As you might guess from our “Why Science Fiction and Policy” page, we wish there was an established field of “Science Fiction Policy Studies”. Yes, there are already venues out there for futurists, as well as many resources on using scenarios to inform decision making (google scholar abounds with it!). But rarely does science fiction get discussed in policy debates or inform policy decisions. We want there to be more public and scholarly attention about how science fiction stories can inform policy debates about the future. Science fiction stories can force us to think through our own goals and priorities for given policy issues, allowing us to develop a similar language for talking about policy decisions.
Thankfully, there have been some efforts to contextualize science fiction and how it can inform policy. Below is our list (which we’ll update as we find more) of some of the best resources for thinking about the role of science fiction in informing policy. Some of these tools can be used to create new, tailored science fiction that can tease out key parts of a policy debate. Others can take existing science fiction and help better insert it into policy discussions.
- "Thinking longer term about technology: is there value in science fiction-inspired approaches to constructing futures?” Bennett and Miller's 2008 article in the journal Science and Public Policy. This article explores multiple reasons why science fiction can be helpful for thinking through policy issues. As the authors say:
- “[I]f society is going to become more reflexive in assessing and anticipating technological change and its implications for society... it seems to us crucial to identify novel strategies for thinking longer term about technology that can incorporate questions of meaning and social dynamics — no less than physical laws — as foundational elements of analysis”
- “It is wrong to see science fiction as merely about individuals; science fiction narratives are about individuals who inhabit societies, and the best science fiction allows us, through individual stories, to have societies very different from our own come alive”
- “We need, therefore, to develop new tools that can help the public engage vitally with scientific and technological futures, which increasingly are caught up not only in the physical transformation of matter but the biological transformation of life. One such potential tool is new socio-literary techniques built on the strengths of science fiction.”
- Just as Bennett and Miller explore science fiction as a tool for governance, others have proposed a broader framework for governing science policy, with science fiction as a key tool for doing analysis. Real-time technology assessment has a dedicated research theme for using science fiction. The most significant implementation of this research approach is through work on "Technology Assessment and Choice" which uses SF as part of a broader suite of tools to examine where technologies are going and how society should govern them. Science fiction can tie to many different approaches for governing technology.
- Rosalyn Berne, a professor at the University of Virginia, has used SF as a tool to probe where scientists imagine how their work might develop. By forcing scientists and engineers to write SF stories themselves, it can cause them to question assumptions about utility and unintended consequences that might not otherwise be considered. This approach could help generate new science fiction, which in turn may make scientists and engineers more aware of the policy dimensions of their own work.
- NASA has also explored using science fiction to inform its policy decisions! At the turn of the millennium, NASA worked with several science fiction, including the late Arthur C. Clarke, to get advice for how it should do long term thinking. David Rejeski of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars discussed the result and prospects of such an approach here.
This list is just a beginning, and we’d love to get input from others on what other helpful resources there are. Please join the conversation by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on twitter @scifipolicy.