Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Science and Science Fiction at ScienceOnline09

As promised, here is a roundup of posts on the science and science fiction session at ScienceOnline09. The structure wasn't the in the traditional "listen to the lecturer" style,but rather more like an "unconference", with the moderator - in this case Stephanie Zvan - leading a discussion. As she has pointed out "no one goes to an SF panel who isn't into SF", which sounds like an excellent place for a discussion to start.

So here are some of the comments about the session that I found particularly interesting. I recommend reading the whole posts. The most commented-upon take-home message: the practice of science is itself like science fiction.

Stephanie makes an interesting point from the perspective of an SF writer:
One thing I noted at the session that I will repeat here: it's obvious that many scientists are fans of science fiction. What should also be obvious is that many SF writers are fans of science. If you're a scientist who wants to have some impact on the science in SF, Google your favorite (living) writers. These days, many to most of them have blogs. Start participating in the comments, and tell the writer that s/he has fans who are scientists. Then just see how quickly you get used as a resource when the writer is working on something in your field.

Ryan Somma @ ideonexus.com points out that SF is a way to "wrestle with ethical questions in science" and notes that science itself is by its nature speculative:
Kim Gainer, English Professor at Radford University, brought up the important point that Science Fiction provides a medium for wrestling with the ethical questions in science. My whole novel Clones was such a thought experiment, dealing with the unique social dynamics of people raising child versions of themselves. Science Fiction stories about resurrecting Neanderthals or Wooly Mammoths give people the opportunity to philosophize about it, work out all the implications, decades before it happens.


The most insightful comment of the discussion, was when someone brought up the idea that science is inherently a speculative endeavor. “Every time you create an hypothesis you create an alternative universe for testing.” Science, therefore, is the practice of Science Fiction.

Chris Clouser @ The Logical Operator has a nice overview of the whole session, and points to a couple of "very cogent comments on where sci-fi fits into the larger scheme of science blogging":
  • One, scientists likely make allusions and references to science fiction all the time in their blogs - there is almost a cultural context that is assumed, in that you can reference Lovecraft and Heinlein and Asimov in passing**, and it is simply a subliminal nod. Science bloggers aren’t science fiction bloggers, so the science fiction that they deal with is only in the furtherance of their own point.

  • Two, and this was probably the most profound statement of discussion, was that science is by its very nature an exploration of science fiction. Every single hypothesis made is, in effect, the creation of an alternative world that must then be tested.

    Of course, for sci-fi authors, the testing side is not part of the process.

Glendon Mellow @ The Flying Trilobite:
Though SF has a something of a credibility issue on many science-based blogs, there is still a strong sense of SF culture, especially in random asides and jokes, often in the comment threads. Also, in a way, each time a scientist proposes a hypothesis, it is a kind of science fiction put forth until data back it up.
John Dupuis @ Confessions of a Science Librarian:
This was a good session, but like all discussions on Science Fiction and X, it ended up talking about why normal people don't really appreciate SF. In any case, there was some talk about using sf as a gateway to engagement in scientific issues, and what role blogs could play in that, but not a lot. There were a few good book recommendations and some discussion about "What is science fiction for!" One thing I'm definitely going to track down is Tolkein's The Notion Club Papers!
Other attendees included AcmeGirl, Henry Gee (who criptically, yet poetically referred to the session).

I'm really bummed I couldn't be there, even though the hotel had no SciFi channel causing the attending SF fans to miss the season premiere of Battlestar Galactica. What kind of backwoods is Research Triangle Park? (I kid!)

More posts here on science, science fiction and ScienceOnline09.

Image: Photo by evoque at Flickr


  1. This update by you in fact compensate the live reporting from the conference to a graet extent! I aws eagerly awaiting it ! Thanks !

  2. Great article. I came to know about an indian/independent SF site which came into existence recently. It looks promising, you can check it at http://indisf.com. They are inviting authors to write for them.


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