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September 26, 2006

blogs

Firstly, new blog on science books - the Science Books Blog is currently working to find the "best science book ever". You can comment on the blog to give your ideas, which is building up to an event in the middle of October.

A completely different blog I came accross recently, Mortal Ghost, is an experiment in publishing Science Fiction for young adults through a blog. You can read an interview with the author, L Lee Lowe, here.

September 14, 2006

Science comedy

Just to prove this isn't all about the print medium, here's a link to the news that Vic Reeves is to present the next series of Brainiac on Sky One.

Quote from Reeves: "Science is my God and my ultimate goal in Brainiac is to destroy the moon with dynamite." What Ben Goldacre has to say on the matter is yet to be seen.

Science comedy is one of those topics I wish someone would do some cultural studies of science research into. There is more and more of it, some laugh at images of science and some use comedy in promoting/ explaining science (I'm sure people can think of other examples).

Interestingly, Sky say they feel Reeves' "anarchic" style of humour suits the show. I've noticed this comedic anarchy in relationship to science education in the Horrible Science books, and I'm sure there is something to be explored here. Is science especailly funny to rebel against because it holds so much authority? Is laughing at science somehow taboo/ naughty - is that why it's funny? Or is it just as funny as anything else in life, but it's only recently that boundaries between comedy and science have loosened enough for us to start seeing any?

Final point that's just come to me before I press "publish" - I've linked to Ben Goldacre above because he has been very vocal in his criticisms of Brainiac, but I guess his column is a form of science comedy too, albeit for a slightly different audience.

September 13, 2006

IBBY conference

The programme's up for the 13th annual British IBBY/NCRCL MA conference.

Saturday, 11th November 2006
Froebel College, Roehampton University

The title this year is "Time Everlasting: Representations of Past, Present and Future in Children's Literature", there are a few people talking on science literature things (although, I imagine more fiction than non-fiction). If you want to go, they suggest booking early as it often sells out.

Papers/ talks that might be of particular interest to readers of this blog:

... and I'm giving a paper titled What Albert Did next: Kuhnian Approaches to the Child in Science.

September 5, 2006

Beauty and imprecision in diagrams

I thought it would be appropriate to present the image that I er borrowed to create the masthead of this blog: a double page spread from the Penguin Book of the Natural World, 1976. This is a small but encyclopedic volume covering everything from cells to plants and animals to ecosystems. Several main sections such as those of the plant and animal kingdoms are illustrated with these really nice hand-drawn geometric diagrams.

Oxford76-plantkingdom2.jpg

A larger version

I want to draw attention to the paradox of 'bad information design' versus aesthetic beauty. I'm stricken by the illustrative quality, colour and form of this spread. My favourite part is the cluster of circles on the right, meant to illustrate the 'approximate size of different plant groups'. Of course, from an information design perspective, gaining precise knowledge from this is difficult; research has shown that comparing quantities by surface area such as these circles can be misleading (see for instance Macdonald-Ross 1979). It would be much easier for readers to grasp the real quantities involved with a bar graph, for example. A table of figures would be the most accurate, but also possibly the most off-putting form, unless the illustrator could make a table of figures look amazing. In this sense the less accurate diagram is more effective.

When we are talking about young readers who may or may not have any interest in the subject, maybe all of this doesn't matter, and holding the fickle reader's attention is most important. This opens up a whole can of worms about 'edutainment'. A utopian solution might be to train everyone in principles of good information design. But for now: how much educational value is there in science that has been so tarted up? And isn't some scientific value better than none at all?