard Dawkins, in a commentary in The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing (OUP: 2008), writes, ‘Our ability to understand the universe and our position in it is one of the glories of the human species. Our ability to link mind to mind by language, and especially to transmit our thoughts across the centuries is another.’

As editors in a research-oriented comprehensive university, writing about research and researchers is part and parcel of our work. But academics are notoriously busy. They teach. They experiment. They publish.

An invitation to talk about one’s core expertise is sometimes greeted with a whiff of scepticism, veiled thinly or otherwise: ‘Would you really understand what I’m doing?’

Honestly, we wouldn’t, not even after three interviews and listening to the tapes over and over again. But, as editors in a research-oriented comprehensive university, we are duty-bound to keep trying.

The ‘In Plain View’ article in this issue took a few months to complete. The process involved visits to Prof. Jiang Liwen’s office and lab, e-mails with him and his graduate students, a principal writer who read the relevant literature and looked up technical terms, other colleagues who commented on her drafts (several of them) and prepared drafts in the other language (several of them), even counting the extraordinary fortune of having Professor Jiang’s untiring explication and feedback. Any writer who’s honest about his/her vocation should try at some point to aspire to be a Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould or Freeman Dyson.

We consider it failed if it’s a pleasure to write but pain to read. The motto by which we live is no less than the vice versa.