So, do you need a degree in science or math to write hard science fiction? Nope. Numerous hard science fiction authors write their stories without that background. I’m one, for example. My college degrees are in English and history. Fred Pohl and Ray Bradbury didn’t attend college. Connie Willis was an elementary school teacher before her science fiction successes. Admittedly, though, the non-science or math authors will have to work a little harder to not write laughable hard science fiction. They need to cheat a bit. They may need help coming up with ideas, and they certainly will need help for the science that is not at their fingertips. Fortunately, the help is no farther away than the nearest bookstore.He gives several suggestions for books, including one based on the excellent NPR program, Science Friday.
Jeremiah Tolbert responded with his own request:
Someone with access to the big primary biological sciences literature should post reviews/summaries in laymen's terms of each issue. Nature, Science, and more. People could volunteer and write in summaries for any primary literature they want. Group blog the literature. Get it out there in the web, in a format that science-interested people can understand. Because I think there's a barrier still between that level of academic knowledge and the web population. I'd like to see a gateway giving me a glimpse at what's going on. I don't know where the local unversity's science library is, and I can't afford to subscribe to those magazines (who can?).Now my gut response to this is "Why aren't you reading what's already on the web?" Tolbert doesn't have comments on his blog, but I did comment on Futurismic, which quotes his request:
There are already people who blog about science breakthroughs - ScienceBlogs and Nature network being a good placed to start. Also, both Science and Nature have news sections that summarize the latest research in relatively non-technical terms.I suppose the issue is whether the news sections of Science and Nature are sufficiently non-technical for the layman. I'll confess that it's hard for me to judge, since I'm not a layman myself. However, the biggest science stories are distilled further yet by popular science magazines like Scientific American, Science Daily, Discover, Live Science, and Seed. If listening is your thing, there are lots of science podcasts to choose from, such as Science Friday, NASA Podcast, New York Times Science Times, not to mention the podcasts from Nature and Science Magazine, and many others. And if you like your science raw, you can always subscribe to the EurekAlert science press release service, which often combines science described in layman's terms with sensationalist prose.
Nature and Science are published every week, but the peer-reviewed science they publish is really just the tip of the iceberg, since they try to have articles in a wide range of fields and only publish relatively short reports. To really be up on the biological sciences, you have to keep tabs on the more specialized journals too - PNAS, Cell, Neuron, Genes & Development, EMBO Journal, Journal of Cell Biology, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Nucleic Acids Research, Journal of Molecular Biology , are a few of the big ones that come to mind. It would be a full time job to summarize every paper that came out in layman’s terms - and a bit of wasted effort, since most articles wouldn’t be of general interest anyway. The good news is that Science and Nature cover the hottest findings in their news sections, and the blogs usually pick up that info too. So the information is already out there for the reading if you are interested.
Those sources are only the tip of the iceberg, of course. There are lots of other news sources and blogs that cover the latest science research daily. The problem is not that the information isn't out there, it's that there is so much that it's difficult for one person to take it all in. I subscribe to many science news sites and blogs and the best I can do is skim through the headlines, reading the articles that catch my eye. I'm not sure what more Tolbert wants, other than a distillation of the distillation that's already available.
The amazing thing is that all this information is out there for anyone who is interested enough to read it. A decade or two ago you would have had to go to the library or subscribe to the journals and decipher the technical language yourself (does anyone else remember using Current Contents?). Now, with so much information readily available at your fingertips, there is no reason not to be aware of the latest research.
One practical suggestion: don't try to visit every web site and every blog "in person" so to speak. The only way to really keep up is to subscribe to the feeds for the news sites and blogs so that you can easily browse through the headlines. Personally I use the Lite version of NetNewsWire, but there are many other options, including Google Reader, Bloglines and NewsGator. Most web sites have an orange-colored button to click to subscribe, like I do in the right sidebar. Anyone can keep up with the latest news in bioscience by putting a little effort into it.
ETA: I should have also mentioned ResearchBlogging.org, which aggregates blog posts on peer-reviewed research. That way you can get the best of science blogging without the politics, jokes or cat photos, if you are so inclined.
* You can read VanPelt's short story "A Flock of Birds" at SciFiction.
Tags:science fiction, biology