The Peril of Being Self Educated

Hello, friends!

As many of you already know, I blog about science, but I am first and foremost a science fiction writer (fingers crossed, soon to be a published science fiction writer!).

Back in 2010, I started this blog as a way to force myself to do the kind of research that I, as an aspiring Sci-Fi author, thought that I ought to be doing.  In the beginning, I really didn’t know much about science, except for some stuff I remembered learning in school.  And most of that stuff I remembered from school turned out to be wrong or, at best, only half true.

That’s one of the reasons I love being self educated.  Writing this blog has given me an opportunity to discover and correct many of the misconceptions I once had about science.  And my Sci-Fi writing has improved as a result.  I was recently looking over one of my old manuscripts.  So many silly misconceptions are on full display in that text.  Thank God that story never got published!

Another reason I love being self educated: doing deep dives on topics that I find interesting or that I think could be useful in my stories—topics like lithium mining, Troodon intelligence, or Venus’s unknown absorber.  The kinds of topics that never seem to get covered in school or that rarely get attention from the popular press.

I have, on occasion, surprised professional scientists with just how much I know about some weirdly specific topics.  And then I’ve surprised those same scientists with how much I don’t know about more ordinary, more generalized things.  That’s the peril of being self educated.  Your knowledge is splotchy, inconsistent.  You end up with these weird gaps in your knowledge, gaps that someone with a more traditional science education would not have.

And that’s why I keep blogging: because there’s still a whole lot I don’t know, and I’m sure I still have a lot of misconceptions in my head about science, and about other things too.  One thing I didn’t anticipate when I started this blog was how valuable a resource you, dear reader, would be.  You’ve asked me questions.  You’ve challenged me.  Some of you have pointed out my mistakes and suggested new avenues of research.

For that, I just want to say thank you, and please keep it up!

Next time on Planet Pailly, what if I told you Earth is not the perfect planet for life?

6 thoughts on “The Peril of Being Self Educated

  1. The blotchiness often arises from trying to learn something via Wikipedia and internet articles, and individual scientific papers in isolation. One thing that can help is reading a general book on the topic. Not a book on someone’s radical new groundbreaking theory, but a book that just summarizes the current scientific consensus as of that point. If you really want to make sure you have a good grasp, read two or three of those books from different authors. There’s an appalling amount of BS out there, and sometimes getting grounded in the basics helps tremendously.

    Of course, that doesn’t enable you to come up with your own radical new groundbreaking theory. Even if you’re well read in a subject, it’s very difficult not to make first year grad student mistakes, unless your education has been thorough enough to move past that point, which is very difficult to do unless you’ve already been a first year grad student in that field.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s great advise. I started out reading some of Isaac Asimov’s books about science. Some of the specific information is out of date, of course, but the general knowledge still gave me a good foundation to start building on.

      With astrobiology and space exploration in general, I’ve gotten a lot out of the writings of David Grinspoon and John Willis. They do slip their own opinions in there, but they also make a point of explaining alternate points of view.

      And whenever I read an author who obviously has their own agenda or their own ax to grind, like Robert Zubrin, I make a point to go find other authors who disagree.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He wrote “All These Worlds are Yours.” He’s good about talking about all the big maybes of astrobiology, but then reminding you that NASA only has so much money. So the real challenge, according to him, is evaluating which big maybe is the best thing to put money into.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, this is embarrassing. I went to look at the Amazon entry for that book, and apparently I already own it. So I guess I have heard of him. But I don’t think I’ve read it. I really need to work my backlist.

        Liked by 1 person

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