Prepare yourself for SCIENCE

Last month at a party I was sitting in a pile of people I love and decided to have an impromptu “Ask a scientist” session. I answered a few questions (including “Why beards?” WHY?”), and proceeded to go off on tangents about DNA and cancer and evolution and development.

I’ve always had a brain like a sponge. That coupled with a very early innate desire to understand how everything around me works has filled my head with all kinds of random shit.*

I frequently make the mistake of assuming everyone around me already knows everything I know. It oftentimes makes me assume that everyone I meet is as equally in awe of everything around them as I am. I forget that’s not usually the case.

I forget that not everyone knows what a genome is or why it’s so fucking awesome that we’re super close to affordable sequencing for everyone.

I forget that not everyone is having the same argument about GMOs. My preferred discussions revolve around responsible business practices, the benefits and dangers of monoculture, and plant pathology. The main discourse, though, seems to revolve around a fundamental misunderstanding of how DNA and evolution works.

I forget that not everyone understands how their body works – how we go from a single cell to become the giant, thinking ecosystems we are today. And I forget that not everyone knows what cancer even is.

I could write a lot of essays about these sorts of things, and I think I’m going to because this shit makes me so fucking excited when I think about it in regards to the world, myself, other people, history, and the future.

My plan for a long time has been to fold all of the science in my head into the stories I write, but folks who’ve known me for a while know how not-prolific I am. And I’ve been wanting to find something to blog regularly about that’s not lists of life-updates or my feelings. This’ll work.

I’ll write my first post later this weekend. I’m gonna start small – fucking atomic small – and go from there.**

I’m hoping this’ll be most useful to all my writer friends out there because I know how hard it is right now to play catch up with science if you haven’t been steeping yourself in it for the past decade. We’re no longer in an era of massive discovery – we’re now in more of a refinement period (at least in biology) where we’re trying to build the tools and fill in the blanks in order to make sense of the gestalt of an organism, rather than the particulars of a single isolated cell. Computer science, engineering, and honestly FUCKING FUNDING DOLLARS, are the biggest choke points right now.

I hope we can get out there and show folks just how awesome all of this shit is, and, especially today, how fucking necessary it is to be science literate. It’s the only way we’re gonna be able to keep the discussions to relevant topics and make informed decisions. Because honestly, as a scientist, there’s a lot of fucking terrifying shit that’s looming if we don’t get it together to do something about the stuff we at least have some control over: antibiotic resistance, widespread famine, mass extinctions, climate change, etc.

But don’t take my word for it:

“We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.” – Carl Sagan

You in?***

*I don’t pretend to know everything. In fact, there’s a whole bunch of shit I don’t know anything about, but I’m always happy to learn.

**If anyone’s got a topic of particular interest (say for a story you’re working on), I’d be happy to cover it if I can.

***I’m mostly going to be sticking to topics I know pretty well to start: which is biology, chemistry, and some really basic physics at it relates to biology. Thankfully, this’ll cover a MASSIVE amount of territory.

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2 Responses to Prepare yourself for SCIENCE

  1. Don Lindsay says:

    I couldn’t find a place to put a comment about the Locus column I just read, so I’m putting it here, sorry.
    I agree that the science in a work should match its heart-and-soul. I’ll give three examples.
    “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, by Austin Grossman, is a wonderful work as-told-by a supervillain. The science is deliberately a pastiche of comic book tropes, as it should be.
    “The Ten Thousand Doors of January”, by Alix Harrow, is a wonderful work as-told-by a girl who learns she can open doors to other worlds. This is a story about story, so the other worlds are pretty much Sinbad and Aladdin: sailboats, not starships.
    “Velocity Weapon”, by Megan OKeefe, is hard science, and takes place in dome cities, and on military spaceships. And half way through, someone pulled a phone out of their pocket and made a phone call to another spaceship on the other side of the f****** solar system, and had a conversation. Good lord. Aside from the speed of light issue, aside from being inside a metal hull, that would take enough megawatts to melt the nearest bulkhead. There’s going to be a sequel, and I won’t be buying it.

    • Kelly says:

      I’ll approve this comment to be posted, but I’ll let you know there is a comment section all the way at the bottom of the Locus article page if you’d like to move this over there for other article readers to see.

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