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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Minor Quibble with Kamala Harris: The Opposite of Science Fact is not Science Fiction

Although it's at most a minor quibble with Kamala Harris's superb performance in this past Thursday's Democratic debate - see my assessment of that over here - I thought, as a past President of the Science Fiction Writers of America (1998-2001), that I ought to weigh in on a concern which has made it all the way to The Washington Post.

The concern arises from Harris's point made during the debate that our response to climate change needs to be based on "science fact not science fiction".   Unfortunately, this contrast, likely the product of one of Harris's writers not what she herself may think, shows a woeful misunderstanding and ignorance of science fiction.  Anyone who has read any of Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, not to mention Verne and Wells, would know that science fiction does not deny or belittle science.  To the contrary, the essence of science fiction is to use science as a foundation to explore dramatic situations, including global catastrophes, and predictions of the future.

As a science fiction author myself - of novels and short stories - I have had the majority of my short stories (some 17) published in Analog Magazine, aka Analog Science Fiction and Fact Magazine.  Over the years, newer writers have asked me what I would recommend for enhancing their chances of getting published in Analog.  My answer: get your science right, and make sure it plays a decisive part in your story.

The fundamental connection between science fiction and science fact has been recognized by scientists such as Marvin Minsky, who said Asimov's robot stories inspired Minsky's life-long work in AI, and by Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, who cited Asimov's Foundation series as inspiration for Krugman's work in economics.

And, to get back to Harris's inapt comparison, it's not that hard to find suitable opposites to science - pseudo-science, fantasy, conspiracy theory, all would have worked well in Harris's formulation.

But, as I said, this is a minor quibble, and now that I've gotten it of my system, I can return to thinking about who is the best candidate to beat Trump.  Harris's performance on Thursday makes her a major contender.


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