Science fiction as science

While accidentally coming across a popular science-and-technology magazine recently, I was struck by how much the articles on science and technology weren’t about the actual achievements of the scientists and engineers, but about what those achievements might be in the future. This is something echoed in many other journalistic accounts of science. I.e., much ‘science’ reporting is actually a kind of science fiction, where the hopes and beliefs of the writers are projected onto what has actually been achieved in the science.

The basic projected narrative is: “We are constantly making significant scientific and technological breakthroughs, which are continually transforming society. This is just the latest one.”

That this is a fiction can easily be seen retroactively – almost always, what is reported doesn’t happen. The supposed achievements fade away, to be replaced with other breathless accounts of breakthroughs, and so on.

Of course, sometimes significant breakthroughs do happen, but it is difficult to sort these out a priori. Indeed, my sense is often these changes occur more quietly – they just arrive one day, and work, and change (albeit often in minor ways) some aspect of everyday society.

One thought on “Science fiction as science

  1. bruce charlton

    Agreed. It is a form of hype which is a form of inflation.

    And I think it is related to the low to non-existent rate of real breakthroughs and the expansion of the mass media.

    Another similar phenomenon which I noticed a few years ago was reporting that so and so had been awarded a (large) grant to do such and such research – the research hadn’t even begun and was wholly conjectural!

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