Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bookstore Sciencevangelism

Bookstores in Oklahoma look like what you would expect bookstores in Oklahoma to look like. Even the chains (ie Barnes and Noble) have row after row after row of Christian/Astrology/Natural Medicine/Diet shit, and seem to only begrudgingly allocate a column of shelves for science books (which includes DI shit).

So last Sunday morning I went to Barnes and Noble with only a slim hope of finding Craig Venters autobiography, 'A Life Decoded.' After last weeks announcement, I couldnt take it anymore. WANT. Plus I had a coupon for 25% off an item, and I always fantasize about walking into B&N to find another lost soul in the science 'section', lecturing a helpless B&N employee on why O'Learys book should not be in the 'neurology' section (yes, its there. Neat fact: it was proof-read by a lolcat.) on a Sunday morning.

Alas, the science shelf was void of human life, save a lone dude who appeared to by studying at a nearby table (and not appreciating my LOLing at 'Spiritual Brain').

BUT they did have 'Life Decoded', and it was accidentally still on holiday sale-- so I ended up getting it for like $12!! WHOO!

'A Life' also made for an unexpected opportunity at sciencevangelism:

Older fellow at the register: "Hey do you listen to NPR?"
Me: "I only listen to the radio in the car, and I dont drive much, but sometimes!"
Dude: "Well they have this segment called 'Science Friday'..."
Me: "Yeah yeah!"
Dude: "They said last week that this guy... created artificial life? Created life?"
Me: lol! "Sorta :) They recreated life, from scratch I guess you could say."
Dude: "Man... *shakes head* Its scary..."
Me: "NONONONONONO!!! Its not scary! Theyre hoping to one day figure out how to use 'artificial' bacteria to eat all this plastic were generating and how to help with global warming and alternative fuel sources-- They have the approval of the government and numerous religious organizations. This is all in a controlled environment. Its not scary, theyre trying to save the world, and this is the first step. Its a good thing!"
Dude: "Wow, what a brave new world we live in!"
I hate it when people are scared of science. Especially cool and helpful science. Like were gonna screw up the planet any worse than where we are already heading...


Oh, and an open note to WIRED: Its their goddamn science project, they can watermark whatever the hell they want in it. And, as Carl Zimmer notes, the message is fleeting anyway. When *you* build a genome, you can sign it any way you want... within the confines of the amino acid alphabet.

17 comments:

wackyvorlon said...

It seems there was a time when people were far more optimistic about science. There have been some things that didn't go well(DDT, thalidomide), and on the heels of those people have lost hope.

Of course, they ignore the polio vaccine. Insulin. Antibiotics. New materials, better materials. Two hundred years ago, the mortality rate during birth hovered around 50%. It was not uncommon for parents to have twelve children, with only three surviving to adulthood. Today, with modern medicine, mortality rates are in the single digit percentiles. Life is better because of science.

This leads me to one of my mottos: "BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY"

Wes said...

Ugh.

You're exactly right about Oklahoma bookstores looking exactly like what one would expect.

The B&N on 63rd street in Oklahoma City has an entire section of the store, multiple book cases all circled around a set of chairs and a coffee table as a reading room, devoted to "Christian Inspiration".

But science? In the far back corner of the store, a total of three book cases. And it includes such "scientific" works as Deepak Chopra's book on the "Akashic Record" and Behe's "Edge of Evolution".

The philosophy sections are often even more pathetic. At the B&N on Memorial Rd., philosophy is just two bookcases lumped in with nonsense such as new age, eastern religion, wicca and astrology.

What irks the hell out of me, though, is that despite the fact that their silly religion gets more space at B&N than any other single system of thought by a very large margin, Christians will still bitch and moan about how they're being "persecuted" and how the "militant" atheists are "driving them out of the public square".

Mister DNA said...

A few years ago I was at the Barnes & Noble in Corpus Christi, TX on a Sunday afternoon. There was a woman there asking one of the clerks for some help finding a religious book.

She told the clerk that she usually shops at such-and-such Christian bookstore, but it's closed on Sundays. Then she added, "personally, I think all stores should be closed on Sundays."

I wish I had a photograph of the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot look on that clerk's face...

wackyvorlon said...

Up until a few years ago, here in southern Ontario, Canada, stores being closed on Sunday was the law. Many stores still close on Sunday.

I've always thought it odd that this sort consider Sunday to be the religious day. Most Jewish people have their Sabbath on the Saturday.

Art said...

I think that the "Wired" article was just having a little innocent fun with Venter.

Surely, they realize that it's always been the custom of scientists to carve their names into their discoveries. It's a perk that scientists get in compensation for their lousy salaries.

Some of the giant tortoises in the Galapagos still have "Chas. Darwin, 1835" deeply inscribed into their carapaces. Jesus Gonzalez, one of the grad students who helped to uncover the so-call "Tomb of Jesus," carved his first name into one of the ossuary boxes. Dr. Joseph Gattacca, who created the HIV virus in 1965, left his surname encoded into its genome.

I could go on, but I know most of you would rather I just go away.

-- HalfMooner

CJSkeptic said...

I actually give B&N a little more credit than that. At least they've got an actual atheist literature section.

Anonymous said...

At the bookstore I frequent here in Canada, The Spiritual Brain is in the religion section. The science section also has subsections devoted specifically to biology, physics, evolution and what have you. It's pretty sweet.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

Anti-parasite Drug May Provide New Way To Attack HIV

Alexandra said...

Two hundred years ago, the mortality rate during birth hovered around 50%.

While you are correct that enormous progress has been made in maternal mortality, the rate has never been anything like fifty percent. Even in the truly bad Victorian bad old days, pre-Semmelweis, when iatrogenic puerperal fever was rampant, maternal mortality in hospitals was "only" about ten to fifteen percent. (Which is still appalling.) Outside of hospitals, or in the care of midwives the rate was more like one to three percent.

Thanks to science, in developed nations that rate now sits at about one in ten thousand, one hundred times better.

Bing said...

wackyvorlon said:

"Up until a few years ago, here in southern Ontario, Canada, stores being closed on Sunday was the law. Many stores still close on Sunday.

I once embarassed David Mainse (of 100 Huntley St. http://www.crossroads.ca/broadcas/about100b.htm ?) in a local grocery store on a Sunday. This was about the time that the province was considering legalizing Sunday shopping and I had happened to see Mainse on teevee spewing a long diatribe about "giving Sunday as a gift to G*d", "Sunday shopping is a sin" and other nonsense. And then I saw him in the cereal aisle on a Sunday afternoon with a shopping cart full of stuff.

So I said in a very loud voice. "You're David Mainse, from TV? You said on your program that shopping on a Sunday was a sin and an abomination, I saw you say that. Why are you buying groceries today if that is a sure road to hell?"

Everyone in the store heard me. He just gave me a pissed off look, went to the front, paid and left.

The word soon got around town that I had 'attacked' Mainse in a store. I was no longer a nice person, and he was, even if he was the hypocrite.

Gary said...

Hey Anonymous - Shouldn't "The Spatula Brain" be moved to the Comedy section?

J-Dog

October Mermaid said...

I don't care what anyone says. I will always have a slightly unhealthy fear of science. A childhood spent watching science fiction and horror movies has all but assured this.

Besides, how boring must life be for people who DON'T think man's hubris is going to end civilization every other week?

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S_A_Wells said...

Alexandra, it's not maternal mortality that was around 50%, it's infant mortality. For most of history, the majority of children died in their first few years.

King Aardvark said...

I saw book, and my only thought was "I want to kick Venters ass. No one should be as successful as he's being now. Let some other scientists get some discoveries." Seriously though, cool guy.