STEM Porn

Fifth Day. No gym. Air temperature 31 degF. So no constitutional, just a bit of a pedal on the stationary unicycle. (Only one wheel.)

One of few positives of pedaling is that I get to read. And think quite a bit differently than during constitutional. So this morning I thought about the matter of science books. This was fostered by an article [Link] about how good this year’s crop of science books are.

February and already bragging on the year? Seems a bit hubraic.

First of all, I want to distinguish between books of science and books about science. The former are mostly textbooks or collections of papers or lectures. The latter are popularizations written for the “public,” often by non-STEMs, such as journalists. That right there makes them suspect.

Reading a book of science is hard. It’s a learning effort. If it’s about a new method or discipline – at least to you – then you’re learning the basics or even advanced stuff. Reading a book about science is hard because you have to figure out what’s accurate and what is meaning-spoiling-simplification. But it’s not a source of learning, at least is you are a STEM.

The wonderment here is that these books about science sell at all. They are generally unsatisfactory to STEMs and discussions with my colleagues indicate that the probability a STEM will buy a popularization scales approximately as the distance of the topic from their own field and endeavors. IOW, physicists don’t read popularizations of physics. 

But the questions is, do the non-STEMs? Obviously there is a great difference in expectation between the number of copies of a trashy novel sold and the number of copies of a serious (?) non-fiction book sold. Lowered expectations. So a best selling science popularization has several orders of magnitude sold than a book of socially acceptable pornography.

Which brings us to another distinction: porn. Books of science are not pornographic, even medical textbooks. Books about science are porn because they offer readers vicarious inclusion in the lives and deeds of STEMs. This is probably why so many academics write popularizations. They are thereby porn stars of a sort; they offers readers opportunity to emulate the authors’ lives.

But I don’t think STEM porn is really very popular, and not because of iys lack of veracity. More a matter that STEMs just aren’t sexually engaging. Even with other STEMs.

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