Neurodiverse scientist's guide to life, love and relationships wins 2020 Royal Society Science Book Prize
The judges praised Dr Camilla Pang for her original and unique perspective on our experience as humans through the prism of scientific understanding.
Dr Camilla Pang has won the Royal Society Science Book Prize for her debut, Explaining Humans: What Science Can Teach Us about Life, Love and Relationships. The international prize, which is sponsored by Insight Investment, celebrates the best of popular science writing each year.
At 27, Pang is the youngest winner of the prize, and she is also the sixth woman to have won in as many years. She follows the 2019 winning title, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.
Explaining Humans is Pang's manual for living laid out in paper. In it, she connects scientific concepts with everyday social conundrums – how machine learning can help us make decisions, for example, and what proteins can reveal about our friendships.
More from Dr Camilla Pang:
- Interview with Dr Pang: "To be neurodiverse and to show it, that is actually very brave"
- Podcast Episode: How can science guide my life?
“Explaining Humans is an intelligent and charming investigation into how we understand human behaviour, while drawing on the author’s superpower of neurodivergence,” said the Chair of this year’s judging panel, Professor Anne Osbourn FRS, Group Leader at the John Innes Centre and Director of the Norwich Research Park Industrial Biotechnology Alliance.
“But it does a lot more than that. Each chapter focuses on a different facet of science and, while explaining the scientific theory in a readily accessible way, also delves into analogies of accepted social norms and how to interpret and respond to them.
“Crucially, the book also provides insights into different ways of thinking and the challenges of being neurodiverse in a ‘normal’ world. Pang may have written this book as a manual to understand a world that sometimes feels alien to her, but it also allows neurotypicals to see the world from an entirely new perspective.”
Pang’s book was chosen from a shortlist of five other titles, which included The Double X Economy: The Epic Power of Empowering Women by Oxford scholar Linda Scott and The Great Pretender: The Undercover Mission That Changed Our Understanding of Madness by journalist Susannah Cahalan.
Also on the shortlist were two previous winners; the travel writer Bill Bryson OBE for his book The Body: A Guide for Occupants, and writer and broadcast Gaia Vince for Transcendence: How Humans Evolved through Fire, Language, Beauty, and Time. Physicist Jim Al-Khalili was the six shortlisted author, for his book The World According to Physics, making 2020 the second year that he has been in the running for the prize.
Listen to podcast episodes with some of the shortlisted authors:
- Prof Linda Scott: Why is there still economic inequality between men and women?
- Bill Bryson: What should we know about how our bodies work?
- Gaia Vince: What part does culture play in our evolution?
- Everything You Wanted To Know About… Physics with Jim Al-Khalili
“This year’s shortlisted books represent carefully crafted explorations of the worlds both around and within us: the physical laws of the Universe and the search for ultimate simplicity; the innermost workings of the human body (and its ultimate demise); an instruction manual for interpreting human behaviour; the complex area of diagnosing and defining mental health; the subordination and exclusion of women in developed and developing countries around the world, and the potential for unleashing women’s economic power for the greater good, and the evolution and potential fragility of the human super-organism Homo omnis, likened to a differentiating slime mould trying to ensure its survival by escaping an unfavourable soil environment,” said Prof Osbourn.
“These books make science intriguing, accessible and exciting. Some raise awareness of the scientific process, and of our understanding that scientists are humans too. Others are a call to arms, asking us to consider our place in the Universe and what we can bring to humanity in our various ways. There is darkness, revelation and hope. There is inspiration.”
The announcement was made following a live streamed panel discussion with Professor Alice Roberts and the six shortlisted authors. As this year’s winner, Pang has received a cheque for £25,000, while the others were each awarded £2,500.
Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.