I just read an article where an American politician, Ray Canterbury, wants to make reading science fiction mandatory in schools. My first response was how the hell did he ever get elected as a republican: aren’t they all creationialists and global warming deniers? My second response was what a great idea. Reading science fiction is school should be mandatory in Australia too.
The Republican goes on to say he doesn’t want students reading fantasy, but hard science fiction like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Hard science fiction is science fiction where real science is central to the plot. Mr Canterbury thinks reading hard science fiction will get more students interested in maths and science.
If this policy was world-wide, I imagine there would be a shift in the general populations attitude towards science and scientists, especially in countries like Australia and the US. At the moment a lot of the population seem to view scientists with scepticism, that they are all just trying to get government grants by scaring us with their crackpot theories.
Many people no longer seem to respect the scientific process of creating a theory, and then testing the theory with data. If the data supports the theory, keep the theory. If the data does not support theory, change the theory. A lot of people seem to have the attitude of “its only a theory, and I prefer this other theory presented by a media personality because it suits my life style.”
Take me for example. In my younger years I preferred to read adventure stories, Enid Blyton when very young and then westerns and Wilbur Smith at high school. I had no interest in science and avoided science subjects as school. I then read a lot of fantasy. But when I moved to Albion in Queensland there was a fantastic second hand book shop with a huge collection of science fiction. I quickly was hooked on the stuff.
I read hard science fiction by authors such as Arthur C. Clarke, Asimov, Gregory Benford, Greg Egan and Kim Stanley Robinson. My interest in hard science fiction lead me to read non-fiction science books like The Spike by Damien Broderick, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and Cosmos by Carl Sagan. Reading hard science fiction lead me to doing year 11 and 12 VCE physics by correspondence.
I would love a survey to be done of science fiction readers and their attitudes to things like global warming and nanotechnology. I think a lot more science fiction readers would have researched global warming and found the overwhelming scientific consensus is that it is happening, humanity is a major factor causing it, and unless something is done to halt greenhouse gases civilisation is really going to struggle, beginning in the next few decades.
If everyone read hard science fiction, I would hope we would live in a lot more enlightened world. For years campaigns against genetically modified crops have been run, despite there being little evidence that genetically modified crops have caused harm to people. There is some evidence of cross pollenisation causing problems. But the main argument at the moment seems to be that people don’t want genetically modified products in their food because they are scared about what it might do to them. They are scared because they have been told to be scared. They are a bit like people who are too scared to get their kids vaccinated or think fluoride is being used to control the minds of the general population.
There seems to be a similar scare campaign developing against nanotechnology, particularly in regard to sun screens, even though there appears to be no scientific data to prove that nanoparticles will penetrate the skin and/or harm cells.
In a world where everyone reads hard science fiction, I think scare campaigns based on ignorance would have much less traction. That is because I think the hard science fiction reader would have a greater interest in science and therefore be less ignorant of the science around issues such as global warming, GM crops and nanotechnology.
But at the moment we have a world full of disrespect for science. A disrespect that can only slow down scientific advances, slow down the spike, or the technological singularity, that is coming. I want to experience the wonders of science post spike, but instead I think I will be experiencing the start of a new Dark Ages.
Rather than getting an enlightened pollie like Ray Canterbury, we have Julia Gillard, a woman who wanted to do nothing about climate change until her hand was forced by the Greens. And we’re going to end up with Tony Abbott, a man who will do nothing about climate change because he believes the science is crap. I bet neither of them read hard science fiction as a kid.