Brain Reel #22

Science fraud, responsibility of 'futurists', and who should I send ARCs to?

Hey you lot,

Long time no speak! Hope everyone’s had a cracking last few months :)

It’s been crazy busy with travelling and family stuff for the last wee while, but I’ve been missing chatting to you lot, so much so, that I’m going to give the whole weekly newsletter a shot to see if that might keep me a little more disciplined..!

(/see you in 3 months again haha…)

In all seriousness, this wee newsletter is dead special to me - I love hearing from you guys with each edition going out, and it’s so nice to write without being edited (despite the spelling mistakes…) So I’m excited to prioritise this a bit more, and stop putting it behind the paid client work which doesn’t quite fulfil me in the same way.

With that, shall we?

🔬 Science Reel 🔬

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot recently on science fraud - I had a piece in The Times a few weeks ago (online version on Raconteur here), and on Wednesday, my profile on the incredible ‘Sherlock Holmes of Science’ Elisabeth Bik publishes on Medium’s science outlet OneZero.

Science fraud is totally fascinating. Instead of trying to trick a system to steal money, like most other forms of fraud, most science fraud is to gain prestige. Yes that might eventually lead to money, but predominantly it’s about getting your name and ‘your’ work published in the most prestigious journals. For those not in academia, it’s the equivalent of a journalist cheating their way into the New York Times or The Guardian ‘just to get the name’.

It’s the strange incentive structures that exist within academia that make it so fascinating to me. Most folk think I like writing about science because new discoveries are cool - and yes there’s an element of that - but mainly it’s because I think the whole system of research, taking inventions to market, and all the bits in between is completely bonkers.

There’s the guy who got caught rejecting papers he was peer reviewing, ensuring the didn’t get published in the journals he was assessing for, who then went off and published them under his own name elsewhere. There’s the woman who edited the images of Pfizer cancer research and published the results with regards to new drugs being created. Like, science crime is completely mad. I don’t understand why more folk don’t follow it..!

Speaking of which, a few places to keep tabs if I’ve convinced you to get involved:

📖 Book Reel 📖

As some of you know, I started a wee YouTube series on my book publishing / writing journey!! I’ve posted 4 episodes so far covering agents, publishers, first drafts, research planning and all sorts, and I’d *love* it if you’d give my channel a wee subscribe :)

Quick update on where we’re at with Smoke & Mirrors:

  • I have the first cover options now!! We’re doing second versions of a few of the ones the designer mocked up, but in short, I’m super happy with how they’re looking! Hopefully will get to reveal it publicly soon…

  • We’re into the proofreading stage with the manuscript - so I’m waiting for the publisher to send me a physical proof that I’ve to go through WITH A PEN and try to find mistakes. I have *the worst* attention to detail, so, fortunately, a professional proofreader will also be doing this simultaneously.

  • Next will be sending out ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) - this is for people who might write reviews of the books in big media outlets, as well as well-known people who might provide a quote for the front / back cover. Any suggestions of people I should send ARCs to? Hit reply :)

What’s happening with book number 2:

  • I’m heading to lovely Devon in December to work on the proposal for this eeek! 3 days at Urban Writer’s Retreat, and my plan is to get the intro to the proposal (essentially the intro to the book, outlining what it’s about, why it needs written, and why I’m right to write it), the chapter outlines (bullet points on what’s in each one, and the order), and the market comps (similar books / authors), all complete ready for my agent to tell me whether or not we think we can sell it…

(Pre-order links for ‘Smoke & Mirrors: How Hype Obscures the Future and How to See Past It’ for your bookstore of choice: Amazon or Foyles or Waterstones, or Blackwells or Wordery or Book Depository..!)

🧐 Musing Reel 🧐

I’ve been thinking a lot about the responsibility of futurists - ‘futurists’ meaning anyone who writes or speaks about the future (journalists, scientists, public intellectuals, VCs on Twitter, you name it) - and how that links back to the work I do.

(Note: I absolutely detest the term ‘futurist’ and do not identify with it at all, but couldn’t think of another catch-all term right now…)

‘Smoke & Mirrors’ has been a long project, but I’m conscious that by publishing it in April and then moving onto the next thing (whilst promoting the ideas presented in the book), I won’t really get to build upon all those months of research and interviews and thinking. It feels like a shallow way to do things: write a book, put it out into the world, get more Twitter followers, move on.

I didn’t write the book so I could ‘have written a book’ - I wrote it because I genuinely think that if more people feel empowered to critically think in areas they don’t feel expert in, hype wouldn’t have such a powerful (detrimental) role and, ultimately, the world would be a better place.

My book isn’t going to change that alone, so my recent musings have been centred around what I can do (AFTER the book is out and I have some TIME) to keep that wee mission alive. Maybe a research project, maybe more writing on that specific theme, maybe teaching, maybe working with an organisation that already does that - who knows.

Just putting the musing out there, I guess…

📌 Tip Reel 📌

(If you’re not already following me on Instagram, I write some more fleshed-out book reviews on there if you fancy that kind of a thing (amongst the regular freelance / travel / London photos that is!) - give them a wee look here)

Books I’m reading right now:

  • A Field Guide to Getting Lost (In this investigation into loss, losing and being lost, Rebecca Solnit explores the challenges of living with uncertainty. A Field Guide to Getting Lost takes in subjects as eclectic as memory and mapmaking, Hitchcock movies and Renaissance painting.)

  • Queens of the Kingdom (The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most mysterious and secretive societies in modern times and the lives of the women living there is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all. What do the women of Saudi Arabia really think about their lives?)

  • Born to be Posthumous (Based on newly uncovered correspondence and interviews with personalities as diverse as John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and Anna Sui, Born to be Posthumous draws back the curtain on the eccentric genius and mysterious life of Edward Gorey.)

The Netflix documentary ‘Tell Me Who I Am’ is incredible. It’s slow and quiet and beautiful - about twin brothers, one of whom lost his memory at 18, and the other helps fill it back in…but holds back one big family secret in the process. It’s stunning. Go watch.

I stumbled upon this podcast called ‘Our Opinions Are Correct’ with 2 hosts - one a science fiction writer who loves science, one a science journalist who writes science fiction - and their episode on the history of Afrofuturism. It got me thinking and rethinking and pondering and more.

➡️ Next Reel ➡️

✍️ Work Reel ✍️

Find me elsewhere on TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoodreadsInstagramMedium, or through my website.

Until next time,
Gemma 🚀

Gemma Milne is a Science & Tech Writer, currently writing a book about hype and idealism in science and tech, is Co-Founder of Science: Disrupt, and loves a bit of public speaking.