Sci-Fi Strikes Back: How Genre Fiction Can Combat Scientific Censorship

No longer content to misshelve his favorite fictions in the non-fiction section of our national discourse, our new Librarian in Chief now wants to ban the entire 500 class of the Dewey decimal system: science. Last week the Trump administration issued a so-called “gag order”  banning federal science institutions—including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Agriculture, and Department of the Interior—from official communication with the public, and planned to strip climate change information from the EPA’s website. In response, numerous rogue Twitter accounts appeared to fill the gap. Outlets like @UngaggedEPA furnish facts (real, quantifiable ones, not the “alternative” variety) about things like climate change and environmental legislation that the real EPA may be prohibited to disseminate.

I’d like to propose another method of combating this insidious effort to keep voters ignorant about science facts: science fiction. Yes, it’s a genre defined by imagination and speculation. But the informational order is already being inverted. If self-serving lies have become acceptable substitutes for reality, then why shouldn’t literature take over telling the truth? Science clearly needs more champions, and writers passionate about its possibilities can come to its rescue. More than just escapist space operas or sociological thought experiments, our stories can provide a platform for embracing objective science, a subversive disguise for facts suppressed through traditional channels.

6051695497_8c55cb6c8a_bMany authors like me already incorporate extensive scientific research into their books. For example, I studied numerous climate change models to develop the world of my debut novel, Blue Karma. The drought-ravaged communities and environmental refugees I tore right from contemporary news headlines. Although the characters and plot were my own invention, science built the story’s foundations. I’m not alone in this practice. In a piece I wrote for the Atlantic two years ago, I discussed the use of climate fiction as a teaching tool. Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy explores applications of genetic engineering, while Paolo Bacigialupi’s The Drowned Cities shows us what our own neighborhoods might look like after a dramatic sea level rise. These books are remarkable because they are believable, breathing life into datasets and making the concepts approachable to lay readers.

Today this commitment is more critical than ever. Sci-fi writers have the opportunity to be not only entertainers, but science communicators. Perhaps not at the level of luminaries like Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or my childhood favorite Bill Nye; however, if each of us reaches just a few readers, the combined impact would be significant. Our work might engage someone’s interest about science, encouraging them to seek more information from reputable sources and demand their leaders keep such knowledge accessible. Given the state of the union, people might be increasingly hungry for quality science stories. (Think the political atmosphere has no influence on books? Sales of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984, in which a dictatorship imposes its own twisted brand of reality on citizens, rose almost 10,000 percent in recent weeks. Doubleplusgood!)

French journalist and author Albers Camus quipped “fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” Let that be our battle cry as we reclaim fiction as a force for good, not a vehicle for manipulation and self-aggrandizement. Sci-fi authors possess a unique weapon of resistance to scientific censorship: our curiosity, our research skills, and our gift for captivating an audience. We must lead a writing rebellion. In a war of information, the pen is not only our sword, but our shield against ignorance and our rallying banner that proudly declares loyalty to science, learning, and the positive power of stories to change the world.

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