Fantastic fake science books and where to find them
January 21, 2008 9:08 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for fake science books, or humoristic books in the style of a science book. Examples: the Haggis-on-Whey books, or J.K. Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them".

Disclaimer: It's for a tentative "humor" section of a fake course manual I'm supposed to write for a not-for-credit teaching course. My chosen course would be "science and pop culture", and I don't want to do the whole thing about movies and tv so I'm curious if there are enough of these parody books to warrant one or two proposed lecture hours on humor/comedy. The take home message would be: people have to be familiar with the way in which science is usually presented to be able to enjoy these kinds of books.
posted by easternblot to Science & Nature (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
It's a short story, or rather a fake paper, not a whole book, but there's Isaac Asimov's "The Endochronic Properties of Resublimated Thiotimoline."
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:13 AM on January 21, 2008

Looking at the Wikipedia entry on Thiotimoline I see Asimov actually wrote about the stuff four times over the years.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:19 AM on January 21, 2008

posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:21 AM on January 21, 2008

There was an interesting book in which an archaeologist of the future tries to understand our civilization from an excavated motel room. I can't remember the title, regrettably, but it might trigger someone else's memory.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:30 AM on January 21, 2008

Also -- the novel Jonathan Strange and M. Norrell is presented as a history of magic, don't know if it's more fake science or fake history.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:32 AM on January 21, 2008

Wikipedia has a (short) page devoted to parody science.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:32 AM on January 21, 2008

Oh, there's the Flanimals as well.
posted by edd at 9:33 AM on January 21, 2008

Science Made Stupid is a hilarious fake overview of science.
posted by justkevin at 9:34 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's a graphic novel, but the Motel of Mysteries is written in the style of an examination of an archaeological dig - the site being a modern-era motel room, and the humor being the many ways "future" archaeologists misinterpret our artifacts.

Eric Schulman, a for-real scientist, is one of the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research (another potential source?) and wrote a humor science book called A Briefer History of Time. Bonus - you can download it as a PDF, and NSF is hosting a version as a 60-second slideshow.

Trying to remember how to get to that last book, I found this link. Mostly jokes or humor about science, but a few entries look like they might be what you're looking for. Likewise, these are mainly links to science parodies online - but might have some applicable material. Final wiki link found while searching reminded me that Science Made Stupid is sort of a classic of the genre - the link goes to a presumably author-endorsed (as author Tom Weller links to it from his website) It's out of print but easily found used.
posted by nanojath at 9:37 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by nanojath at 9:38 AM on January 21, 2008

Cully and Abrell's Moses May Have Been an Apache! is one of the funniest books I've ever read, and is full of fake-science nuggets. Plus you can get it for $0.01 on amazon!
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:40 AM on January 21, 2008

Stanislaw Lem wrote a book or two that may be in style you are looking for (though maybe a little more dry) like "Imaginary Magnitude". It's a collection of introductions to science books that don't exist (yet).
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:44 AM on January 21, 2008

There was an interesting book in which an archaeologist of the future tries to understand our civilization from an excavated motel room. I can't remember the title, regrettably, but it might trigger someone else's memory.

That'd be David Macaulay's Motel Of The Mysteries, and it's awesome.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:49 AM on January 21, 2008

"Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials" by Wayne Barlowe?

Seems to be out of print.
posted by Max Power at 10:01 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book by Terry Jones, Illustrations by Brian Froud.
posted by mumkin at 10:05 AM on January 21, 2008

It's not quiiiiiite science, but if you pick up a copy of the second volume of Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the bonus section at the back is a travel guide to the entire world, but assuming that every work of fantastical literature were true, from "The Water Babies" to Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
posted by Doctor Suarez at 10:07 AM on January 21, 2008

Peter Watt's fake powerpoint presentation on vampirism.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:11 AM on January 21, 2008

Oh, hey, that's here.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:11 AM on January 21, 2008

How to Survive a Robot Uprising sounds like what you might be looking for. The author, Daniel Wilson, is a Ph.D. student in robotics at CMU (he may have graduated by now, not sure). It has a very firm basis in real robotics and computer science, it's just extrapolated to robots that are looking eliminate inferior meatbags.

The Zombie Survival Guide is also in this vein, albeit with a bit less science and more survivalism.
posted by Nelsormensch at 10:16 AM on January 21, 2008

This isn't a book, but the British tv show Look Around You is too good not to mention.
posted by zennoshinjou at 10:17 AM on January 21, 2008

The Areas of My Expertise by the world famous real life avatar for a PC John Hodgman is worth a look. But the fictionalized facts presented there aren't limited to science.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:15 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

You guys are amazing! I just went to do some lab stuff and when I came back to look at the thread I found all this!

I also realized that if I include this in my faux course syllabus I should also devote the next fake lecture to the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus and the Sokal Affair to show how people can be gullible about fake science.

(I hope to one day be able to actually teach a real course like this, so I'm putting a little more work in my assignment than probably necessary. My course coordinator for the teaching course also teaches Physics and Society or something of that nature so I hope he can give me some actual useful feedback.)
posted by easternblot at 11:25 AM on January 21, 2008

Another thumbs up for Science Made Stupid.
posted by lekvar at 12:19 PM on January 21, 2008

Animals of the Ocean, in Particular the Giant Squid by the Haggis-on-Wheys.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:36 PM on January 21, 2008

The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades, by Harald St├╝mpke. A classic science prank that just won't go extinct.
posted by steef at 1:08 PM on January 21, 2008

The Science of Discworld books(1, 2, 3) have a mixture of real and fake science, wrapped in a fictional story.

Not quite a science book, but The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a spoof of fantasy clichés in the form of a guidebook.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:17 PM on January 21, 2008

I once read a book called 'Dragons' that explained the anatomy and lifestyle of dragons and why they died out, all as though it were true. (Helpful name, I know! But it was a great book).
posted by jacalata at 1:31 PM on January 21, 2008

I can't believe I forgot the Discworld science books. I own two of them!
And the mention of the dragon book triggered a memory: Gnomes is something like that about gnomes. My mom has it and I've read it a million times but somehow forgot about that as well.
posted by easternblot at 1:38 PM on January 21, 2008

Related to the Gnomes book mentioned by easternblot, Brian Froud has illustrated and written/co-written* a number of "scholarly" books on fairies.

*with Terry Gilliam
posted by lekvar at 2:58 PM on January 21, 2008

Tom Weller followed up Science Made Stupid with Culture Made Stupid (sample). They make a lovely pair.
posted by flabdablet at 3:38 PM on January 21, 2008

For the younger set, Earthlets as Explained by Professor Xargle and the whole Professor Xargle series.
posted by tamitang at 5:48 PM on January 21, 2008

Marked as best the things I will most likely use, but I like all the suggestions I've had time to check out so far!
I've never read Asimov, but I'm intrigued by his parody of a chemical journal paper, and my library has a book that supposedly contains it, so I'll look for that.
Science Made Stupid and A Briefer History of Time are perfect examples of things that are only funny because they assume a certain background knowledge of basic scientific concepts to get the joke.

A couple of suggestions (including some of my own) are actually descriptions of fictional science in an existing fictional world (think: Discworld, Harry Potter), which I might want to separate from stand-alone fictional science.
posted by easternblot at 7:51 AM on January 22, 2008

The Tom Weller books are great.

See here for a bit on two fake science journals: the Journal of Irreproducible Results and the Annals of Improbable Research. I believe both have book collections, but also come in fake-journal form, monthly/quarterly.

After Man is an illustrated field guide of fake animals from the future. Very nice; there have been other similar books since it was published.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:19 PM on January 22, 2008

Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, I haven't actually read the Spiderwick series, but this book was given to me on the strength of it's wonderful illustrations.
posted by kosher_jenny at 10:26 PM on January 22, 2008

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