Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is there a CSI effect? Can you use it to sell novels?

Forensic scientists think there is a “CSI effect.” They observe jurors and reporters are disappointed when real forensic scientists aren’t as good or as fast as Catherine Willows (CSI), Tempe Brennan (Bones), and Abby Sciuto (NCIS). For example, jurors became skeptical about an expert witness’s competence because he didn’t retrieve fingerprints from a rock at the murder scene. And at least one biology professor reports several of her students indicated TV shows influenced their choice of biology as a major.

Does that mean readers are becoming more interested in realistic science in their fiction? First off, I should define realistic. Most active research and clinical labs are much more crowded, and waiting times for analyses are much longer than those shown on TV. And surprise, the most of the men and women don’t have perfect hair.

In 2013, at least fifteen successful TV shows featured science, medicine or technology. That's unprecedented and suggests a large segment of Americans are receptive to realistic science adding “color” to their fiction.

Does this interest in “scientific color” on TV show relate to scientific literacy?
Scientific literacy is not just the memorization of facts, but also the conceptual understanding of how answers can be found by an organized approach to gathering data, formulating hypotheses, and testing them.

Surveys indicate American students don’t understand science as well as students in Finland, China, Australia, and Canada. We’re ranked around 30th in several surveys, but many question the validity of the surveys.

I don’t think anyone has proven that the popularity of TV shows with “scientific color” reflects increased scientific literacy among Americans, but I don’t have access to demographic data on TV audiences.

Does scientific literacy matter?
Federal agencies, such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), and various organizations (National Academy of Sciences and AAAS) think scientific literacy matters. Why? They believe that if the American electorate understands the basics of science, discussions on vaccines, climate change, and genetically modified crops will be elevated from an emotional level to a thoughtful level. Wiser decisions will be made. They also know that advanced knowledge of science and technology is a key to many high-paying jobs in medicine, drug development, computer technology, engineering, etc.

Could adding realistic science in your next novel attract readers?
I don’t know, but a growing number of writers are now calling their novels “science in fiction” rather than science fiction. I’m one of them. My three medical thriller/mysteries are Coming Flu, Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, and Ignore the Pain. My fourth novel Malignancy should be out this fall.

P.S. Why do I think this blog will be less popular than my last guest blog on adding romance to your novels?