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jokergirl
2010-Mar-12, 11:46 AM
A friend recently brought this up and I was wondering what you are thinking about it.
Do you prefer popular science books, or books that are pretending to be fiction, but really giving you an overview of a scientific subject wrapped in a story?
Examples of the latter would be Sophie's World, of course, or The Science of Discworld for one that's a bit more pop sci oriented.
Some like them, others think it is cheating.

Personally, I like them because I am a geek and those books give me the feeling I am with fellow geeks talking about a subject they really like.
I hate popular science books because even the good ones (even Sagan and Hawking, argh! Also, Gödel Escher Bach which makes me sad.) always seem to be talking down to the reader and explaining things in a slow and uninteresting way, with many "And then we were so great and found out this" handwaves and cutting off just when the subject becomes interesting to me.
The structure of the fiction books is much closer to a Socratic dialogue with the protagonist standing in for the reader, who is actually allowed to be smart and interject with questions herself. It's just a lot more approachable to me.

What is your opinion on the subject?

;)

Ilya
2010-Mar-12, 01:26 PM
I never read "Sophie's World" (in fact, never heard of it until now) nor "The Science of Discworld", so I cannot judge. I had read a number of "The Science of..." books, and found them entertaining, but not particularly informative. Thet told me a lot more about the fictional world in question, than about real-world science.

I feel much like you do about Sagan and Hawking, but then, I am not the intended audience. I am sure I would have loved them when I was a teenager -- and I did love very similar books back then. As for "Godel, Escher, Bach", it was one my favorite books of all time and still is.

The structure of the fiction books is much closer to a Socratic dialogue with the protagonist standing in for the reader, who is actually allowed to be smart and interject with questions herself. It's just a lot more approachable to me.
That never occurred to me. But I always hated Socratic dialogue. It does not work for me -- at all.

So I guess I mostly disagree with you.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Mar-12, 02:47 PM
The Science of Discworld series has very little explanation about the Discworld, everything is about our world.

The format is that the Senior Wizards of the Unseen University go to our world and tries to make sense of it.
It is rather hard for them to come to terms with our world because they come from a highly logical world where things happen because it makes a good story as opposed to our world where physics happen the way it does because that's just how things happen to actually act, with no requirement for a good story or sensible explanation.

It's clearly separated in alternating chapters of Story which exposes the strangeness of our world, and Science which tries to put it in an understandable framework.

The three books covers the history of the universe from the Big Bang until humans bugger off because the Earth is frankly too dangerous to stay on, "I mean every couple of million years something wipes out most large lifeforms, is that rally a place you want to stay?"; the evolution of animals from single cells to such pinnacles as Us and the Cockroach and finally the development of Mind with a special focus on Shakespeare.

The second one is excellent for the ammunition it'll give against ID thinking.

jokergirl
2010-Mar-12, 03:05 PM
Yeah you're right - the science of discworld is kind of in between story and pop sci. The original poster had other examples, but since I had not read them I didn't want to quote them either.

;)

AndreasJ
2010-Mar-12, 04:45 PM
I prefer popsci books, generally; I tend to find story elements in "fiction-with-science" books contrived and unnecessary.

I also tend to dislike popsci books that spend a lot of attention on the biographies and personalities of the relevant scientists (if I wanted "human interest", I wouldn't be reading a book about rocks!).

The science books I tend to like best are those that aim at a dual audience of experts and interested laypeople. For some reason, biology appears to be unusually well served with such books.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Mar-12, 05:47 PM
The advantage with these is that the story chapters are done by Pratchett himself so it is part of the DW canon, which makes it delightful if you're already a fan, which they don't try to hide is the main target group.

The science chapters can stand alone as straight popsci.

Gillianren
2010-Mar-12, 06:49 PM
I adore the Science of Discworld series and recommend them for people who want a slightly-above-basic level of science. I like pop sci better, generally, than fiction-with-science, because usually, the science feels shoehorned in. However, in this one, the science came first and the story is--very skillfully--woven around it.

Jens
2010-Mar-15, 04:41 AM
I prefer popsci books, generally; I tend to find story elements in "fiction-with-science" books contrived and unnecessary.

On this point I heartily agree. The fiction itself often seems made up just for the ideas. Kind of like a certain genre of films, but I won't go into that since it's a family-oriented board.



I also tend to dislike popsci books that spend a lot of attention on the biographies and personalities of the relevant scientists (if I wanted "human interest", I wouldn't be reading a book about rocks!).


This I disagree with. I guess it's a question of personal preference, but I like the stories about the people. It makes the discussion seem more compelling to me.

BTW, I also liked Godel, Escher, Bach a lot (though I've never read it through). I like science books that have some humor in them. It's kind of the same reason I really enjoy Steven Pinker's books.

Gillianren
2010-Mar-15, 06:14 PM
I just finished A Short History of Nearly Everything, about as pop as pop sci gets, and I liked that, at least in part, it told the story through humans. Because the average person gets kind of bored just reading about rocks, or else pop sci wouldn't exist. There were a few moments where it had kind of a Connections feel--though they're otherwise quite different--including the thought that the idea of the Principia came about at about the same time as the death of the last dodo.

AndreasJ
2010-Mar-16, 02:12 PM
Because the average person gets kind of bored just reading about rocks, or else pop sci wouldn't exist.
I don't think that follows - even if my dislike for personalities were the norm, there'd be a demand for books (and other media) that explain scientific subjects for people who don't have the background to follow the primary literature.

ETA: And of course, popsci books that are pretty much solely about rocks (or bones, or stars, etc) do exist. The market is big enough not every title needs to be aimed the average reader.

Gillianren
2010-Mar-16, 06:43 PM
I don't think that follows - even if my dislike for personalities were the norm, there'd be a demand for books (and other media) that explain scientific subjects for people who don't have the background to follow the primary literature.

ETA: And of course, popsci books that are pretty much solely about rocks (or bones, or stars, etc) do exist. The market is big enough not every title needs to be aimed the average reader.

I think the difference may be how we're defining pop sci. To me, it is not science from a more basic perspective. It's science geared at a popular audience, the "pop" part. Most humans need someone to connect to. It may be why Pluto is such a thing in the US--we can connect to the plucky Clyde Tombaugh in a way we can't to, say, Kepler. He's an American who pulled himself up by his bootstraps!

AndreasJ
2010-Mar-16, 08:49 PM
I think the difference may be how we're defining pop sci. To me, it is not science from a more basic perspective. It's science geared at a popular audience, the "pop" part.
What, then, constitues a popular audience? I'd thought it more or less synonymous with a lay one - people who are not active within, or formally educated within, the subject.

Also, just out of curiosity, what would you call the sort of books that (largely) stick to the rocks, yet are aimed at laypeople? I don't know what else to call them, if not pop sci.

Gillianren
2010-Mar-16, 09:32 PM
What, then, constitues a popular audience? I'd thought it more or less synonymous with a lay one - people who are not active within, or formally educated within, the subject.

A popular audience is a subset of a lay audience. It's the people who have to be drawn into science through other means instead of the people who would seek out the science themselves.


Also, just out of curiosity, what would you call the sort of books that (largely) stick to the rocks, yet are aimed at laypeople? I don't know what else to call them, if not pop sci.

Beginners' books.

AndreasJ
2010-Mar-16, 10:39 PM
A popular audience is a subset of a lay audience. It's the people who have to be drawn into science through other means instead of the people who would seek out the science themselves.
Does that "other means" have to be personalities? I'm thinking of, for example, (what I'm used to call) popular dino books, which usually pay little attention to the scientists behind the finds and interpretations, but appeal to the nonscientific mind - or at least the teenage male segment thereof - by the liberal application of superlatives (biggest animal ever! deadliest predator ever! jaws strong enough to bite horse in half!).

Even if your definition of pop sci is narrower than mine, your definition above seems it could include at least some books of the kind I meant.


Beginners' books.
That seems misleading - I'd expect a "beginner's book" to be an introductory textbook, or perhaps a do it yourself guide (Beginner's Guide to Origami, say). But perhaps I'm unduly influenced by Swedish usage here?

KaiYeves
2010-Mar-16, 11:13 PM
It may be why Pluto is such a thing in the US--we can connect to the plucky Clyde Tombaugh in a way we can't to, say, Kepler. He's an American who pulled himself up by his bootstraps!
I don't know, I sympathized with Kepler a lot in the reenactment of his story in Cosmos. Curious little kid, grows up and goes to work for a famous expert, ends up doing much of the expert's grunt work and proving him wrong, get laughed at for sharing his ideas- it's kind of like Wicked.

Gillianren
2010-Mar-16, 11:36 PM
Does that "other means" have to be personalities? I'm thinking of, for example, (what I'm used to call) popular dino books, which usually pay little attention to the scientists behind the finds and interpretations, but appeal to the nonscientific mind - or at least the teenage male segment thereof - by the liberal application of superlatives (biggest animal ever! deadliest predator ever! jaws strong enough to bite horse in half!).

Eight-year-olds full stop, yes. (I don't know what it is about dinosaurs and small children; maybe it's that dinosaurs are bigger than teachers, parents . . . and bullies.) At any rate, most dinosaur books that I read at that age talked a fair bit about the first few dinosaur discoverers.


Even if your definition of pop sci is narrower than mine, your definition above seems it could include at least some books of the kind I meant.

Possibly.


That seems misleading - I'd expect a "beginner's book" to be an introductory textbook, or perhaps a do it yourself guide (Beginner's Guide to Origami, say). But perhaps I'm unduly influenced by Swedish usage here?

Could be. Possibly "amateurs" would be a better choice.

KaiYeves
2010-Mar-16, 11:43 PM
Eight-year-olds full stop, yes. (I don't know what it is about dinosaurs and small children; maybe it's that dinosaurs are bigger than teachers, parents . . . and bullies.) At any rate, most dinosaur books that I read at that age talked a fair bit about the first few dinosaur discoverers.
I think for me it was partly that, but also the same thing that drew me to books about the planets at that age. These creatures/places are exotic, and gigantic, and incredible... and real. Or at least, they were once real, they existed in a time and place as real as our own.