What should I ask Mary Roach?

by on August 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm in Books, Food and Drink, History, Medicine, Philosophy, Science, Travel | Permalink

I will be doing a Conversation with Tyler with her.  On the off chance you don’t already know, here is a brief Wikipedia summary of her work:

Mary Roach is an American author, specializing in popular science and humor.[1] As of 2016, she has published seven books,: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003), Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife (2005) (published in some markets as Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife), Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008), Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void (2010), My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (2013), and Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War (2016).

But there is much more to her than that.  Here is the full Wikipedia page.  Here is her own home page.

So what should I ask?  I thank you in advance for your inspiration.

1 John August 17, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Colons: how essential are they, really?

2 msgkings August 17, 2017 at 2:21 pm

Just try going #2 without one

3 Anonymous August 17, 2017 at 8:05 pm

After seeing your and John’s comments I really thought he was talking about the organ until another comment mentioned the publisher below.

4 A clockwork orange August 17, 2017 at 9:14 pm

And along the plains of Nebraska, Augustine admired a vast, green-speckled checkerboard: the silver corn silos, the piebald cows, the dotted horses.

5 anonymous reply August 19, 2017 at 1:53 am

You are getting better at this. That being said —– Better: the horses dotted the fields (active tense). Piebald is not an effective adjective for describing what something looks like: in contemporary English, piebald serves only to (a) remind people they once read Cervantes, at least in excerpted form or (b) as a signaling word with no real meaning in itself, but which serves to, in its way, lead to unconfident laughter. I find it hard to imagine that even the best of writers could effectively use the word piebald in any context whatsoever, leaving aside phony ‘quotes’ from poor Cervantes or even poorer Spenser (Cervantes poor, wanted too much to make people laugh and did not know how to regularly and confidently do it: Spenser poor, for obvious reasons). That being said, you are getting better at this. Try and put a few more human touches in, though – for example – ***last year coming home from my 10th high school reunion, the train got confused by an excess of snowfall in a state – along the plains of some state – what was the state? oh now I remember … “and along the plains of Nebraska, et cetera …..” . Props for citing Augustine , though – wrong on a few things (like Duns on a certain subject he should have known better about from the Gospel of Luke, and Aquinas on similar subjects – sad! but not surprising), but eventually his heart was in the right place.

6 anonymous reply August 19, 2017 at 1:59 am

(unlike Duns Scotus on a certain subject Aquinas should have known better about from the Gospel of Luke). (this is simple stuff – Scotus was right, Aquinas was wrong, Augustine had a lot to say but on the rare occasion where he said something Scotus would have disagreed with, Scotus was correct. Why in the world would anyone think this is important? Because God loves us.)

7 Pshrnk August 17, 2017 at 1:56 pm

May we see the ultrasounds? Please.

8 Jim in TX August 17, 2017 at 2:38 pm

What do most ordinary people know that many scientists don’t?

9 Ryan T August 17, 2017 at 2:45 pm

I often wonder how many things remain to be written about. Roach, however, seems to excel at finding novel topics. When we think that so much has already been written, are we selling the culture short of its potential to continue producing interesting writing?

10 Cullen August 17, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Ask her why the Mars book didn’t have an onomatopoeia

11 dan1111 August 18, 2017 at 7:10 am

They wanted to title it “: The Curious Science of Life in the Void” to reflect the total silence in the vacuum of space, but then they realized that this would crash every online book seller’s website.

12 msgkings August 17, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Will never be a bigger cuck than meee

13 Ignacio August 17, 2017 at 3:03 pm

I enjoy many funny/interesting science videos on Youtube, which are quicker to produce than books (this also applies to blogs). Does she think that the consumption of popular science on such media may affect the popular science publishing industry? or how has she taken that into account when working on her books.

14 Ignacio August 17, 2017 at 3:07 pm

How does she think that her surname (“Roach”, which brings insects to mind) affected her humor and choice of topics to write about.

15 Tom T. August 18, 2017 at 12:40 am

Along those lines, if there were to be a nuclear war, would she expect to survive?

16 Axa August 17, 2017 at 3:10 pm

On space exploration. If robots work great, why sending a human to Mars is so endearing?

17 Mark Thorson August 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Has she made plans for the disposition of her body after she’s dead? What will it be?

18 Anonymous August 17, 2017 at 4:02 pm

A very MR comment.

19 Dain August 17, 2017 at 3:25 pm

I recall the product placement for Roach’s “Stiff” in an episode of Six Feet Under way back when.

20 Cory August 17, 2017 at 3:34 pm

This is a good guide so far on what not to ask

21 msgkings August 17, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Not surprised a guy who didn’t realize his handle abbreviates to “OJ” doesn’t understand branding.

22 Anonymous August 17, 2017 at 5:24 pm

I never noticed it either. I think your comment says more about you then him.

23 The other jim August 17, 2017 at 7:47 pm

Still bitter about the election?

Yes. Yes you are.

Don’t worry, it will wear off…. never.

Never seems about right.

24 Aretino August 17, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Will her next books be

Yawn: The Curious Science of Sleep and Unconciousness
Blink: The Curious Science of Vision
Beep: The Curious Engineering of Cellphones
Bleep: The Curious History of Censorship
Cork: The Curious Science of Wine

25 Chip August 17, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Is the popularization of science as a fad (ie, I Fxxxxxg Love Science) a double-edged sword in that it serves to spread knowledge, but also influences scientists to abandon nuance for emphatic, headline-grabbing announcements?

Referring specifically to climate science here, where an incredibly complex field often reaches our newspapers as apocalyptic predictions.

26 dearieme August 17, 2017 at 4:27 pm


27 Axa August 18, 2017 at 3:41 am

Scientific articles are ok, journalists are the ones that use apocalyptic headlines.

28 John Mansfield August 17, 2017 at 4:26 pm

I would be curious about her positioning her science writing in the juvenile, gross-out corner. Is it just the direction her tastes run? Did she see less competition or more demand there and make a business choice? Does she ever miss the forsaken decorum? And even if it is good marketing, what is the cost of targeting readers’ baser tastes?

29 Brian Boglitz August 17, 2017 at 5:37 pm

What about her background or personality makes her enjoy researching and writing about “gross” topics?

30 Dain August 17, 2017 at 4:50 pm

What a dickish thing to say.

31 Ray Lopez August 17, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Ask her if she was inspired by the former WaPo science writer (back in the 1980s) Malcom Gladwell. Or, even earlier back, by John McPhee.

32 Ray Lopez August 17, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Follow up question: any relation to Stephen S. Roach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_S._Roach) or mood musician Steve Roach (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Roach_(musician))?

33 Ray Lopez August 17, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Bonus trivia: a roach is a small UK fish as well (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_roach)

34 John August 18, 2017 at 12:27 am

It is also a type of cigarette.

35 Bill Walker August 17, 2017 at 5:31 pm

Ask her to do a book on anti-aging therapies, especially telomerase activation. (And to figure out why the FDA doesn’t have an anti-agathic approval category).

36 Pete M August 17, 2017 at 5:46 pm

I read Bonk and highly recommend it — humorous, entertaining, and educational. I’d like you to ask her if she follows any of the climate skeptics and if so what she thinks of their arguments.

37 Andrea August 17, 2017 at 7:20 pm

I would second the suggestion of a book on anti-aging therapies, or maybe the related topic of beauty treatments (the various weird and gross things people will do to look better)! I would ask her what ideas she has seriously considered and rejected — was there anything too gross for her? I would be interested in what kind of science background she has
And what thoughts she has about getting girls into STEM subjects. Would she consider writing YA books (or younger)?

38 Travis August 17, 2017 at 7:50 pm

Ask her if George Mason University should be renamed because Mason owned slaves.

39 zztop August 19, 2017 at 10:57 am

“Massa Mason U”

40 Mark Thorson August 17, 2017 at 9:01 pm

Ask her if she’s going to write anything about cryonics, and what is her opinion about the cryonics movement? It seems to be in line with some of her earlier work.

41 Wanda August 17, 2017 at 9:52 pm

Would the effect of somehow counting and quantifying unpaid labor, traditionally thought of as “women’s work,” as part of the GDP raise the status of women, foster equality, liberate men, also raise the status of women in third world / developing countries by forcing them to adopt new GDP paradigm? What is the “science of unpaid labor?”

42 Pearl Y August 17, 2017 at 10:32 pm

1. Do you ever leave out some of the truth to make a better story?

2. Do you write the content and then make it funny, or is making it funny part of writing it in the first place?

What makes Roach’s writing so appealing to me is the honesty of the autobiographical content – same as Knausgaard, same as Ferrante. And then she’s just so cool, someone you want to be around and suck energy from.

43 Raghu Parthasarathy August 18, 2017 at 2:54 am

Roach’s book involve a lot of exploration of how science is actually done, not just a description of the “answer” at the end. That’s one of the things I think is great about her work — in addition to the fascinating subjects and great style — and it’s something that’s very rare in popular science writing, especially of the awful “IFL Science” type. Is this attention to the process of science “intentional,” or is it a consequence of her unusual subjects, or something else?

44 JFA August 18, 2017 at 8:32 am

I have only read Stiff. It was quite enjoyable, but the one thing that it lacked was a description of how the bodies get allocated. If someone “leaves their body to science”, who decides where science is for that particular body? What does that market look like?

45 Kyle M August 26, 2017 at 11:19 am

Some of the best parts of the books are her observations of the scientists, not just the science itself. What has she observed of scientists that sets them apart from other fields or jobs?

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