The World’s Fair is a new blog by David Ng (editor of the SCQ), and Benjamin Cohen (McSweeney’s Annals of Science). Here are the two of them talking about it:

DN: Hey, my name is Dave Ng.

BRC: I’m Benjamin Cohen. Dave, what’s your story? You’re Canadian right? So that’s this whole other thing, I take it.

DN: Yes, I am Canadian, living in Vancouver actually and based at the University of British Columbia. I was born in England though, which you can sometimes hear when I talk (especially when I say the words water and four). I guess that makes me a chimera of sorts, which kind of works because I’m essentially a Faculty member who knows a thing or two about molecular genetics. You’re at the University of Virginia right? Do folks call you Benjamin or Ben?

BRC: In fact they call me Ben, but they always write Benjamin. So I don’t know what we would do in the blog world. And it’s true, I’m at UVA. I’m calling myself an STS Environmental Historian. Have one of those Science and Technology Studies PhDs, and I’m a professor at UVA in the Science, Technology, and Society Department. Slight change in naming convention, but STS either way. My primary interest is environmental studies — history, literature, philosophy, ethics, etc. I’ll leave it there for the moment, knowing full well that such an explanation explains little. But not in the way that saying “molecular genetics” explains little. People might not know how to do it, but they know basically at least what molecular genetics *is*. The caliper measurement of genes in moles. But defining STS and also saying how to do it? We’ll let that linger for a bit.

DN: You know, it’s interesting, but I actually find that most folk think they know what molecular genetics is, or at the very least have a pretty ardent opinion about it. It’s not like talking about dinosaurs or the latest iPod. It’s kind of why science education is another one of my current hats.

BRC: …

DN: Of course. Never really got the hat thing myself. I gather that’s a historical connotation… I look terrible in hats.

BRC: I saw a guy wearing a fedora the other day. I think he was serious. Anyway, I’m a conflicted soul always, almost by design, I’m starting to think. But not in a bad way. Which means with the whole “hats” thing, I too am involved in an array of topics. My degree is interdisciplinary, so there’s that, first off. It already contains about 4 or 5 disciplines in it. I was also a chemical engineer for a time, working in polymer processing research. I have a degree in History too. Maybe not surprisingly then, given my various backgrounds, when I ditched corporate dismality (I just made that word up, and Word’s squiggle-red nix on the spell check is only confirming it for me) to head to grad school, I did a whole masters thesis on the science-humanities two cultures issues that came up with C.P. Snow in the late 1950s, comparing that whole debate to another pseudo-debate that popped up in the ’90s, called the Science Wars. All of this is to say, I’m very fascinated by the rise of science and engineering education – technical education, maybe – but also the more basic matter of ways of knowing the world. And all of that is to say that I’m far more interested in knowing where molecular genetics came from and why we do it than necessarily how it operates on a daily basis. As if it’s an it.

DN: That’s cool. Because, I think I would on the other end of the spectrum. Very much brought up in the physical sciences, still currently in the cutting edge side of things, in a field that is also very much cutting from a variety of angles. And (get this), I happen to be in a somewhat unique academic position where I can explore elements that are less “scientific” in nature, dabble in things that are otherwise scary and surreal to me like history, philosophy, literature, all in an effort to become a better science communicator. Ben, it’s almost like we’re Yin and Yang, Donnie and Marie…

BRC: Billy and Budd…tooth and nail…shock and awe…

DN: … or how’s about Jake and Elwood? (maybe, we should get Fedoras after all). You know, we do both dabble in the science writing game.

DN: … or how’s about Jake and Elwood? (maybe, we should get Fedoras after all). You know, we do both dabble in the science writing game.

BRC: This is true, though there you go bringing this back to a relevant center, keeping this sensical/as opposed to nonsensical…while I’m aching to spiral away chaotically…and you mean “science writing” like writing science? Scientists do that, I’m told. You’re one of them. Or science writing like writing about science? Science journalists do that, right? Of course you do that too. Or science writing like science fiction? Kurt Vonnegut has dabbled with that, they say. And others, right? I’ve heard of Asimov. Or science writing like telling stories that are maybe fact-based, in part, but literary, about science? True, also true. You again? T.C Boyle has boatloads of good stuff along those lines. And Richard Powers. And that Harvard freshman girl who plagiarized. Except that has nothing to do with this, sorry. Unless you say that’s just like the Korean guy with his faked cloning research. Which we won’t say. And there’s this whole field of science communication – studying how science is written and communicated – they even have a peer-reviewed journal. How science-ish. Plus science rhetoric, which may or may not be the same thing. I don’t think I’m helping. Back to the point at hand: If we want to be high-brow, which is also maybe lame, we could say “wave and particle” with your Donnie and Marie…

DN: …

BRC: I know, it’s exciting. We’re breaking new ground, Dave. Say it loud.

DN: O.K. Ben. Game on. I’m all for shouting. Maybe even sing a little, or at least hum enthusiastically. This arts plus sciences and what does it all mean sort of thing does seem like an interesting tact to follow. There’s certainly a lot of potential that can be covered. And maybe we can even get the few readers we attract to participate, since it looks like they can leave comments and the like. Wouldn’t it be lovely if one of the things this blog does is be proactive in starting a kind of literary science writing consortium? You know, where comments can build into an exercise of writing science, talking science, venting science, interpretative dancing science, puppeteering science… Whoa – now, I’m on a tangent.

BRC: Is it interesting, do you think, that we started into a science-like taxonomy thing here? You know, we’re charting out all these variants of “science writing” like Linnaeus scoping out nomenclature for plants and animals in Sweden. Or, is it more interesting that we’re doing nothing of the sort but that thought came to me anyway? Or is it interesting that people organize thoughts, and that science organizes, and so, big deal, it’s nothing to waste precious precious blog space about? Or, are none of these possibilities interesting and some of those fabled and potential future “readers” you refer to below will point that out real quick-like? I’m open to any and all.

So do we edit these comments? Because I just re-read this one and I’m not sure I follow myself.

DN: I guess.

BRC: …

DN: …

BRC: Maybe should we get a pizza or something? I have a coupon.

DN: I could eat. They deliver?

(If you’re still confused, then maybe you should just visit the site)