Science, Science Fiction and the General Election

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of listening to some academics from a notable Oxford college talk about funding. What caught my attention were their comments about getting funding for postgraduate studies.

The sciences could find the funds to get gifted students to research various topics. It came from both government and direct from industry. This is a definite turn around from not so long ago, when scientific research was really scratching around for support. But it seems the government has learned that it pays dividends for the future of this country’s prosperity.

On the other hand, the funds of the postgraduate studies for the arts was said to be now dire. Very gifted students could not find the opportunities to do research. Why is there this shortage of funds for the arts? Well, I could argue that unlike the sciences, there is usually no obvious way to identify the research with this country’s future prosperity. My gut feel is that a lot of successful postgraduate courses involve developing some form of product, which could then be turned out onto the market to sell. This includes things like advancing computer graphics, designer clothes and novels. But the pure academic research into literature, or any art form that cannot see a turn around to some form of financial advantage for this country is very rarely funded.

With an election due in the United Kingdom in May this year, I thought it was time I put an argument to fund a certain area of arts-based research… namely science fiction and its relationship with science and technology.

It would be advantageous to understand how science fiction helps progress science. The relationship is far from simple as I noted in my post here. In fact, I believe there is still a lot to learn as to how that relationship works. Once we can understand those mechanisms better, we can use them to encourage more useful inventions that society needs, or in many cases, just wants. This in turn would accelerate the prosperity of this country.

If we don’t do this, then other countries will, and as a country we will be left lacking behind, picking up the crumbs from beneath the banquet table.

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

So why aren’t we doing it already? Is it part of those famous money-saving measures? Or could it be we just don’t have enough science-based members of parliament?

Or is it that people see science fiction has diverted too far into the realms of fantasy? So much so, that no real impact could be felt by the scientists, technologists and engineers? At least that is the perception a lot of people have.

Which is why I was heartened by the high proportion of BSFA nominated novels that had their main basis in the science of science fiction.

So the message to the person in the street – the days when fantasy still clings to science fiction are coming to an end. Fantasy and science fiction will separate to become very distinct entities. This will happen sooner if the government funds like the relationship between science and science fiction sooner rather than later. It will happen later because the continuing rush of scientific discoveries gathers pace will entice writers back to exploring the future impact of science. And believe me, there’s a lot coming of new science and technology in the pipeline…


4 thoughts on “Science, Science Fiction and the General Election

  1. A generation of youngsters who grew up with the various incarnations of Star Trek and, as a result, became scientists or engineers, can attest to that. Isn’t one purpose of art to inspire the one who experiences the art? What is inspiration ultimately worth? What is a dream worth? That’s what you get with art. Sometimes art itself needs a little kick start.

    1. Hello Tom,
      Totally agree.
      If I’m anywhere near right on the way technology might be going in the next few years, we need hard-ish science fiction writers more than ever. We need them to prepare Jo Bloggs for what is to come so that it doesn’t come as a complete shock. But I fear two things… one the publishing industry are so entrenched in maximising their profits that they don’t want to give up the old themes and make way for the new. The other is that a lot of hard science fiction writers will miss the revolution completely, which means when that revolution does happen, Jo Bloggs will lose interest in hard-ish science fiction, just when we will need it even more.

  2. I agree with you Rosie. Hard sci-fi can inspire discovery and exploration. I’m not sure that sci-fantasy works in quite the same way…

    1. Hello Bob,
      A good example is the Star Trek medical analyser or whatever they called it… it was that gadget that McCoy held in his hand and waved over the patient to find out what was wrong with them. The last I heard was that DARPA was trying to produce something very similar.

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