Check out my EXCLUSIVE* Tumblr Science interview with Phil Edwards, the man behind Fake Science!
You’ve loved the Fake Science Tumblr for years (you have, haven’t you?) and now you can buy the book! Phil has a new tome coming out tomorrow called Fake Science 101, a textbook full of the not-so-factually sound science you’ve grown to love. You can order it on Amazon here.
I got the chance to ask Phil a few real questions about what it’s like to be a fake scientist, how fake science can make you smarter, and which zombie scientist he’d like to meet. Check it out:
Why Fake Science instead of real science? Do you hate real science?
I had a running joke with a friend: whenever we encountered something we didn’t understand, we just said “some sort of science must be involved” and moved on. It made me think about how few things I understand at a deep level, so I vowed to dedicate my life to Photoshopping puppies tied to missiles.
What made you start Fake Science? Did you see a void you wanted to fill online?
I didn’t specifically set out to fill a science-shaped hole, but it happened. In retrospect, I think the scientific theme gave me the structure to keep the site going for two years and develop a textbook.
Take us through the work to make one post. Do you do all the artwork or did you uncover a lost WWII science bunker somewhere? Do you have any artistic inspirations?
For the site, it depends on the post. I usually mash-up a mix of altered photos, scans of old books, and my own graphs, overlaid with aged textures. I really like working with look of stuff from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and acquiring new typefaces from the era. A real inspiration are the “Ladybird” books. Look them up if you can. Though I don’t modify their images on the site anymore—they are an active company—they have a great look to draw from.
For the book, Fake Science 101, I had to develop a new aesthetic. It’s modern but timeless. I modified stock photos, made new ones, and included my own illustrations. The rigors of print quality, from resolution to color, made it a much more complex task than the site, but hopefully more rewarding. The slime-covered babies look even more real!
Do you think your humor and artwork help people get in touch with real science? How have people responded? Do people use Fake Science to teach real science principles?
I know for a fact they do! I repeatedly get requests from teachers, from the elementary school to college level, for reproductions of my images. It’s definitely a good way to teach because I think that even if students don’t find the fake facts aren’t funny, they always inspire a curiosity about the truth.
Honestly, I think that Fake Science 101 would be a great way to teach a science class. It covers Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, Physics, and science basics. I had to structure it as if I were actually teach science, so I think it’s pedagogically sound (except, of course, for all the facts).
Can “real science” learn anything from Fake Science? Is this an effective means of science communication or does it stop with just being a joke?
The last chapter of Fake Science 101 gets into the ways “real science” interacts with the larger world. At its best, science is the practice of constant skepticism and curiosity. At its worst, it’s yelling “SCIENCE” and barring further discussion. Of course, most real scientists encourage research, questions, and a deeper knowledge (I’m not just saying this to suck up—it has been true in my experience).
However, many non-scientists are content to act on a superficial knowledge of the data’s strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, Fake Science reminds them that real science requires facts, not just a “sense” of authority. Of course, this weighty subject is addressed in the book by showing a scientist who isn’t wearing any pants.
Who is the Fake Scientist? Care to let us peek behind the curtain?
Of course, officially, I’m the transcriptionist for a lab of over 11,000 employees with offices around the world.
Less officially, I’m a writer in Chicago who enjoys reading, improving at Photoshop, and the occasional pop science book. My science-book tastes probably skew a little lighter than most scientists, but I love reading Oliver Sacks or Dava Sobel, and I just finished Rebecca Skloot’s Henrietta Lacks book. My favorite humor books in the “fake” genre—from which I drew inspiration for Fake Science 101—are probably Stephen Colbert’s “I Am America And So Can You” and The Onion’s “Our Dumb Century.”
What are your favorite Fake Science lessons ever?
One of the nice things about the site and the book is that I can mix smart and dumb jokes. So my tastes don’t ge too oppressive. That said, my favorite posts from the site are probably:
Finally, you can meet zombie Albert Einstein, zombie Carl Sagan, or zombie Nikola Tesla … who do you choose and why?
If they’re zombies, I have to assume they’re coming to kill me. I guess I’d pick whoever was weakest. Sorry, Einstein—you may have funny hair, but I think I could take you in a fight.
*I heard this word looks good in headlines.
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