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QUESTION:

I am a senior in high school and I am working on my senior exit essay. The topic for my essay is how science fiction writers have influence science. I would just like to know if you think this is true and if so how have they influenced science.

-- Submitted by Brandon Eaker

OSC REPLIES: - September 25, 2001

Especially in the "golden years" of science fiction -- the 1940s through 1960s -- the science community and the sf community were aware of each other's work, and there was cross influence. Especially, those scientists who allowed themselves wide-ranging speculation (like Freeman Dyson) helped stimulate the imaginations of science fiction writers. The influence in the other direction, however, has been rare -- Arthur C. Clarke's proposal of communication satellites being the most prominent example. However, there is an indirect influence that is, I think, very important: A great many scientists have grown up in a world filled with science fiction ideas. Who knows how many of them became interested in pursuing a scientific career because of or partly because of their experience of science fiction? Furthermore, everyone has lived surrounded with "futuristic" images to such a degree that one can even say that science fiction leads people to believe that science has already achieved things that it has yet to achieve! This may even be seen as a negative influence. Many physicists, for instance, talk of the "Grand Unified Theory" as if it were merely a matter of time before the four binding forces of the universe are found to be the same fundamental force. This is ludicrous, of course, being based as it is on a completely unjustified faith -- and I use the word advisedly -- that there is such a single force, when, for all we know, we might discover that at base what seem to be four forces are in fact the surface expression of an underlying plethora of forces, etc. Scientists -- and, of course, science reporters -- are often guilty of quite shocking overclaiming, taking tiny incremental indicators and blowing them into grand theories that get covered in the press as if a great discovery had been made when in fact only a question has come up, with no answers at all. This may also be owed to science fiction, directly because sci-fi leads people to constantly leap ahead of their own knowledge, and indirectly because in order to compete with the pervasive images of science fiction, science has to stand on its head and whistle just to get attention at all.

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