Panelists discuss significance of sci fi


Three writers and a Salk neuroscientist all had different takes on the significance of science fiction during a panel discussion titled “The Science of Science Fiction” held March 23 at The Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla.

The event was held in conjunction with the weeklong San Diego Science Festival. UCSD was a lead organizer this year for the second annual week of community events designed to focus awareness on the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. The week culminated in a Science Expo Day at Petco Park on March 27.

The panel included horror writer Scott Sigler, author of “Contagious” and “Infected”; David Brin, futurist and author of “Earth” and “The Postman”; science writer Jennifer Ouellette, author of “Black Bodies and Quantam Cats,” and Ricardo Gil da Costa, a researcher with the Salk Institute of Biological Studies.

“I want to scare the crap out of people and convince them the stuff they read in my books could really happen and is only four, five or six years away,” said Sigler, a monster-movie buff who said King Kong was his earliest influence.

Brin, a UCSD grad, said science fiction is inaccurately named.

“It probably should have been called speculative history,” he said. “All science fiction writing is about how things might have been different.”

Ouellette cautioned against science orthodoxy, saying she’d get rid of textbooks when asked how she’d reform science instruction.

“Learning is very individual,” she said. “If I could reshape the education system, I’d make it so everyone could have some freedom within the structure to follow their curiosity and learn things their own way.”

Da Costa, a field researcher, said a “hands-on” approach to science education is always preferable.

The panelists all differed on whether they believed in the existence of intelligent alien life and whether it would be similar to humans.

“It might be very much different from our own biology, have a different basis of materials, nothing remotely human,” Ouellette said.

Sigler added, “It’s probably going to be very delicate, fragile creatures, not very different from us.”

And Brin’s take was that “they’ve been promising us contact for 40 years and they’re starting to get desperate — they’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit. There are probably 50 good explanations for why we appear, at least in our own neighborhood, to be alone.”

Da Costa pointed out there’s a lot of undiscovered life yet on Earth in its deep oceans that we ought to be trying to “discover.”