1. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    Learning Science

    Discussion in 'Research' started by vera2014, Mar 23, 2014.

    Hi Everyone,
    I have some questions. The biggest one: What's the best way to go about learning the hard sciences? My math level is probably at grade 4. I don't remember anything from high school science classes. I'm great at remembering the plots to many Star Trek episodes, and a helluva lot of novels, but not the nitty gritty technological details. I don't seem to be a details person. Where should I start? Should I take night courses in science? Do I need to subscribe to all of those cool science magazines? How do Science Fiction writers become so brilliant?

    The last question: The book The Firm was written by someone with a Law Degree (he worked 60 hours a week, I believe)--is it realistic for a retail girl like me to think like a scientist? It seems like a vast undertaking.
     
  2. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    Fly to NASA and interview everyone! :cool:
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Several scientists have written science books aimed at the average person. One of the most famous examples is Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I'm sure there are similar types of books written by chemists and biologists. So that's where I would start.
     
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  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know much about them, but you could try the Khan Academy (https://www.khanacademy.org/). It's online and it's free. It looks like it starts with pretty basic stuff and goes into college level, so you might find something that's your speed.
     
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  5. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've heard good things about that, though haven't looked at it myself.

    @vera2014 If its something free, internet based, and basic, that you're looking for, hyperphysics is a very good option.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Not sure you need a broad science education though personally I think it's a good idea, writer or not. Don't worry about the math. You need not calculate the rate of expansion to understand Big Bang.

    But when it comes to specifics in your sci-fi work, there's a wealth of information online.

    I needed a realistic interstellar transport, not the ones that use hyperdrives or tunnels through the fabric of space time. Nor did I want to use hibernation. That would have thrown off the time spans between two solar systems.

    So I searched for modern concepts which were not yet executed but for which there are plenty of scientists thinking about. I came up with a number of options from anti-matter propulsion drives to slingshotting around the solar system, not just a planet. Ten percent of the speed of light gets you across 4 light years in 40 years with very little time adjustment needed compared to the planet you left by traveling at that speed.

    But the point is, I knew very little about rocket propulsion systems but they were easy to research when I needed something for my story.
     
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  7. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    I bought and read A Brief History of Time many years ago. Unfortunately, I don't think I grasped much of it. I have no memory about anything in it. It's strange...my memory is very selective...I should be able to remember science things because I am interested in them but it's just not sticking in my memory.
     
  8. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    Wow, that looks like a great site. Thanks for the link!
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think the Khan Academy is an excellent resource for basic science. But you may have to decide what you mean by hard science. That doesn't narrow the field by much.

    Chemistry
    Physics
    Astrobiology
    Cosmology
    Geology
    Paleontology
    Biology
    Neurology
    etc, etc, etc.
     
  10. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the help. This might sound silly: I have trouble deciding if I need a story first or if I should research the gendre first. It helps to know that story can come before research.
     
  11. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    I feel like I'm shopping in Walmart but I don't know what I want to buy. :D
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    _Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties_ by Carol Deppe is the best layman-level discussion of genetics that I've seen, and also a pretty decent layman-level discussion of experiments and the scientific method. It's not specifically about either genetics or the scientific method, but I think that's part of why it works--it only teaches you what's relevant for a specific goal, and since it's about having fun with vegetables, it's fun to read.

    (Well, the earlier editions were more fun; the newer edition is more depressing and has a great deal more politics. But they're both good.)

    Chandler Burr's _The Emperor of Scent_ is about Luca Turin and his quantum theory of our sense of scent and various other scenty things he's done (including helping to cure a woman who smelled all scents as nightmarishly horrible). It doesn't set out to instruct you, but I suppose that's why I'm recommending it--I'm thinking, again, of fun-to-read books that nevertheless dip into the hard science world.

    Edited again to add: I also enjoyed A User's Guide to the Brain, by John Ratey.
     
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  13. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    A depressing, political veggie-growing book? :confused:
     
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  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, yes. Plant gene patenting, biopiracy, that sort of thing. If you want to be depressed, Google

    enola bean biopiracy

    I don't think it was covered in Carol Deppe's book, but it is an example of how vegetables can involve depressing politics. :)
     
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  15. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Rule #574: If it exists, Americans will turn it into a political debate.

    Rule #34: All things in Rule #574, by dint of existing, have a porn version.
     
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  16. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You guys must be so fun to be around. :D
     
  17. Bryan Romer
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    "Science" covers just about everything and anything. Decide what your story is generally going to be about and then pick the areas of science that you need to research. If you have trouble narrowing it down, ask in general terms in places like this. I'm sure lots of people will be happy to suggest the right fields. For most stories, you only need a vague idea of the principles and a bunch of the right "buzz words" to sound convincing.
     
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  18. vera2014
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    I could try working on the story and research together. I tend approach things in a linear way. I was thinking that I need a foundation of science in order to avoid big mistakes but most of all to be able to think up things that have never been done before. I don't want to be writing 10 drafts of the same novel because I don't know what I'm doing.
     
  19. vera2014
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    I just wanted to say: Thanks again for all the help, everyone. I've decided to write a paranormal thriller as my first novel but I'll be studying up on science because I definitely want to try that gendre someday.
     
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  20. David K. Thomasson
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    Probably not realistic. But then there are countless other things you can write about. If you're not a detail person, have little learning in mathematics and no taste for technological details, why are you even considering the hard sciences? Forget your weaknesses. Build on your strengths. Do you know what those are? If not, there's your starting point: Know thyself.
     
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  21. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    We love to turn things into political debates. :D

    I'm not much of a science person, so I'm pretty much boned in the departments of the sci-fi genre, and anyone claiming to be experts in scientific field. I'm better with history and literature, I love dissecting the motivation of various individuals and groups, asking why they did this or that and not something else. I agree with David K. Thomasson. Go with your strengths, and improve your weaknesses as much as you can on the side. Write what you know, and research what you don't as they say. Don't know human biology, yet want to have a character who is an expert on that? Research and study the hell out of that subject, ask questions, interview. Nothing pleases a biologist more than someone who is willing to learn from them and ask questions.
     
  22. chicagoliz
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    I've got to agree with David, here. I don't see how going out and taking a bunch of "science" classes is going to get you very far in terms of writing a novel. If you want to write sci-fi, surely there is some premise that you wish to start with. Really, you'd need to start with the story, and then see if some of the things you want to do are possible, even theoretically.

    Along the lines of your second point, yes, John Grisham was a lawyer. Most of his books (at least his early ones -- I only read the first few) are about lawyers. And they take place in the South. Because that's what he knows. It's not so much an issue of having the *time* to write the story, despite having a job, but rather having the ideas and desire to write it. If you really want to write a story, you will make the time, regardless of what else you have going on. I might suggest, just even as an initial practice exercise, to write a story about a woman who works in retail.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2014
  23. GingerCoffee
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    One need not take science courses to write sci-fi. But everyone should have at least a minimum background in a lot of subjects, and definitely basic science knowledge is one of those necessities. I think it's extremely useful to at least understand what the scientific process is and some basic research principles like, correlation not being causation, conclusions can't usually be drawn from single anecdotes, and one cannot draw firm conclusions from single studies with small sample sizes. These are things one needs to evaluate information one encounters in the world.
     
  24. chicagoliz
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    I totally agree with this, Ginger. But it seemed (although it was not clear) that the OP was interested in taking science courses for the purposes of being able to write a sci fi novel. So, while I think taking a science (or any academic) class is certainly useful and will enhance one's personal development, I don't see how taking a single, or even a few general science courses is going to really push one's novel-writing abilities very far.
     
  25. desert rat
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    As a working scientist I would like to offer the following. If you choose to take courses you will become increasingly specialized and detail focussed (and, dare I say, indoctrinated and lose your creativity). I suggest that you look to popular science. Check out the science section of your local library. What I suspect you need is a very general background of all (or at least many) of the sciences, not detailed information on one or two. I would suggest that you develop your ideas and post them here asking for "scientifc review" of the credibility. The learning of "science" is a large undertaking and will take some time, but if you start with some very general science books aimed at the popular audience (I would advise against Steven Hawking - very dense material; instead go with Carl Sagan) I think you will find it an enjoyable journey that will help your writing. Another reason to avoid the advanced stuff is that it is Dead Boring to read... go with the enjoyable, pop culture material. And doubt everything! Science says we can't travel faster than light and cannot time travel, but there are countless stories about that. Read science with the attitude, "yes, but what if this is wrong? What are the implications if this scientiifc truth is incorrect?"

    Hope this helps a bit....
     

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