An Oxford professor wonders if science fiction stories might be used to convey real science to influence world policy-makers.
When did he begin to suspect? Did Hugo Gernsback blab?
Actually, T. N. Palmer’s article “Is Science Fiction a Genre for Communicating Scientific Research? A Case Study in Climate Prediction” in the October 2010 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society is interested the highly focused question of whether SF can promote the acceptance of climate change science by key leaders:
Are there situations where science fiction is an effective genre for communicating—for example, to key policy- and decision makers—results from contemporary scientific research? Indeed, might sci-fi sometimes be a more effective genre for communication than conventional means? I want to discuss this question in the context of anthropogenic climate change. Certainly there have been a number of sci-fi stories that deal with the climate change problem (e.g., by Kim Stanley Robinson and Michael Crichton), including one very memorable movie: The Day After Tomorrow. I am sure readers will have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of such works of fiction in promoting the science underlying climate change.
It’s probably my duty as a fan to quibble about the use of the term “sci-fi” in relation to hard science stories. Isn’t the whole thrust of “sci-fi” a certain crowd-pleasing abandonment of strict adherence to genuine science? But that’s a minor point.
The major road block in the way of Palmer’s vision of using SF to promote climate change science is that readers are not being wooed by just one side. There are SF writers positioned on both sides of the debate — setting aside for the moment the technicality that only one side considers there to be anything to debate. So there is a significant noise level to overcome (or the free exchange of ideas in the intellectual marketplace, depending upon your view.)
Another consideration is that SF is a skeptical genre – obedient compliance with massive governmental initiatives and conformity to emergency measures is the opposite of most readers’ idea of entertainment.
However, most people will find something to like in Palmer’s short story “Sunrise” (PDF file), a homage to “Nightfall” that accompanies his article as a demonstration of the didactic fiction he has in mind.
Palmer knows it’s hard to save a world from climate change even if the need is generally accepted – in fact, so hard his characters fail, and a civilization-destroying disaster ends the story.
And isn’t that what readers respond to, genuine science or not? Like Raymond Chandler’s dictum about what must happen if a gun is mentioned at the beginning of a mystery, science fiction writers are not allowed to dwell on a predicted disaster then end a story by waving a cape as it passes everyone by.
[Thanks to Sam Long for the link.]