Eureka! Discovering Your Inner Scientist

I sent off the complete draft of the book-in-progress yesterday, somewhere between 12 and 36 hours ahead of my contractual deadline. Which I suppose makes it a book-in-process now, maybe. That process may still include re-writes, though, so my work probably isn't done yet.

The final draft, according to Word anyway, comes to 253 pages (space-and-a-half) and 96,807 words. I don't remember the word count from the original contract, but this is more than that. Which is pretty typical of my writing, really.

Because I wrote it down as part of the final checks, here's the approximate table of contents. The book is broken into four sections, around the four steps of the general process of science: Looking, Thinking, Testing, and Telling. Each chapter starts with an everyday activity that employs scientific thinking, emphasizing a particular element, and is paired with a historical example of scientific discovery using a similar process. The contents listing below gives the everyday activity and the historical science; these mostly have cute/clever titles, but I'm not looking them all up for this post.

  • 1 Introduction: Your Inner Scientist
  • 11 Section 1: Looking
  • 12 Ch. 1-1: Stamp Collecting/ Darwin's Origin of Species
  • 28 Ch. 1-2: Cooking/ Luis Alvarez's scientific detective work
  • 43 Ch. 1-3: Antique hunting/ Neutrino detection
  • 56 Ch. 1-4: Where's Waldo/ Henrietta Leavitt, Jocelyn Bell, and Galaxy Zoo
  • 72 Section 2: Thinking
  • 73 Ch. 2-1: Sorting/ Mendeleev's periodic table
  • 88 Ch. 2-2: Bridge/ Vera Rubin and the discovery of dark matter
  • 104 Ch. 2-3: Mystery stories/ The appearance of dinosaurs
  • 117 Section 3: Testing
  • 119 Ch. 3-1: Crossword puzzles/ The development of quantum mechanics
  • 132 Ch. 3-2: Baking/ Precision measurement in physics
  • 149 Ch. 3-3: Head-to-head sports/ Timekeeping
  • 167 Section 4: Telling
  • 169 Ch. 4-1: Storytelling/ Quantum electrodynamics
  • 189 Ch. 4-2: Team sports/ Scientific collaboration in AMO and the LHC
  • 207 Ch. 4-3: Fantasy sports/ Basic statistics
  • 224 Ch. 4-4: Political reporting/ Statistics and uncertainty
  • Conclusion: Science Is Never Over

Most of these include a couple of few-paragraph summaries of other discoveries as well, to make clear that this stuff is more general, so all told there are 50-some historical discoveries included. I have spent a lot of time reading historical narratives about science.

Barring a complete disaster, this should be out toward the end of the year; the exact date, cover, etc. are decisions made well above my pay grade. I'll share that information as I get it. I have no concrete plans to do public appearances at this time, but as a general matter, I'm very happy to give talks wherever I'm invited. If you're looking for speakers about science-y stuff, shoot me an email, and we can almost certainly work something out.

This was much more exhausting to write than the previous books, for a whole host of reasons. The last couple of months in particular have been pretty brutal, to be honest, so my primary reaction to handing this in is less excitement than relief. Sadly, I don't really get much of a break, because classes for our Winter term start on Monday, and I have a giant pile of stupid administrative stuff that I didn't do during December because I was losing my mind over finishing the book. So don't expect all that much here right away, but we should ease back into something resembling normal blogging over the next few weeks.

And that's how I closed out 2013. I plan to spend New Year's Day playing with toys, and maybe taking SteelyKid to see a movie. Hope your old year ended well, and your new year starts out better. Unless you use a non-Gregorian calendar, in which case, have a lovely Wednesday.

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Now on to book #4... :-)

By Michael I (not verified) on 01 Jan 2014 #permalink

Congratulations, Chad. I think you've got a hit on your hands, and this has potential to go viral and have a measurable impact in terms of changing the culture and possibly changing the tone of politics.

The outline suggests a theme for the publicity campaign: "Got a hobby? You're doing science!", and a similar one for each activity you mention, e.g. "Play fantasy football? You're doing science!"

Question: why no examples from the world of activities people do primarily on screen-devices? The activities you use as examples suggest you're going for the demographic of people who are above the age of those who are constantly glued to screens. It also suggests a sequel for the younger generation, making ample references to "screen activities," and/or a sequel focused on the science behind everyday tech (lasers in DVD drives: QM, etc.). Or possibly a series of articles for the popular press along those lines, placed in venues where members of that generation will read them.

That this is an election year also gives you a chance to weave a "Ben Franklin's List" message into your public talks, in a nonpartisan way, by having good examples of people in public office from both parties who are/were working scientists, and good examples of anti-science from members of both parties.

Re. your pile of "administrative s---," that's the eternal complaint of educators, scientists, and engineers, all of whom should be provided by their employers with highly capable secretaries to do those tasks. Your admin stack should consist of reading one-paragraph summaries of each document you have to sign, signing it, and thanking your sec for taking care of it. (While we're at it, how 'bout a new law, limiting the quantity of admin work in organizations to, at maximum, one full-time admin position for every educator/scientist/eng.?;-)

In fact, the very first example in the book, page one paragraph one, is Angry Birds. It works nicely as an encapsulation of the overall process.

I don't have other video games in there because I'm not a gamer-- Super Tecmo Bowl pretty much maxed out my videogame abilities back in 1992. I tried to keep this to activities that I have at least some personal knowledge of.

Science requires objective qualification of the few. Social activism requires subjective disqualification of the many. As murderous Rome was followed by 1000 years of European-purifying penury, so science must be ended in the name of compulsory degradative egalitarianism.

Ignorance is a form of knowing things, as is faith. Personal accomplishment steals from the deserving. Knowledge and understanding mock diversity. Reality is a peer vote. Fanfare not even the common man but LGBT, LGBTI, LGBTQQ, MSGI, GSD, SGL, GLBTA, GSM, MSM, FABGLITTER, LGBTQ+, and especially unknown acronyms.