Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Surveying “The Giant’s Shoulders”

Posted by Darin Hayton on 08/03 at 10:33 PM

The question of a popular audience for the history of science (as distinct from science writing) continues to occupy my mind. In particular, I have wondered about the size and scope of the popular audience for articles and books on history of science topics (there seems to be little doubt that there is such an audience) and more importantly why aren’t historians of science writing for that audience. During a recent trip I came across a short article, written fifteen years ago, raising some of the same issues. In the History of Science Society Newsletter E. Knoll urged historians of science to write popular books. She stated unambiguously: “There is an audience. There is a market. And there is a need.” Knoll should know: she was at the time an editor at W.H. Freeman and Company, “the book arm of Scientific American.” Today her her “plea” seems as relevant as it was fifteen yeas ago.

Thinking about history of science (and related genres) I began to wonder about the history of science blog carnival over the past two years. Although each carnival has been posted at The Giant’s Shoulders (and conveniently listed in the sidebar), I thought it might be nice to draw attention to them all, in some collective way, and might be interesting to look at the blogs and authors who had contributed to the carnival. I’m not sure what conclusions can be drawn, but I think it’s safe to say that historians of science are in the minority. That is not to say that there hasn’t been a nice range of carnival hosts nor that the authors of those blogs don’t write interesting and informative posts, many of which are related to the history of science. But most of the blogs and their authors seem to be scientists of different stripes (e.g., physicists, mathematicians, biologists) and science writers.

I suppose the next step would be to classify the posts to get an idea of the relative popularity of different kinds of posts. For example, are history of science posts more or less common than science writing or science communication posts? Do certain subjects, e.g., Darwin, religion vs. science, physics, seem more popular than others? Extra credit for anybody who actually does that analysis.

Beyond that, it also seems safe to say that most of us who have hosted the carnival exercise very little creativity when it comes to the title. So it goes.

Blogs that have hosted the carnival, in no particular order:

Tags: history of science blog carnival, journalism, popular audience, popularization