D. Boucher at The Economic Word generated the above chart with Google’s endlessly entertaining Ngram viewer. The Ngram viewer lets you search for the number of occurrences of a specific word in every book Google has indexed thus far. As you can see, “future” peaked in 2000, leading Boucher to wonder if we’re beyond the future. Yet, Boucher hedges:
Strangely, however, I look at the technological improvements over the past ten years and I see revolutionary ideas one on top of the other (for instance, the iPhone, iPad, Kindle, Google stuff, Social Networks…). My first reaction is to blindly hypothesize that our current technological prowess may distract us from the future. If it is the case, could it be that technology is a detriment to forward-looking thinkers?
I thought it might be fun to Ngram the Science Not Fiction topics of choice and see if we live up to our reputation as rogue scientists from the future. I figured if we’re all from the future, then our topics should either a) match the trend or b) buck the trend. I’m not sure which is right, but the results were quite interesting. Charts after the jump!
I’m a science educator. I often think, nay obsess, on how I can do my part to help bring more scientific literacy into everybody’s daily life. In a recent blog post entitled The Myth of Scientific Literacy, worthy of a read, Dr. Alice Bell opines that if we (scientists, educators, politicians) are going to plead the case for increased science literacy, then we should do a better job of defining just what we mean by “science literacy.” She says:
Back in the early 1990s, Jon Durant very usefully outlined out the three main types of scientific literacy. This is probably as good a place to start as any:
- Knowing some science – For example, having A-level biology, or simply knowing the laws of thermodynamics, the boiling point of water, what surface tension is, that the Earth goes around the Sun, etc.
- Knowing how science works – This is more a matter of knowing a little of the philosophy of science (e.g. ‘The Scientific Method’, a matter of studying the work of Popper, Lakatos or Bacon).
- Knowing how science really works – In many respects this agrees with the previous point – that the public need tools to be able to judge science, but does not agree that science works to a singular method. This approach is often inspired by the social studies of science and stresses that scientists are human. It covers the political and institutional arrangement of science, including topics like peer review (including all the problems with this), a recent history of policy and ethical debates and the way funding is structured
On the first point, I do think that there are some basic science facts which should be required fodder in K-12 education. From my field alone, people should not only know that Earth orbits the sun, they should know that our year is based upon the time takes Earth to complete the journey. Don’t laugh. On my last birthday, when I told folks that I’d completed another orbit of the Sun, a distressing number of them did not understand the implication and, upon further questioning, didn’t know that Earth’s orbital period was the basis of one year. K-12 students should know that the Moon orbits Earth, why it goes through phases, and given it’s significance (in particular for several religious holidays), that our month is based upon that orbital period. Finally, everybody should know why we have seasons.
So to Susan Schneider, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, sci-fi seemed a logical way to illustrate some of the existential conundrums of philosophers over the ages, from Plato to René Descartes to David Chalmers.
“Science fiction fires the imagination and can get across conceptual ideas and thought experiments, or scenarios, that test philosophical theories,” she says. “Consider Isaac Asimov and his stories about robots and what happens if they become conscious. What does that tell us about the notion of a person?”
Via Hero Complex come these ingenious public service announcements and travel posters from a near future in which time travel is possible and robots are self-cleaning. Designed by artist Amy Martin, the posters are $20 each and proceeds benefit 826LA, a non-profit writing center for kids 6 to 18.
Going to Comic-Con is awesome on many levels, but going as press is, if you’ll forgive my butchery of the English language, even awesomer. Not that we keyboard-stained wretches get into crowded events more easily than everyone else—Comic-Con is remarkably egalitarian that way—but we do get the opportunity to interview some of our favorite actors, directors, and creators. Some of those interviews I’ll be publishing as blog posts in coming weeks, but I thought I’d share the interviews with the of Doctor Who folks right way.
With the announcement that David Tennant is leaving the title role on Doctor Who after 2009, the producers will have to find a replacement. The rebooted Doctor Who has already shown a willingness to include much more diversity in the race and sexual orientation, etc., in the show’s supporting roles–why not extend that diversity to the casting of the Doctor himself? Here are five totally unsolicited ideas for the Eleventh Doctor.
The rebooted Doctor Who just keeps going from strength to strength. (If you’ve managed to avoid seeing a single episode of Doctor Who since it started airing in 1963, the show features an enigmatic time traveller, the Doctor, who foils various nefarious schemes, usually with the aid of at least one companion.) Since being revived in 2005, the show has already cycled through a number of major cast changes, with two incarnations of the Doctor and three primary companions. Each combination of Doctor and companion usually produces a very different chemistry, and Season Four is no exception, with David Tennant playing the role of the Doctor and Catherine Tate playing Donna Noble.
Donna and the Doctor’s relationship is like that between adult siblings or very old friends, and it’s a nice change of pace from the romantic overtones that played out with the previous two companions. The dynamic is enhanced by the fact that Tate/Noble is older than the typical early-twenty-something female companion, and so perhaps a little less susceptible to looking at the adventurous Doctor with a starry-eyed gaze. Donna is perfectly willing cut the Doctor down to size if she thinks he’s getting a little too pleased with himself. This leads to some of the most memorable exchanges of the show to date, and Tate plays the part with impeccable comic timing and gusto. Tennant is, well, still the best Doctor ever (with Tom Baker in a more than honorable second place.)
The Doctor and Donna’s friendship plays out across a season of ambitious stories. The fall of Pompeii, a factory of alien slaves, a library the size of a planet that plays host to some of the scariest monsters ever, and the intensely claustrophobic confines of a damaged shuttle all form the background to some thrilling (and sometimes genuinely moving) plots. The season builds to a no-holds-barred climax which acts as a reunion show of sorts: A group of the Doctor’s former companions (including Torchwood’s Captain Jack and Sarah Jane Smith) band together to stop a dark threat from the past. Some Who watchers objected to the second half of the finale, feeling that the conclusion tried too hard to make fans happy in some respects. But I think the show stayed true to the darker and more ambiguous nature of the show, with an ending that really packed a punch.
The DVD’s also include the standalone 2006 Christmas Special, in which the Doctor teams up with Astrid Peth, played by none other than Kylie Minogue. (The real scene stealers are The Hosts, angelic robot concierges that go very, very bad.) There’s also a set of making-of features, one for each episode, deleted scenes (including a slightly, but significantly, alternate ending to the Season Four finale), and a bunch of other extras. If you decide to only ever own one season of Doctor Who, make it this one.
The British sci-fi series, Primeval, features a small team who have the job of capturing dinosaurs and other creatures who wander through rips, or “anomalies,” in the time-space continuum.The DVD of the first season that we reviewed yesterday is out today, and the nice folks at BBC America gave us the opportunity to pose a question to the cast about the show. Here, Andrew-Lee Potts, who plays Connor Temple, the show’s resident geek, answers our question about what creature he’d most like to see make an appearance on the show.
Just finishing its first season on BBC America is Primeval, a british sci-fi adventure series that shows how monster-of-the-week is really done.
In recent years, science fiction and fantasy shows have generally tried to steer away from plotlines that involve creatures appearing, then terrifying and/or eating bystanders, and then being dispatched at the end of the episode once the cast has figured out the creatures’ main weakness. This plot formula is only for the start of season one, the thinking goes, when audiences need self-contained stories to introduce them to the cast and the show’s milieu. The real meat happens later, as multi-episode arcs and more complex character development are brought in, and monster-of-the-week episodes, with their limited formula, go to the bottom of the story pitch pile. Primeval explodes this thinking by having a show built firmly around the monster-of-the-week device, while still advancing engaging season-length arcs and furthering clever character development.
Last night’s episode of Eureka was terrific, easily one of the show’s best, with some amazing performances from the cast. If you haven’t seen the episode, or you haven’t yet watched Eureka at all, get over to the Sci Fi channel’s website and and catch it. The plot revolved around problems with the flow of time—and where you have time, you have clocks.