March 1, 2009

SLICE OF PIE: Anti-Science, Cross-Political and the Reason Fantasy Novels Are Ascendant

My thesis is that because the majority of the English-speaking world has an extremely low opinion of science, Science Fiction novels, magazines and short stories have been far eclipsed by Fantasy novels, magazines and short stories. Of the 35 novels on the Locus Best-Seller List ( only TWO are science fiction.

Even the most easily recognized scientist had this to say: "All our lauded technological progress--our very civilization--is like the axe in the hand of the pathological criminal." ~Albert Einstein

Wikipedia defines it as an attitude:“Antiscience can refer both to the New Age and postmodernist movements associated with the political Left, and to socially conservative and fundamentalist movements associated with the political Right...The term 'scientism' derives from science studies and is a term spawned and used by sociologists and philosophers of science to describe the views, beliefs and behavior of many strong science devotees. It is sometimes also used in a pejorative sense, for individuals who seem to be 'fetishizing' science, or treating science in a similar way to a religion.”

England has the same problem: “Most Britons are antiscience”
A grim story indeed for those of us who read and write science fiction. But there MAY be a way of reversing this trend. In a recent article in the online magazines, columnist Chris Mooney of SLATE had this to say:

“The Bush science controversies were just one manifestation of a deeper and long-standing gulf between the science community and the broader American public, one with roots stretching back to our indigenous tradition of anti-intellectualism (as so famously described by historian Richard Hofstadter in his classic work from 1963) and Yankee distrust of expertise and authority. So this is certainly no time for complacency. Scientists, with the support of the administration, should now be setting out to win over the hearts and minds of the American public, creating a stronger edifice of trust and understanding to help ensure that conflict doesn't come raging back again… Another hurdle involves not the message but the medium: Newspaper science sections have shrunken or vanished across the nation; on television, real science news has long been struggling, and CNN has let go of its entire science and technology unit. The science blogosphere is, of course, booming—but as media scholars like Matthew Nisbet of American University have observed, the blogs are unlikely to reach very many citizens who aren't already science lovers. And what would be the effect if the blogs did get to a wider audience? The semi-finalists in the recent "Best Science Blog" of 2008 contest were a site that questions the reality of global warming and PZ Myers' Pharyngula—ground zero for a potent mix of pro-evolution advocacy and uncompromising criticism of religion. And so we find ourselves in a paradoxical situation. Science is more important than ever—something our new president fully recognizes. Yet for most Americans, science is probably becoming more distant, not less; it's harder to locate and identify, and it's often more aggressive toward their core beliefs. In this context, scientists certainly shouldn't retreat to their labs. Rather, they should reach out to the public like never before. There's a lot of work to do.”

As Science Fiction writers, we can work to help revive science in America. Those of you who, like me, are primarily SF writers and readers can join together to work and write harder than ever before!


~brb said...

Math is hard. Science is the province of nerds. Smart people don't have sex lives. Technology is doing terrible things to Gaia, Our Mother, The Earth. Scientists just create new and terrible ways to kill. Lab rats are people, too.

These are the dominant memes we've been beating into the heads of our children since 1970 via both public school and popular culture, so OF COURSE one of the lesser side-effects is that the market for science fiction is going to wither and die. The larger effects are manifest in such groups as the nitwits who are trying to shutdown the Large Hadron Collider at CERN because they fear it will create a black hole that will swallow the Earth or the doomsday cultists who awaken every morning trembling in fear of anthropogenic global warming.

That's the key word for you: fear.

Science fiction is the literature of people who look forward to the future. Fantasy is the literature of people who are running in screaming fear from the future.

It's a good time to be a fantasy writer.

demoon said...

England has the same problem: “Most Britons are antiscience”

Guy did you read the Poll questions? The questions would make me stop and think and maybe come out as antiscience. Bad questions if one was going to intrepet it as antiscience.


GuyStewart said...

I know -- I had to read the article twice to see if I was reading the headline right! My intent was to see if anyone checked the reference or just read the headline...which I always do now!