Is science fiction keeping ordinary people from understanding real science? Many science writers seem to think so. Science blogging conference Science09 decided to survey science bloggers about their feelings on science fiction, and the results were surprisingly negative. At the very least, science experts don't seem to think scifi is promoting scientific literacy — and it may actually be making people more clueless, rather than less. Peggy Kolm with the awesome Biology In Science Fiction blog and Stephanie Zvan with Almost Diamonds are co-chairing a panel on science fiction at Science09, and they're surveying science bloggers in advance. If you want to participate, you can post the answers on your own blog, or answer here. The answers will be added to the conference wiki. There doesn't seem to be a deadline, but the conference is in January. A typical comment comes from Ken at Geo Slice:
Science fiction has both no role in promoting science and [yet] 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 wrting sci-fi... 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 missunderstandings that often originate from TV shows.
Sean Craven puts it most concisely:
Most science fiction is, from my limited and biased perspective, fantasy with chrome.
Mike Brotherton, a hard science fiction writer who founded the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers, is also a bit scathing:
I don’t need my science fiction to be so-called “hard” science fiction. I just need it not to be blatantly stupid or fantasy without clearly being fantasy. I mean, too many space-based science fiction stories ignore the laws of physics, and common sense, as it is.... As for the harm, well, there has been a lot of discussion about that, too, following Buzz Aldrin’s comments that unrealistic and unscientific science fiction has dampened interest in the space program. I don’t think his case is overwhelming, but I agree that science fiction has an effect and it isn’t always positive, at least to the public at large that isn’t already a fan of science and discovery.
And then there's geology professor Kim Hannula with All Of My Faults Are Stress-Related:
I don't think science fiction is particularly good at promoting science. (One word: Frankenstein.) An awful lot of science fiction seems to reveal a fear of the unknown, a fear of tampering with nature or with going too far in trying to understand something... Whether it harms the cause of science... well, honestly, I don't think that science should be a cause, really. Science is a sort of organized curiosity about the natural world, and it's sad to live amongst people who are uncurious and afraid of learning new things.