QB-dinosaur wrote:I do think the physics packet is well written. You don't have to be a physics major to answer questions. And it is not afraid to ask "history of science" questions. I never understand how the science majors in quizbowl killed off the HOS questions and keep writing author-biography questions as "literature."
I haven't had the pleasure yet of playing on the packets from TTGT11, but I hope to rectify this soon. In the meantime, I think Willie's comments here are of general interest, so I'll go ahead and reply without having read the physics packet.
First, I agree with Willie that a physics theme packet should not be written so that only a physics major can answer the questions (except at some hypothetical tournament where the field consists entirely of physics majors). Second, I look forward to hearing a tossup on caloric theory by the courageous packet authors.
I think there may be some confusion or disagreement as to what constitutes a science history or science biography question vs. what constitutes a science question where the answer is a person.
To my mind, a science history question is a question on some scientific concept or theory that had some relevance at some time, but is no longer accepted. This covers things like phlogiston theory, which does not get covered in a typical science course, things like ether theory, which typically get at least passing mention in some courses, and things like Newtonian mechanics, which get covered at great length in basic courses. I have no beef with questions on "supplanted science" of the Newtonian mechanics variety--it's still useful and relevant to many people today, students learn about it all the time, it makes for fine science history questions. Questions on things like ether theory can be fine, if the actual topic is something relevant or useful (e.g., the Michelson-Morley experiment, or the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contraction), but there's plenty of material in there that's of questionable historical interest and zero scientific interest, which makes for bad science history questions. I don't think things like phrenology and mesmerism should be classified as science in any way (unless they had more influence on the course of science than I realize); people can still write questions on these things, but they should go under general knowledge or your choice or something.
To my mind, a science biography question is a question consisting mostly or entirely of biographical clues about some scientist. These questions are often very crappy, with really boring and probably useless clues (e.g., "he was the 6th of 8 children, his mother was a housewife, his father didn't earn much at his job, this guy liked skiing, his wife didn't like skiing..."). If someone goes out and reads a biography of, say, Feynman, and feels inspired to write a Feynman tossup full of interesting biographical clues that don't really have anything to do with Feynman's scientific work, I think that's fine, but I don't think it should count as science, or the amount of such questions should be severely restricted.
A science question where the answer happens to be a person is exactly what it sounds like. I think a lot of people have the mistaken idea that any tossup where the answer is a person is automatically "___ biography" or "___ history," with the blank filled by that person's field of work. If I write a tossup on Coulomb's law, then go through and change each instance of "this law (or equation or relation or whatever)" with "this man's namesake (or eponymous) law (or equation or relation or whatever)," change whatever else may need changing for grammar's sake, and change the answer line from Coulomb's law to Coulomb, I have the same tossup for all practical purposes. Whether I write such a tossup with an answer of Coulomb's law or Coulomb depends on what clues I decide to use--if I pick up enough clues on Coulomb's scientific work unrelated to the law, I'll write it on Coulomb, since that will be less awkward; if most or all of my clues are specifically about Coulomb's law, I'll write it with that answer, since that will be less awkward.
By analogy, my thinking on literature questions with an author as the answer is that such questions where the clues are all taken from the author's literary output (e.g., descriptions of their works, reactions by other authors and critics, names of characters, titles of their works) count as "real literature," while any such questions full of biographical clues count as "literature biography."
Most tournament sets I've seen over the last few years have few if any true science biography questions, but I think there have been even less true literature biography questions, so I'm not sure why Willie's complaining. The EFT set, which features questions by multiple science majors, had many literature tossups on authors, but I'm pretty sure in every case the vast majority (or possibly even the entirety) of the clues were based directly on literary work, not biographical trivialities.
Do other people have other definitions of what constitutes science biography or literature biography? Are we science majors writing crappy literature/literature biography questions? Inquiring minds want to know.