Does having science fiction in your life turn you into someone who's more handsome, charming and a better lover? Maybe not - but there may be some evidence to demonstrate that it opens your mind.

Matthew C. Nisbet, a professor in the School of Communication at American University, uses a recent study from the American Journal of Bioethics as a jumping-off point for his theory. The AJB study showed the effect that television medical dramas had on medical students, which turned out to be more than you may be comfortable with, if you've seen an episode of Grey's Anatomy. Nisbet's point, however, is that this isn't an isolated incident; the same type of thing happens to those who watch science fiction shows:

What we find among the general public is that fictional TV portrayals of science are not currently turning the public off to controversial biomedical research, at least among regular consumers of these programs. To the contrary, science fiction may in fact be preparing viewers for some of the real-life ethical and moral policy debates that are likely to arise in coming years, preparing audiences to think through the implications of startling new discoveries or research initiatives rather than react in an immediate "yuk factor" response.

What's interesting about this theory - backed up by Nisbet's own study - is that it takes into account many different variables that you might have imagined would skew the results:

This relationship stood even after controlling for education, gender, ideology, religious orientation, general support for science, science knowledge, attention to news coverage, and science documentary TV viewing (i.e. Nova, Discovery etc.)

On the one hand, I'm not too surprised by this finding; science fiction is a reasonably progressive genre, and definitely one that focuses on the illusion of new ideas, and so the idea that its fans would be open to new scientific breakthroughs makes sense. But on the other, the fact that fans were polled on "controversial biomedical research" and responded positively across religious and age lines is interesting. Do fans seek out science fiction because it fits with their worldview, or does science fiction reshape their worldview after they've become fans?


The House Debate: Can a Jerk Doctor Teach Ethics? And What about the "Gattaca" Effect on Perceptions of Medical Cloning? [Framing Science]