Science Could Stand To Learn From Science FictionS

Science fiction often gets basic science wrong, but it still has a lot to teach scientists about the implications of their work, says science educator and SF author Mike Brotherton.

Brotherton, who organizes the Launchpad astronomy workshop for science fiction authors, has posted a couple of really great blog posts recently about how science fiction authors sometimes know more about the implications of science than scientists themselves. In one post, he just seems at first to be wishing that mainstream culture should pay more attention to science fiction, but then he adds:

Cloning was a scary fantasy, but not more, in movies and books, before the reality of Dolly the Sheep. Then to make sense of this development for public policy they called in experts like…doctors and clergy?

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The science fiction community had been talking about this for decades in serious ways and had a grasp of it better than even the people involved with the actual research. I mean, the creator of Dolly thought that cloning humans was a bad idea because if a couple cloned the father, say, to have a child, the mother would then find the child sexually attractive when he grew up. WTF??? Seriously, this was his position.

And then in another post, entitled "Scientists Sometimes Need To Think Like Science Fiction Authors," Brotherton examines a scientific proposal for focusing SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) scans, which is based on the assumption that alien civilizations would be doing the same thing we are: looking for exoplanets when they're eclipsing their suns. (I'm simplifying slightly here.) But science fiction writers will point out that it's a fallacy to assume that these alien civilizations are at the exact same level of technological development as ourselves. Assuming civiliation is a long-lived phenomenon, the aliens could be a century or more advanced than we are.

Both posts are well worth reading in their entirety, for a thought-provoking discussion of the ways in which pure science and science fiction can help to fill each other's gaps. Dolly The Sheep image by Monika Teal.