Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Science and Science Fiction

I wouldn’t call it a meme, but more of quest for information. ScienceOnline09 is an annual science communication conference that brings together scientists, bloggers, educators, and students to discuss promoting public understanding of science and some of the moderators are looking for input. I’m in a curious place for this one – I’m both a scientist (an engineering geologist) and blogger in the the greater SFF community. So, this appeals to me from both directions. There are two sets of questions proposed at this blog – one for scientists and one for sci-fi authors. I’ll answer the science questions (since I’m not a writer), but I encourage the authors out there reading this to consider answering and sharing their answers.


What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why?

I’m a huge fan of reading books that I’d describe as speculative fiction – this includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternative history and a number of other genres. As for watching, I have limited time for TV and movies these days, so I don’t watch and sci-fi series but I do find time for the occasional sci-fi movie thanks to net flix.

I read primarily for entertainment and escape, though I certainly enjoy some ‘meat’ to the books I read. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly why I enjoy SFF specifically – I imagine that a large reason why that I deal with the ‘real world’ all the time, so I want something different, something more, when I read. I also think that SFF allows a lot more flexibility in an author than ‘normal’ fiction and seeing what authors do with that flexibility is quite rewarding.

What do you see as science fiction's role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science?

This depends a lot on how science fiction is defined – and that is a long debate that I don’t care to go into and that I don’t feel overly qualified to if I did (you can start here if you want). However, the answer to the first question is that science fiction has both no role in promoting science and that it often serves as a de facto introduction to science for the general public. For writers, I think it’s very rare for promoting science to even be considered when writing sci-fi. They have their own reasons. But for much of the public the focus is often on the science part of the description rather than the fiction part – and the fiction really dominates in science fiction.

In the case of science fiction movies and TV, I think that harm often results. Most of the general public wouldn’t consider the various CSI shows as science fiction, but that’s exactly what they are. One consequence is that people serving on juries often expect more than is actually possible from prosecutors and have little understanding of important details and caveats of scientific evidence – so, our legal system is suffering due to misunderstandings that often originate from TV shows.

Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?

Simply put – no. I think that there are much easier and more applicable ways to introduce science than from science fiction. In an ideal world I think that it should be the other way around – science should be the introduction for science fiction.

Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

I follow dozens of blogs and most can be found in the links on the sidebar here, however, I will point to a discussion on science and science fiction that was done as part of SF Signal’s Mind Meld a few months ago – it’s a very good read and much of the discussion is applicable to this one (actually these other mind melds apply as well).

3 comments:

Peggy said...

I think it's an interesting point that the public's perception of the role of science in SF may be different than what the authors intend. I think the media contributes to that by focusing on the "predictions" that SF authors have made. That's part of what we are hoping to understand with our "meme".

Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

arizona auto insurance said...

You Suck, a love story, is certainly an intriguing title. Is the book as creative??

Neth said...

Well, I suppose it depends on what you consider creative - all of Christopher Moore's books have a bit of different perspective and they ooze humor - though it's a humor that may not be universal.

I enjoy the different take on things.

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