Voracious reader and DPhil candidate blogs about books and scholarly life.
Mitchell Moffit and Greg Brown
AsapSCIENCE is an immensely popular YouTube channel, with over three million subscribers and over 300 million views. Its owners, Mitchell Moffit and Gregory Brown, create short (2-4 minutes), colourful videos in which they educate viewers about ‘science,’ which on this channel seems to mean ‘biology and medicine’. The videos are simple but effective: the concepts are being drawn on a whiteboard, sometimes with props added, while a voice-over provides the explanation. As with nearly all other huge internet hits – xkcd/What If? is another recent example – it was only a matter of time before the duo would publish their first book.
The book is printed in three colours, blue, black, and white. Apparently printing the entire book in full colour was too expensive. That’s unfortunate, because the colourful AsapSCIENCE videos look great, and only part of this effect is preserved in the book through this lack of colour. Still, the most important effect of the videos is preserved: reading a ‘chapter’ will not take more than a few minutes, will teach the reader on a quite specific topic or question, and will rely on images at least as much as on words.
It is curious to see what these authors consider ‘science’ to be. Is the transmission of facts, which is what this book does, really considered to be ‘science’? Many would disagree. The book does not touch upon any actual research in much more detail than with a phrase such as “Scientists have studied X.” Instead, the authors simply use the word ‘science’ as the buzzword it is so often considered to be, as in a lot of popular science it is all to common to call facts about X “the science of X.” A sample from this book: “The Science of Morning Wood,” “The Science of Lucid Dreaming,” “The Scientific Hangover Cure,” “The Science of Lying,” “The Science of Orgasms”…
Fortunately, unlike many other popular science sources these days, the authors do not rely too much on an overly sensational tone. Beyond the simplistic titles, there is always something educational to be found in each chapter. There are no threats of death or disaster in this book, and there is no risk that readers will start executing Darwin Award-winning experiments themselves. Exaggeration is the one issue the authors may be accused of: describing pins and needles as a sensation where “in the moment, nothing seems worse” is a questionable assertion indeed – especially because earlier in the book they did not manage to be conclusive about whether being kicked in the balls or giving birth is more painful. This ties in with the one big issue I have about certain sections: the book is exclusively heteronormative, as becomes most clear in the section on “The Science of Sexy,” which is written from the perspective ‘Men find this sexy in women because…’ and ‘Women find this sexy in men because…’ What a missed chance not to include other sexualities and discuss how their perspectives on ‘sexy’ shed a new light on the scientific findings discussed here.
I should mention that I had a silly struggle with this book, because the publishers sent it to me in a format that could only be read by Adobe Digital Editions, and worse, that it had a time limit on it even though the book appeared in print in 2014! The book is so image-heavy that it was almost impossible for me to read it: scrolling took too long. I would strongly recommend against buying it as an ebook: this is a nice book to have lying around on the toilet and leaf through occasionally, and I do wish the publishers had made it a little easier for their reviewers to experience the book as it should be read.
Most importantly, this book is fun and encourages readers to learn a little something every day. Some will learn more than others, sure, but this book gives more than random trivia alone.