When science really doesn’t mean science.

By Siouxsie Wiles 15/12/2010 21


I recently popped into the vast Borders bookshop on Queen Street to get myself a copy of Trick or Treatment by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh. I borrowed it from a friend a few months ago and have been meaning to buy it ever since. I first located the ‘Science’ section and learnt three things:

1. It’s located far down in the basement of the shop.

2. It’s tiny. Seriously tiny. I conclude from this that Borders thinks Kiwi’s aren’t interested in buying books about science.

3. They seem to think predicting the weather using the cycles of the moon is a science. Not only that, but perhaps of the utmost importance as a certain person’s almanac was given an entire shelf. I was so flabbergasted I had to take a photo.*

Borders 'science' section

Naturally I marched straight up to an assistant and complained. She said that all books came marked with which section they were to be placed in by Borders’ parent company Red Group Retail and suggested I take it up with them. I have emailed them via their ‘contact‘ page and urge everyone to do the same.

This whole experience left me a little depressed about the importance of science in NZ until the very next day, while strolling along Mt Eden Road, I came across the Time Out Bookstore. Imagine my delight when I saw a table overflowing with science books given pride of place at the entrance to the shop. What a gem. I promise never to buy a book from Borders again.

*I also moved a copy of Bad Science by Ben Goldacre to the middle of the display….


21 Responses to “When science really doesn’t mean science.”

  • The poor stock of (popular) science in most NZ bookshops is partly why I recommended to readers that if they are looking for the science books I mentioned in a post some time ago, that they might have more luck in the university book shops (UBS).

    If you think Borders Akl is bad, you’d be horrified at Borders Christchurch. My impression is that they reduced their science stock a couple of years ago. Sounds as if they have done the same up in Akl.

    And—yeah—some of things stuck in the science section are hardly science… sigh

  • I do most of my book purchasing on line through http://www.fishpond.co.nz and occasionally amazon.com. I tried using Whitcoulls online service but the book I ordered hasn’t turned up after 6 months and they still haven’t refunded my money so I wont be using them again (the same book ordered from fishpond turned up in less than 2 weeks!)

    “left me a little depressed about the importance of science in NZ”
    I’ve come to the conclusion that the majority of New Zealanders don’t understand or care about the importance of science, which is depressing. However, the more people who choose to highlight the importance of science, the more chance we have of changing this.

  • I was shocked to see in the “Natures Discovery Shop”…. “science”./Toy shop (please note the careful use of speechies here), that close to the door in three of them I have visited recently, there is a book stand with creationist claptrap on it. I am impressed that whoever is peddling them managed to get the stand in such a prominent position. …..it makes you wonder what the markup is on them to make them so attractive to the shop owner?? Given the “end of aisle” specials displayed in supermarkets and their associated “extras”, I would expect that similar deals are working here.

    How sad. “Nature Discovery” may no longer be the right description for this franchise.

  • ‘Time Out’ in Mt Eden is a wonderful place – the sort of bookstore I would happily put down roots in. I usually drop in when I’m visiting my sister & come away with another addition to the tottering tower by my side of the bed.
    Was the extremely laaaarge Siamese still in residence?

  • I have to agree about Borders, both Auckland and Christchurch. Most of my purchases have tended to be from UBS in Dunedin since I seem to get there a couple of times a year.

    I have to admit that I haven’t previously heard of Time Out Bookstore, but their web page is extremely interesting. I’ll be in the area this weekend, so they will definitely get a visit from me!

  • Agree with Grant about Borders in ChCh – their science section has nose-dived over the last few years after a promising start. Like Siouxsie, I’ve chided them about their weather prediction collection, pointing out that I’m quite happy for them to stock her bete noir as long as it’s shelved under “Fiction”. A less contentious but equally sad example is a book on the proof of the four colour map theorem, which Borders High Command inists should be shelved under “Geology”.

    The disconnect is by no means limited to book shops: try browing the science section on TradeMe. Typically, up to 20% of the astronomy section consists of von Daniken style books about UFOs, astrology, or alien landings. One can hardly expect TradeMe to check every book classification on their web site, but it would appear that 20% of those who use the site to sell science books don’t actually understand what science is. As usual, Piet Hein sums it up rather neatly:

    Why do bad writers win the fight?
    Why do good writers die in need?
    Because the writers who can’t write
    Are read by readers who can’t read.

  • Just aid to the general feel of woe in this thread, popped into a large book chain today and found Mr Ring’s Almanac listed as #4 in a top sellers list. I think I’ll stick to the University Bookshop from now on.

    And Ross, that chain has sold such for a long time. I’ve never been able to work out if it was part of the companies idea of what science education could be, or if they just had a deal with some American creationist group.

  • Nature Discovery, the one in Porirua at least, have been pushing creationism for many years. I remember browsing through in the mid-90s or thereabouts and finding ‘model your own dinosaur skeleton kits’ with references to evolution and millions of years twinked out on the packaging. It could be that the whole purpose of the business is to expose kids to creationism.

  • @sporky

    You have got to be kidding! That’s outrageous. I wonder what the manufacturer would think? It’s certainly something I’ll be looking out for the next time I visit a Nature Discovery store.

  • Everything which referenced geological time or evolution had been censored. I amused myself for a while scratching off the twink with my thumbnail. That was at the Porirua Mall in about 1992 or 93. Up the back of the shop was an alcove devoted to Creation magazine, the one published by Answers in Genesis.

  • I find Unity Books to be pretty good for popular science. The Auckland (High St) and Wellington (Willis St) shops have science books on quite central tables. The Auckland one had a better selection though.
    I agree about the Queen St Borders – I got lost trying to find the science section!

  • Quel horreur! My kids used to love that store when they were little; I guess I was too busy chasing after them to pay much attention to what was on the walls. Won’t be going in there with the (very much in the future!) grandkids.

  • The creationist theme at Nature’s Discoveries has always been reasonably overt, and I suspect this influences their staffing policies. On at least two occasions I have overheard snippets of staff-customer conversation suggesting that staff were happy to discuss creationism if the opportunity arose.

  • @Alison

    Unfortunately Oscar the “extremely laaaarge Siamese” is no longer in residnece at Time Out. He passed away in February 2010. However there is a significnatly smaller tonkinese named Lucinda who now roams amongst the books.

  • Borders used to be much better than they are now but were bought up by Whitcoulls a year or so back and have been gradually sinking down to their lowest common denominator level.
    Time Out is one of my favourite bookshops ever. They have a great selection and smart staff who really know their stuff. They’ll order books in for you efficiently if they don’t have them in store and are open from 9am-9pm every day. I find them a great place to go if I’m meeting someone cos you’ve got plenty to occupy you until they turn up. There’s also the superb Frasers Cafe next door with great coffee.

  • FYI: for those looking for books, plus a plug for my favorite webstore, bookdepository.com is far cheaper than NZ prices and has free delivery. I haven’t been to borders/whitcoulls in years because of their slack science selection. Although support the local store, TimeOut sounds great.