How reading science articles helps my fiction

I read science articles and textbooks for fun. I blame my avid interest in science directly to my avid reading of Science Fiction – I discovered ‘I Robot’ by Isaac Asimov when I was eight. When I had finished reading all the Science Fiction and fantasy books in my high school library – since I went to the same high school for five years, this wasn’t as great an accomplishment as it first sounds – my lovely librarian pointed in the direction of Asimov’s popular science books.

So, I have a large collection of reference books. I’ve read some of these books multiple times, like Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer. Over the years, parasitology has inspired several of my favourite stories to write; I am a big fan of the poem by Augustus De Morgan:

Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so ad infinitum.
And the great fleas themselves, in turn, have greater fleas to go on;
While these again have greater still, and greater still, and so on

Recently, I’ve come across the concept of Survivor Bias. The best example of this was a study done of number of injuries cats presented with in veterinary surgeries, after the cats had fallen from the height of multiple storeys. Strangely, after the 9th floor, the number of injuries were less than those animals that had fallen from lower floors. Now, you might think that the added height gave the cats the opportunity to control their descent and increase their survival. What was really happening is that dead cats don’t get taken into the vet.

Now, I am inspired with the fictional possibilities of this concept. The fiddling of statistics always fascinates me … people think statistics is such a ‘hard’ science. And yet it is one of the easiest to skew the results, using things like survivor bias and sample size and where you chose to take your samples from.

I’m already rubbing my hands with glee.

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Filed under Inspiration, Science, Science Articles, Science Fiction, Short Story, The Writing Life

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