Thursday, July 8, 2010

WE LOVE OUR "BAD" SCIENCE, PART TWO

The discussion that followed my first post about “bad” science made me think about all the many scientific and technical ideas that debuted to less-than-universal acclaim. I hesitate to say that most of the best ideas were received with derision rather than acceptance, but it’s certainly not hard to find examples of scientists who suffered for years, if not centuries, before their ideas were proven correct. The name Galileo ring a bell?

We SF and SFR writers tend to make scientists the heroes, but the scientific community historically has had its own conservative bias with regard to new ideas. Lister was laughed out of the surgery when he suggested maternal deaths in hospitals could be prevented if attending physicians would simply wash their filthy hands between childbirths. What? Disease is caused by tiny creatures you can’t even see? Pasteur is an idiot! Rocks emit invisible energy? Why Madame Curie, I believe you must be mad! Radio? Rockets to the moon? Totally the province of those with overactive imaginations and no strict scientific boundaries to their thinking.

Lest you think this kind of scientific conservatism is a thing of the past, let me remind you that only a few years ago reputable scientists were still arguing that the discovery of Earth-like planets in the galaxy would be extremely unlikely; that, in fact, planets of any kind would be rare. Our solar system was not necessarily typical and evidence simply did not exist for any other planets in the galaxy.

Well, surprise. We’re not alone after all. Better astronomical technologies and theoretical constructs have allowed us to detect hundreds of planets out there, some of them of roughly the same size and distance from their suns as Earth. Carl Sagan must be doing the happy dance up in heaven.

So, yes. Distant planets: yesterday’s “bad” science, today’s real science. Rockets to the moon: yesterday’s “bad” science, today’s real science. Rockets to distant planets: today’s “bad” science, tomorrow’s real science. Because as someone once said, if we can dream it, we can live it. If we can envision it, surely we can make it real.

As writers we’re in the envisioning business, and, Lord knows, for us there are no limits. We can only hope there are working scientists, inventors and technicians for whom our dreams (and theirs) provide the catalyst for the future.

Cheers, Donna

2 comments:

  1. Amen to that, Donna. I often shake my head at the lack of imagination and the resistance in the scientific community to new or dynamic ideas. They seem to expend more energy in discrediting peers who have the imagination and vision to make the next scientific leap than to help move the advancement of science along. You'd think a community on the leading edge of discovery would be more prone to being excited enthusisasts than frowning naysayers, but that's been the history with every major breakthrough.

    Star Trek motivated a generation to "make is so." Technology once deemed impossible has since become part of our daily lives and an important part of our economy, creating millions of jobs and whole new occupation fields.

    If "bad" science is science that evolves from a liberal dose of imagination, then I'm all for it!

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  2. here, here. or is it hear, hear LOL I agree with the sentiments. I think science is born of imagination - shame they don't quite see it that way. I'm sad I won't be around to see the world in 2100 - well I won't be around to see it in 2050 - probably = but I'd love to see how far we manage to get. How fantasy of now, becomes the reality of then.

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