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Science is Boring! ... or not

I'll admit it: When I was in school, I found science boring. Okay, sure, I was excited about dissecting eyeballs and frogs in biology, and I loved chemistry labs, and once I got to astronomy, things got really exciting, but everyone knows that science is boring, and when that was paired with teachers who encouraged me not to think of myself as someone who liked science, no amount of evidence to the contrary seemed to shake that piece of my identity. So it's a big surprise to me to find myself voluntarily subscribing to science magazines and reading scientific news and blogs for fun.

What changed?

Well, in part, I have significantly less exposure to people who tell me in many subtle ways that I'm not supposed to like science. My high school AP science teacher, the one about whom everyone said, "He's an amazingly great teacher. He just isn't so good with girls," (Hm, in what context does failing to serve half your population characterize being great at your job? Not that I'm bitter.) rarely shows up in my pop quiz nightmares these days, and when he does, I'm prepared. Why?

As detailed in The Buffyverse and Incidental Exposure in the Framing Science section of Science Blogs, I, like millions of other people, have unexpectedly found myself learning about science through entertainment. Popular television shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, House and Numb3rs cover a wide array of science-related topics. Unfortunately, many of these shows oversimplify the science they contain. This is hardly surprising: the main point of Law & Order is not, after all, to help me understand the complexities of DNA testing or the issues coming into play in recent controversy over the reliability of fingerprints.

From The Buffyverse and Incidental Exposure

The challenge then is to find ways to "incidentally" expose audiences to science in places where they are not looking for it, playing on their strong entertainment-centric predispositions to guide Web surfers, channel jockeys, and book browsers back to science-rich content.

A leading model on how to do this, and turn a profit doing it, is the "Science of ______" genre of books that have sprouted up ever since the debut of Lawrence Krauss' "Physics of Star Trek." The latest in this genre is Jennifer Ouellette's The Physics of the Buffyverse

One of the challenges for us as researchers and scientists is to take advantage of people's accidental interest in scientific topics. We all know that people who weren't interested in science in school are not going to be interested in learning about science in a setting that's like school. But what if I can learn about science in the context of a surprisingly great TV show? And once I'm learning about The Physics of Star Trek, maybe I'll find physics, in general, more accessible and interesting. Before I know it, I'll be reading books about science for recreation, because it turns out that science is cool and fun and interesting.

If only I'd known this in high school, I'd know so much more, now! But better late than never.


That's one of the reasons I love Good Eats on the Food Network. He doesn't just teach cooking, but also explains why he's doing certain things and the science behind it. So you actually learn things that can be applied elsewhere in the kitchen as opposed to just learning rote recipes.

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