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Heather Maunder's assistance in researching aspects of children's SF and other pertinent children's
literature is gratefully acknowledged.
p.3: quote from 'IGY International Geophysical Year' reproduced by permission of Essex Music
of Australia Pty Ltd. Unauthorised copying is illegal; p. 4: 'First We Take Manhattan' 1988
Leonard Cohen Stranger Music, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved; p. 9: 'No Surrender'
reproduced by permission of Warner Chappell Music Australia. Unauthorised copying is illegal;
p. 12: 'Big Science' written and recorded by Laurie Anderson (Difficult Music). Reprinted by per-
mission ofRondor Music (Australia) Pty Ltd; p. 12: cover of Future City reproduced by permission
of the publisher; p. 15: the extract from The Total Love Machine and Other Stories by Rosaleen Love,
first published by The Women's Press Ltd, 1988, 34 Great Sutton Street, London ECIV ODX,
is used by permission of The Women's Press Ltd; p.17: 'Egg Harvest' and 'Flushing' reproduced
by permission of Thalia; pp. 21 and 51: Animal Man 1987 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved;
p. 32: The Chronicles of Judge Dredd copyright Fleetway Editions 1992; p. 34: quote from Ursula
K. Le Guin, Always Coming Home, Victor Gollanz, 1986, reproduced by permission of Victor Gollanz;
Scrub Oak illustration by Margaret Chodos from Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin,
Harper & Row, 1985. Illustration copyright 1985 by Margaret Chodos. Reprinted by permis-
sion of Margaret Chodos; pp.38-40: Watchmen 1987 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved;
p. 43: (top left) Amazing Stories & TM TSR, INC. All Rights Reserved; (bottom left) 'The Planet
of the Apes' 1968 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved; p. 44: 'Around
the Flame' words Mark Seymour / music Hunters and Collectors (Mushroom Music/Human Frailty).
Reproduced by permission of Mushroom Music; p. 61: 'No Surrender' reproduced by permission
of Warner Chappell Music Australia. Unauthorised copying is illegal; pp. 63-4: 'Transverse City'
and 'Run Straight Down' Zevon Music-reprinted by permission of Rondor Music (Australia)
Pty Ltd; p.65: quote from Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins, Bantam New York, 1990.
Reproduced by permission of Bantam Books; p. 69: Graeme O'Neill, 'Mating spiders create genetic
tension in Canberra', Age, 10 July 1991. Reproduced by permission of Graeme O'Neill and the
Age; pp. 70-1: quote from The Sea and Summer by George Turner, Faber & Faber Ltd, reproduced
by permission of the publisher; reading 1: reproduced by permission of Science-Fiction Studies;
reading 2: reprinted from Reflections from the Heart of Educational Inquiry, edited by G. Willis and
W. H. Schubert, by permission of the State University of New York Press. 1991 State Univer-
sity of New York; reading 3: Primate Visions by Donna Haraway, Routledge, Chapman and Hall
Inc. 1989 by Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc. Reproduced by permission of the publisher and
the author.
Laboratories in fiction
Science education and popular media
Noel Gough
Deakin University
Deakin University
This book has been produced as pan of the study materials for ECS8lO Educational issues in science
and technology, which is one of the units offered by the Faculty of Education in Deakin University's
Open Campus Program. It has been prepared for the unit team, whose members are:
Annette Greenall Gough
Robyn Muhlebach
Frances Patrick (developer)
Ian Robottom (chair)
Rob Walker
Beverley Bell, University of Waikato
Sharon Dunwoody, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Noel Gough, Deakin University
Peter Medway, Carleton University
Joan Solomon, Oxford University
The study materials include:
Beverley Bell, Children's Science, Constructivism and Learning in Science*
Sharon Dunwoody, Reconstructing Science for Public Consumption: Journalism as Science Education*
Noel Gough, Laboratories in Fiction: Science Education and Popular Media*
Patti Lather, Feminist Research in Education: Within/Against*
Peter Medway, Shifting Relations: Science, Technology and Technoscience*
Educational Issues in Science and Technology: Study Guide and Reader
Selected Papers in Science Education: Reader
*These books may be purchased from Deakin University Press, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria,
Australia 3217.
More titles may be added to this list from time to time.
Enrolled students also receive a unit guide, audiocassettes and supplementary material.
Published by Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia 3217
Distributed by Deakin University Press
First published 1993
Deakin University 1993
Edited, designed and typeset by Deakin University Publishing Unit
Printed by Deakin University
National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-publication data
Gough, Noel.
Laboratories in fiction: science education and popular media.
ISBN 0 7300 1605 6.
1. Science-Study and teaching. 2. Science fiction-Study and teaching. 3. Mass media-Study
and teaching. 4. Communication in science. I. Deakin University. Faculty of Education. Open
Campus Program. II. Title.
Laboratories in fiction: Science education and popular media
Introduction 3
Part 1: Fictions of science education 11
Science education and the misconstruction of 'scientific method' 13
Science is politics by other means: a missing dimension of science
education 18
Intermission: political science 23
Part 2: Educating with science fiction 25
Postmodern science: reconnecting fact and fiction 26
Using SF to deconstruct science: Haraway's primatology 37
'Into the future I this nervous game': SF and young people 44
Conclusion 57
Part 3: Sound ideas and (en)light(ening) entenainments 59
Sound ideas: pop music in science and technology education 59
A miscellany of (en)light(ening) entertainments 64
A concluding case study: popular media and climate change 68
Finally. . . 73
Annotated bibliography 75
References 83
1 Science, science fiction, and a radical science education
E. E. Nunan & David Homer 93
2 An accidental astronaut: Learning with science fiction
Noel Gough 113
3 Reprise: Science fiction, fictions of science, and primatology
Donna Haraway 122
Acknowledgments 138
In the past we have always assumed that the external world around us has
represented reality, however confusing or uncertain, and that the inner world
of our minds, its dreams, hopes, ambitions, represented the realm of fantasy
and the imagination. These roles, ... it seems to me, have been reversed. The
most prudent and effective method of dealing with the world around us is to
assume that it is a complete fiction-conversely, the one small node of reality
left to us is inside our heads.
We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind-mass-merchandizing,
advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant
translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing
blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods,
the pre-empting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by
the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel.
J. G. Ballard, Introduction to the French edition of Crash, 1974, p.8
. . . the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical
Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women, 1991, p.149.
It's misleading to suppose there's any basic difference between education and
entertainment. This distinction merely relieves people of the responsibility of
looking into the matter. It's like setting up a distinction between didactic and
lyric poetry on the grounds that one teaches, the other pleases. However, it's
always been true that whatever pleases teaches more effectively.
Marshall McLuhan, 'Classroom without walls', 1960, p.3.
I am not conscious of studying anything called 'science' in primary school ('nature
study' was as close as we got). My induction into science-or, rather, Science (and
later General Science)-as a discrete subject (that is, object) of study began in secon-
dary school during the late 1950s. They were years in which it was easy to be
optimistic about science and technology. I have vivid memories of the 1957-58
International Geophysical Year (IGy), many of them associated with atmospheric
physics research conducted by Australian scientists in Antarctica. Atmospheric
conditions during the IGY (I think they had something to do with intense sunspot
activity) allowed the aurora australis to be visible from southern Australia. I spent
many warm summer nights on the beach near my home in South Melbourne
watching the luminous streamers radiating just above the horizon and my thoughts
would often drift to imagining the life of an Antarctic scientist - and envisioning
myself in such a role. But my heroic visions of this life were drawn less from science
textbooks or journalism than from novels like Simon Black in the Antarctic (1956),
one ofa series of Simon Black books by Australian children's author Ivan Southall.
Simon Black was a brilliant aerospace inventor, engineer, pilot and United Nations
special agent whose adventures took him to many exotic locations, including Mars
and Venus, and he was one among several imaginary people who contributed a
great deal to the scientific optimism of my childhood dreams (see also Gough 1991;
Reading 2). In 1957 I watched Sputnik 1 orbiting the eanh, delighted to see (at
last!) the tangible evidence of humankind's entry into the space age (I was, of course,
almost oblivious ofits cold-war implications). Looking back at the late 1950s, Donald
Fagen (1982) neatly captures the buoyant mood of many young people in his song,
'IGY (International Geophysical Year)':
Get your ticket to that wheel in space
While there's time
The fix is in
You'll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky
You know we've got to win
Here at home we'll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There'll be spandex jackets one for everyone
.. A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young
What a beautiful world this'll be
What a glorious time to be free
At high school, then. throughout my undergraduate studies in science and edu-
cation, and again during my years as a teacher of high school science and biology,
my enthusiasm for science never waned, though I became much more cynical about
the 'compassion and vision' of those who orchestrated the 'big decisions'. It was
not until I became a teacher educator in 1972, initially as a lecturer in methods
of teaching biology and science, that I began to reflect critically on the assump-
tions underlying my enthusiasm. Given the length of time I have now worked
in teacher education, and to pre-empt any tendencies toward self-satisfaction or
complacency in this account, I cannot resist quoting Leonard Cohen (1988) here:
They sentenced me to twenty years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
This monograph is an example of 'trying to change the system from within' and
also illustrates one of the ways in which I have tried to escape 'boredom'. In the
spirit of Cohen's lyrics, I will interpret 'coming to reward them' as dedicating this
monograph to the now absent presence of my high school and university science
teachers: it could only have been written without them.
The second and fourth verses of Cohen's song are more directly pertinent to
the content of this monograph:
I'm guided by a signal from the heavens
I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin
I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin ...
I don't like your fashion business, mister
I don't like these drugs that keep you thin
I don't like what happened to my sister
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
In these highly compressed images, Cohen captures many of the confusions and
contradictions of the contemporary world and the ambiguous roles of science and
technology in shaping it. The ironies that are a mere whisper in Fagen's evoca-
tion of the mood of the late 1950s ('The fix is in I ... we've got to win') are an
ominous presence in the late 1980s. Anticipating a 'wheel in space' (like the one
that waltzes serenely about the Earth in visual harmony with 'The Blue Danube'
in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey 1968) is a very different 'signal from
the heavens' from those anticipated by Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initia-
tive (SDI). Calling the latter 'Star Wars' was ingenious because, by association,
it cloaks SDI in the epic grandeur of George Lucas's cinematic saga. But it is one
thing to contemplate 'the beauty of ... weapons' in a mythic realm (the movie
Star Wars was set 'a long time ago in a galaxy far away') and a very different matter
to romanticise them in the world we inhabit (SDI was intended to be here, now).
Similarly, the world that Fagen sees us as once having anticipated-affluent
('spandex jackets ... for everyone'), hygienic ('we'll be clean') and healthy ('we'll
be ... eternally young')-has not emerged from the work of the 'fellows with com-
passion and vision'. Instead, as Cohen insinuates, science and technology have
added to the power of patriarchal interests to exploit and oppress people, especially
women, through the global fashion industry, multinational drug corporations and
experimentation in reproductive technologies. I don't like that either, and that is
why we need to 'take' Manhattan and Berlin-to deal critically with all that is
represented by these emblematic sites of Western society and culture. Apart from
their centrality in the art and commerce of their respective continents, Manhattan
and Berlin are culturally connected in other ways-many ofthem symbolic. For
example, the development of the USA's atomic bomb, known as the Manhattan
Project, was a significant precursor to the building by the Eastern bloc of the cold
war's most enduring symbol, the Berlin wall.
'First We Take Manhattan' can be interpreted as a set of snapshots sampling
the material conditions and manifestations of what is now widely known as 'the
postmodern condition'. As Katherine Hayles (1990, p. 265) writes, one of the charac-
teristics of 'cultural post modernism' is the 'convoluted ambiguity' which accom-
panies 'the realization that what has always been thought of as the essential,
unvarying components of human experience are not natural facts ofHfe but social
constructions'. This ambiguity is revealed in the diverse-and not necessarily
welcome-products of science and technology ('the beauty of our weapons', 'the
drugs that keep you thin') and the power arrangements through which their uses
are mediated. Technologically sophisticated weapons and drugs, and the global
marketplace which controls them, have reconstructed our 'natural' senses of beauty
and health in complex and contradictory ways.
Juxtaposing 'IGY' with 'First We Take Manhattan' raises, through the medium
of popular song, a number of problems and issues concerned with the convoluted
interrelationships of science, technology and society. Similar problems and issues
have been addressed in recent years from a variety of academic perspectives, with
critical feminist scholars providing some of the most cogent and trenchant cri-
tiques. For example, Ruth Bleier (1986, p. 57) writes:
Science is an integral part, expression, and product of a culture's complex set
of ideologies, and it has ideological commitments to certain social beliefs,
values, and goals. These commitments are, on the one hand, a source of its
great strength and value and, on the other, the source of its oppressive power
... It was, after all, in response to our society's social beliefs, values, and
urgent needs that scientists, for example, worked to develop antibiotics before
and during the Second World War, at the same time that other scientists
worked to develop the atom bomb, a weapon designed not to save lives by
bringing a quick end to the war with Japan but to announce the ultimate
phallic power and hegemony of United States capitalism in the leadership of
the coming war against the Soviet Union.
Like Leonard Cohen, Bleier uses images of medicine and weapons to invoke some
of the dilemmas we face in trying to understand science and transform the ter-
rifying power that it represents. Taken together, 'IYG' and 'First We Take Man-
hattan' can be read as a text complementing Bleier's essay - a different but compatible
expression of the hopes and fears which are aroused by the promises and threats
of scientific 'progress'.
You do not have to agree with my particular interpretation of 'First We Take
Manhattan' to acknowledge that it generates meanings appropriate to studies of
science and technology. Popular art is like that, full of plastic allusions that can
be retrofitted to the consumer's consciousness. Popular media are sometimes seen
as ephemeral, disposable. But, like art in any medium, popular artefacts-songlines,
snippets of melody, archetypal images, pithy lines of dialogue, characters in movies,
TV shows, novels, plays and comic strips-have a way of working themselves into
our individual and collective memories and mythologies. As J. G. Ballard observes,
'pop artists deal with the lowly trivia of possessions and equipment that the present
generation is lugging along with it on its safari into the future' (in Vale & Juno
1984, p. 155). I did not use 'First We Take Manhattan' just because the lyrics
speak to me ofissues in science and technology studies, but also because Leonard
Cohen's songs are among the 'lowly trivia of possessions' that I am 'lugging along
... into the future'. They are part of the conceptual 'equipment' which connects
me with the world and helps me to make sense of it.
This monograph is about making connections-connections between science and
popular media that enrich science education and respect popular art and artists.
Consider, for example, the following excerpt from Janette Turner Hospital's novel,
Charades (1988, p.191):
'Question,' Charade says. 'If a woman stands in the middle of Massachusetts
Avenue facing MIT, but her memory is so vividly snagged on one particular
day of her childhood in the village of Le Rainey that she is unaware . . . that
she is oblivious to the cars around her and so she is hit, run over, killed ... Is
she more truly in Boston or France when she dies?'
'Well put,' Koenig says. 'The indeterminacy problem in a nutshell.'
This passage does several things. First, it illustrates one of the ways in which
meanings emerge, unforced, in the course of everyday conversation. Charade and
Koenig are not involved in a didactic exchange in which one is trying to transmit
to the other a stipulative definition of quantum indeterminism as explicated by
Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr-they are simply having a chat. Second, given
that Charade's question is itself a response to something that Koenig has said pre-
viously (though the details of their earlier conversation are unimportant), both
Charade and Koenig are modelling a strategy for good teaching which Garth Boomer
(1982, pp. 119-20) calls 'connecting':
The teacher is a senior reader of the school culture and special senior reader of
the specialist subculture of the subject. Wittingly or unwittingly, he/she is
demonstrating how to be a reader and maker of meaning ...
The more richly the teacher can spin a tapestry of metaphor and analogy
into a 'thick' redundant text of thinking about something new, the more likely
it is that students will find a way in.
If students are encouraged to spin out reciprocally their own webs of
anecdote, metaphor and analogy, it is less likely that some will remain outside
the next text.
The art of generating apt analogy and metaphor is central to the 'reading'
teacher's task.
Charade and Koenig are 'reading' each other's speech acts and responding by
spinning reciprocally 'their own webs of anecdote, metaphor and analogy'. The
third thing this passage does is to exemplify a point of entry to a subject matter
of science that is different from that used by most science teachers. Charades is
a popular novel which incorporates many ideas drawn from quantum mechanics,
field theories and other aspects of postmodern subatomic physics. In pan this is
because one of the main characters is a research physicist, but it is also because
the author is playing creatively with the existential and metaphysical implications
of quantum theory. Charades is not only more pleasurable to read than most physics
textbooks-one reviewer called it 'an example of that old-fashioned, almost extinct
phenomenon, the novel you can't put down' - but it also situates meanings drawn
from the subatomic world of quantum physics within the politics of everyday human
activity and experience. It is also worth noting that much of the physics explored
in Charades is ignored by the majority of conventional school science textbooks.
Even though the 'new physics' has now been with us for more than a hundred
years, few textbooks pay more than lip-service to its existence, let alone explore
its implications for our understandings of what another popular novelist (Adams
1982) calls 'life, the universe and everything'.
Neither Charades nor 'First We Take Manhattan' is an isolated example. I could
have made similar points to the above using novels like Tom Robbins's Skinny
Legs and All (1990) or Lewis Shiner's Deserted Cities of the Heart (1988) and songs
such as Paul Simon's 'The Boy in the Bubble' (1986) or Sting's 'We Work the
Black Seam' (1985). In this monograph I will demonstrate that popular media-
music, movies, comics, novels and so on (and especially media that are popular
among children and teenagers)-are rich and meaningful sources ofinformation,
images and insights concerning science, technology and society (and the interrela-
tionships among them). I will also argue that popular media are much more than
'icing on the cake', a way of illustrating the subject matters of science in a way
that is entertaining and 'relevant' to young people. Rather, popular media can quite
literally provide sites for inquiries into the meanings of scientific concepts and
methods and provide some of the 'equipment' (as Ballard puts it) for investigating
problems and issues of science, technology and society.
I am thus affirming for science education a position adopted already by many
teachers in subjects such as English language and literature, media studies and
social education, namely, that popular media are 'texts' in their own right and that
they merit close 'reading' by both teachers and learners - who should also be
encouraged to respond to them critically and creatively. The title, Laboratories
in Fiction, was chosen deliberately to emphasise two key propositions that underlie
this monograph, namely:
that 'laboratories' - in their various roles as sites, symbols, emblems and metaphors
of scientific labour-are represented in numerous and diverse ways in popular
media and that these images of science should be a significant pan of the sub-
stance ('content') of science education; and
that popular media are themselves 'laboratories of ideas' in which meanings are
subjected to experimentation.
At this point, I should clarify my use of the term 'popular'. By popular media
I mean those produced with the deliberate intention of having wide appeal, especially
(but not exclusively) among young people. It is not necessary for a work to achieve
such wide appeal to be designated 'popular' -a pop song is still a pop song even
if it doesn't make it into the Top 40. I will also focus chiefly on works of 'an'
(such as songs) and 'fiction' (such as comics, novels, movies) rather than what might
better be called science journalism - even though magazines such as New Scientist
and television documentaries such as 'The Astronomers' and those presented by
the ubiquitous Davids. (Attenborough, Bellamy, Suzuki) are quite clearly 'popular
media'. Science journalism is addressed in depth in another monograph in this
series (Dunwoody 1993).
Nearly three decades ago, Marshall McLuhan argued persuasively for teaching
and learning with the texts and anefacts of mass media and popular culture. His
reasoning included the following assertions:
Where student interest is already focused is the natural point at which to be in
the elucidation of other problems and interests. The educational task is not
only to .provide basic tools of perception but also to develop judgment and
discrimination with ordinary social experience .
. . . To be articulate and discriminating about ordinary affairs and
information is the mark of an educateq [person]. (McLuhan 1960, p.3)
The idea that learning should begin 'where student interest is already focused'
has long been a cliche among contemporary liberal-progressive educators, but its
sentiments may be honoured more in rhetoric than in young people's experience.
More imponantiy, in developing 'judgment and discrimination with ordinary social
experience', it is not sufficient for teachers merely to begin 'where student interest
is already focused' and then retreat to the relative security of their own interests
and experience. Teachers must also be sympathetic and responsive to the 'cultural
ecology' of children's lives (see also Bowers & Flinders 1990; Gough 1987, 1989b).
Regrettably, many young people still leave the compulsory years of schooling with
feelings similar to those expressed by Bruce Springsteen (1984) in the song 'No
Well we busted out of class
We had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a three-minute record
Than we ever learned in school ...
The main body of this monograph is organised into three sections. In Part I,
I will outline some of the fictions of science education as it is presently conceived
and delivered through conventional schooling. Here I will develop the argument
that the media and resources on which conventional science education presently
depends (textbooks and laboratories) seriously misrepresent science in education
and that we therefore need to look to other media and resources to assist us in
constructing a defensible science curriculum.
In Part 2, I will discuss the possible contributions of science fiction (in print
and electronic media) to science education. I will argue that the blurring of bound-
aries between 'scientific fact' and science fiction provide numerous opportunities
for developing critical understandings of problems and issues in science, technology
and society. The readings included in this monograph also deal centrally with the
connections that can be constructed between science, science fiction and science
Finally, in Part 3 I will consider the contributions to science education of some
popular media other than those which attract the label 'science fiction', with par-
ticular reference to pop music, mainstream popular novels and cinema, and chil-
dren's literature.
In an epigraph to this monograph I quote J. G. Ballard's (1974, p. 8) suggestion
that 'we live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind'. My hope is that this mono-
graph will assist teachers in becoming more critical readers of the fictions that
presently constitute school science education and more sensitive and responsive
readers of all those other fictions of science and technology - inscriptions, images,
metaphors and myths-that abound in the popular media that frame and permeate
our own and young people)s material and imagined lives.
Part 1
Fictions of science education
Part of my argument in Laboratories in Fiction is a plea for more diversity in the
media resources used in science education. Conventional learning in school science
can presently be characterised by its dependence on one highly specialised kind
of print medium (the textbook) and one highly specialised kind of classroom (the
laboratory). Such a restricted range of resources might be justified if they were
demonstrably superior to the available alternatives, but I contend that they are
not. For example, among the purposes and functions usually attributed to these
special kinds of texts and classrooms (and among the justifications for the costs
involved in providing them) are those concerned with representing science and its
cultural significance to learners. I will argue here that school science textbooks
and laboratories do not fulfil even this minimal requirement.
Given that science education identifies itself with the scholarly disciplines of
science (and given that science is a significant expression of Western industrial
society's values and goals), it is reasonable to expect science educators to 'play fair'
when they devise the media and resources which represent these disciplines to
learners. However, many (perhaps most) textbooks misrepresent science by incor-
porating idealised, oversimplified and outdated accounts of scientific work and its
consequences. Similarly, most school laboratories are crude stereotypes of the diverse
sites in which scientists pursue their labours. The work that is done in them-
indeed, the work that can be done in them - bears little or no resemblance to con-
temporary professional practice in the physical and biological sciences. This has
been exacerbated by the rise and spread of highly industrialised and technologised
'big science' which, especially in the physical sciences, requires very different fa-
cilities from those on which school laboratories are modelled. Little of what now
counts as 'progress' among communities of working scientists is accomplished by
the sort of individualistic, small-scale, low-tech 'bench work' to which schoollabora-
tories are suited (this point is also central to the critique of science education offered
by Nunan and Homer 1981; see Reading I). 'Big science' has also become a
metaphor for a particular kind of cultural orientation or world view that is now
common in Western industrial societies (see exhibit 1: 'Big Science').
Exhibit 1: 'Big Science'
Avant-garde performance artist Laurie Anderson had
a popular hit in the early 1970s with '0 Superman',
which is included on her album Big Science. Some
excerpts from the title song are quoted below. While
one really needs to hear the performance as a totality
to make the most of Anderson's meanings, the lyrics
are a witty testimony to the cultural significance of 'big
science'. Giving street directions by reference to 'absent
presences' is a wry comment on contemporary myths
of technological 'progress' - exemplified in Australia
recently by the Very Fast Train and Multifunction
Polis projects. These projects, which have their genesis
in the mysteries of global trade relations, high finance
and transnational corporatism, represent a kind of
'technocratic dreaming' (James 1990) - optimistic,
futuristic, visionary - which mask their possible
adverse effects on Australian lifestyles and environ-
ments. Big Science and the kinds of science fiction
stories collected in books like Future City (Elwood
1976) help us to decode the myths surrounding such
Hey Pal! How do I get to town from here?
And he said: Well just take a right where
they're going to build that new shopping mall,
go straight past where they're going to put in the freeway,
take a left at what's going to be the new sports center,
and keep going until you hit the place where
they're thinking of building that drive-in bank.
You can't miss it. And I said: This must be the place .
. . . Golden cities. Golden towns.
And long cars in long lines and great big signs
and they all say: Hallelujah. Yodellayheehoo.
Golden cities. Golden townS. Thanks for the ride.
Big Science. Hallelujah. Big Science. Yodellayheehoo.
You know. I think we should put some mountains here.
Otherwise, what are the characters going to fall off of?
And what about stairs? Yodellayheehoo ...
Big Science. Hallelujah. Big Science. Yodellayheehoo.
Hey Professor! Could you turn out the lights?
Let's roll the film.
Big Science. Hallelujah ...
Big Science. Hallelujah. Yodellayheehoo.
Laurie Anderson, 'Big Science', Big Science,
Warner Bros, 1982.
Science textbooks and laboratories are literally science fictions in the original sense
of the Latinfictio, 'something fashioned by a human agent'. But they also fictional-
ise science in ways that are likely to impede learners' understanding of the meaning
and significance of science in our society and culture. In the following discussion,
I will focus on two broad ways in which science education presently fails to represent
science to learners in an educationally defensible fashion. First, the routine activi-
ties that are conducted in school laboratories neither emulate nor simulate 'real'
scientific work but, rather, reiterate stereotypical and mythologised conceptions
of science and its methods. Second, these activities are usually conducted without
reference to (or representation of) the ideological commitments that animate scientific
work or the political strategies through which it exerts authority in our society.
Thus, school science education may actually serve to 'double insulate' learners
from understanding what scientists actually do and do not do. As Linda Gordon
(1986) claims for history, no 'objective' truths may be possible, but there are objective
lies. There can be better and worse science fictions; there can be better and worse
representations of science in schools.
Science education and the misconstruction
of 'scienti'fic method'
In Donna Haraway's words: 'Laboratories are the material and mythic space of
modern science' (1989, p.368). For the moment, I will defer the question of the
extent to which laboratories are also the material and mythic space of postmodern
science and will simply note that postmodern discourses tend to pay increasing
attention to the mythic space and to the overlapping (fused/confused) boundaries
of the material and the mythic. I am very sympathetic to many postmodernisms,
but my immediate concern is with the problem of representing contemporary science
(a key cultural site for contesting modernist/postmodernist paradigms) to learners
in some intellectually honest and morally responsible way.
During the last two decades, a number of studies of scientists at work (e.g. Latour
& Woolgar 1979; Mitroff 1974; Latour 1983; Charlesworth et a1. 1989) have
explored the material and mythic spaces of science in some detail, illuminating
differences between what is actually done in sites of scientific labour and what
Mitroff (1974, p. 8) calls 'the storybook image of science' - an image constructed
from what scientists say they do and what society at large believes they do. This
'storybook' image-a myth-permeates the majority of conventional science edu-
cation textbooks and curriculum statements. For example, several elements of this
myth are prominent in the most recent draft of A National Statement on Science
for Australian Schools (Australian Education Council 1991 ). The Statement begins
by describing 'the characteristics of science' as follows:
Science is among our greatest achievements. It has revolutionised the way we
think about the world and the way in which we live. Using the principles and
processes of science we can construct useful and reliable explanations and
knowledge of the natural and physical world.
The principles of science give validity and rigour to scientific explanations
... (1991, p.4)
The Statement then lists a number offamiliar examples of these principles ('respect
for evidence', 'testable and falsifiable hypotheses', etc.) and processes ('predicting,
observing, testing hypotheses and models, collecting, classifying ... ' etc.). Much
of the remainder of the Statement is devoted to elaborating 'the scope of science
education' in terms of two 'process strands' ('investigating in science' and 'under-
standing and applying scientific knowledge') and four 'conceptual strands' ('life
and living', 'energy and change', 'natural and processed materials' and 'earth and
space'). The Statement as a whole thus characterises science in terms of explana-
tory concepts and generalisations whose warrant and status are justified by a par-
ticular way of thinking. While the Statement does not ignore the social and cultural
dimensions of scientific activity, it asserts nevertheless that the truth claims of
scientists are privileged by the special qualities of the method that is used to produce
them: 'Although science is socially constructed, the processes and principles of science
still enable scientific knowledge to be developed which is generally reliable, useful
and well accepted' (Australian Education Council 1991, p.4; my emphases). It
is worth considering what might be implied by the terms 'although' and 'still' here.
Are the authors suggesting that the social construction of knowledge diminishes
its reliability, usefulness and acceptability? (If so, are they implying that it is possible
to imagine knowledge which is not socially constructed and, ifso, who-or what-is
in a position to make such a judgment?) The deferential 'although' suggests that
the authors are apologising for science being socially constructed, but then they
reassure the reader that, nevertheless ('still'), this troublesome complication can
be overcome by applying 'the processes and principles of science' - as if social con-
structedness were a curable disease. This rhetorical ploy reasserts the privileged
status of scientific knowledge by implying that scientific method transcends (or
'in theory' can transcend) social construction. .
Studies of scientists at work provide numerous grounds not only for questioning
this apparent faith in the products of experimentalism but also for disputing the
textbook image of science. For example, Charlesworth et a1. (1989, p. 271) conclude
that: 'What strikes one forcefully as one looks at the way scientists carryon in
reality, is the enormous disparity between that reality and the idealized or mythical
accounts of it that are given by both observers of science and scientists themselves'
(see exhibit 2: 'Scientists at Work').
A persistent and pervasive myth is that scientific work is characterised by a special
kind of method. But as Latour writes:
Now that field studies of laboratory practices are starting to pour in, we are
beginning to have a better picture of what scientists do inside the walls of
these strange places called 'laboratories' ... The result, to summarise it in one
sentence, was that nothing extraordinary and nothing 'scientific' was happening
inside the sacred walls of these temples. (1983, p.141)
Charlesworth et a1. reach similar conclusions:
... the neat classical picture of deductions being made from theories and then
tested by observation and experiment (the so-called hypothetico-deductive
Exhibit 2: 'Scientists at Work'
The 'classical' image of the scientist at work, as
depicted at right in a 1927 illustration from the
science fiction magazine Amazing Stories
(reproduced in Frewin 1974, p. 60), is that of the
solitary male, excited and awe-inspired by the
fruits of his benchwork. Compare this image
with the one that emerges from the excerpts
quoted below from Rosaleen Love's story, 'The
laws of life'.
'I've been out with the turtle man. Stokesie, d'you know him? He's
always there when they're laying. Before they know it, he's caught them,
measured the distance between their eyes, clipped their flippers and
counted their eggs. He usually publishes six papers every laying season .
. . . We looked around the coral island. So far, we had hammered in
about twenty yellow stakes along a north-west transect. Karen was
leaping about with a large white butterfly net, collecting insects. Greg
was trundling a pedometer around the low water mark. 'All right,' said
Peter, 'we're normal, but he's weird.' Greg wore a yellow oilskin, green
tracksuit trousers, legs unzipped to show wet socks and dirty sandshoes
underneath. Greg gave us a wave. Then he stopped his measurements,
frowned and trundled his pedometer up the beach to us. Carefully, he
rolled the pedometer over my leg.
'That's weird,' I said to Peter.
'Unacceptable margin of error,' muttered Greg, as he put his machine
into reverse and made off down the beach to the shoreline. Scientific
research is like that .
. . . That night, back on the ship, we sat at the same table, the
professors and I, commensal, as they say in the world of protective hosts
and protected guests. The barnacle on the carapace of the hawksbill
turtle, or the anemone on the shell of the hermit crab both eat at the
same table as their host carriers. The barnacle must wait for the turtle to
take it to places where the plankton is plentiful. So the graduate student
must rely on attaching herself to a professor who knows where the grant
money flows freely.
Brodie was one of the best at attracting money. He could always be
relied on to predict one natural disaster or another just before the grant
money was handed out. 'Box jellyfish terror', the newspapers would
announce, just as the jellyfish season ended and the grants season began.
It was the joke session that did me in. 'Have you heard the one about
Sara Pipelini?' asked Brodie, and we all said, 'No,' as one does. Up till
then I had managed to laugh in all the right places ... I didn't notice
when Brodie stopped talking and I was far away when everyone else was
laughing. These things add up, these moments of obtuseness, they count.
The inability to see the point of a professional joke may be interpreted as
a lack of that empathic sensitivity to the group so necessary for the
scientific teamwork of today. (Love 1989, pp.40-2)
method) scarcely ever corresponds to the reality of the scientific process. Much
of scientific investigation relies on a pragmatic 'let's try it and see what
happens' approach, and the getting of data is all important ...
Instead of concentrating on 'the method' of science as philosophers of science
from Bacon to Popper have done, then, we should fix our attention on ...
'data generation systems', involving techniques, instrumentation, experimental
materials (mice, sheep) co-ordinated networks and so on. (1989, p. 271)
Data generation systems are typically designed to transform experimental materials
into specified forms of inscription. For example, during his studies at the Salk
Institute, Latour claims to have been struck by the way in which many features
of laboratory practice could be ordered by looking
not at the scientists' brains (I was forbidden access!), at the cognitive structures
(nothing special), at the paradigms (the same for thirty years), but at the
transformation of rats and chemicals into paper ... the way in which anything
and everything was transformed into inscriptions ... was what the laboratory
was made for. (1986, p. 15)
Latour also emphasises the extent to which laboratory scientists depend on the
inscribed products of data generation systems: 'their end result, no matter the field,
was always a small window through which one could read a very few signs from
a rather poor repertoire (diagrams, blots, bands, columns) ... When these resources
were lacking, the selfsame scientists stuttered, hesitated, and talked nonsense' (1986,
pp. 3-4). In other words, while the discursive authority of science in society and
education is supported by the mystique of 'scientific method', the truth claims
in which working scientists have confidence appear to be restricted to whatever
is expressed through their inscription devices- the ways of writing and diagram-
ming that are specific to the data generation systems they have constructed (see
exhibit 3: 'Egg Harvest' and 'Flushing').
Much science education is thus founded on a spurious representation of the inter-
relationships between data generation systems, 'scientific knowledge' and 'scientific
method'. For example, in the National Statement on Science for Australian Schools
cited above, data generation is presented as though it invariably takes place as part
of a rational sequence of activities that can be described in terms of ' the scientific
method' for producing 'scientific knowledge'. Such a rationalised presentation ignores
the pragmatics and social determinants of data production (not to mention the
imagination, skill and ingenuity with which laboratory scientists develop data gener-
ation systems and inscription devices for particular purposes). Furthermore, as
Charlesworth et al. (1989, p. 271) observe, 'irrational and uncontrollable factors-
lucky breaks, playing one's hunches, being in the right place at the right time-
also playa disconcertingly large part in scientific discovery'.
If the rationalised version of scientific method 'scarcely ever corresponds to the
reality of the scientific process' then the privileged status of 'scientific knowledge'
must be questioned. It is sheer hypocrisy for science educators to assert that 'the
processes and principles of science ... enable scientific knowledge to be devel-
oped which is generally reliable, useful and well accepted' (Australian Education
Exhibit 3: 'Egg Harvest' and 'Flushing'
'Egg Harvest' and 'Flushing' are two in a series of five 'concrete' (or visual) poems by
Melbourne-based poet Thalia. First published as postcards, the series is reprinted in Haw-
thorne and Klein (1991, pp. 128-32) who observe that these highly condensed images
express 'the pain and bewilderment women experience when they enter the high-tech world
of modern medicine. Using the tradition of stenography, the sequence represents the inter-
action between language, representation, politics and science' (Hawthorne & Klein 1991,
p. x). These images can also be read as an ironic comment on the 'shorthand' produced
by scientists' inscription devices which reduce complex human activities and perceptions
to 'a very few signs from a rather poor repertoire' (Latour 1986, p. 3).
- - - - : : - - = - = - - - - - - ~ .
C')...t Frozen
'--.--" Farming
J Eggs
'\.. _ Harvesting
Council 1991, p. 4) if it can be demonstrated that these 'processes and principles'
do not characterise the work of practising scientists. Indeed, the studies of working
scientists cited here clearly demonstrate the underdetermination of scientific truth
claims by the evidence that is claimed to support them. Despite the myth of the
definitive experiment which reliably separates truth from error, very few 'well-
accepted' hypotheses are discarded simply on the basis of experimental refutation.
Textbook accounts of scientific method rarely acknowledge that anyone exper-
iment usually suppons several alternative hypotheses, that experiments may be
easier to design than to carry out, and that many experimental results are much
less clear cut than is suggested by the reductionist forms of inscription (and res-
tricted languages of interpretation) in which they are represented and reponed.
A 'well-accepted' theory may be supported by one selection of data and under-
mined by others. To say that a given scientific theory is 'reliable, useful and well
accepted' does not mean that it has emerged from rigorous application of the
textbook version of scientific method but, rather, that it constitutes a social agree-
ment constructed by the participants in a particular 'conversation'.
Science is polities by other means:
a missing dimension of science education
To understand how a scientific theory can be both 'well accepted' and under-
determined by data requires that we look beyond the material space oflaboratory
work to the 'mythic space' constituted by the cultural discourses in which scien-
tists participate. The work of critical feminist scholars has been particularly
illuminating in this respect. For example, as pan of her synthesis of several detailed
examinations of scientific theories of gender difference, Ruth Bleier writes that
the notion that significant cognitive sex differences exist and that explanations
for them may be found by looking for biological sex differences in the
development, structure, and functioning of the brain . . . is legitimized by an
elaborate network of interdependent hypotheses ... Standing alone, few of the
hypotheses have any independent scientific support, but together, supported by
each other, they create the illusion of a structure of weight, consistency,
conviction, and reason. In support of [their commitment to scientific theories
of gender difference], scientists make increasing numbers of unsubstantiated
conjectures that are then taken up by other scientists as confirming evidence
for their own unsubstantiated conjectures. (1986, p.58)
Bleier's example draws attention to a dimension of scientific work that is conspicu-
ously absent from conventional school science education: science is not only a matter
of generating data and inscribing them in the material spaces of laboratories but
also involves the generation, transformation and interpretation of meanings in the
mythic space which laboratories symbolise. In Latour's phrase: 'science is politics
continued by other means' (1984, p. 257). Latour emphasises that his view does
not 'reduce' science to politics-to arbitrary power rather than rational knowledge.
Rather, Latour directs attention to the importance of discerning the 'other means'
by which scientists exercise political power. These include particular narrative
strategies and the authority to deploy them with a given audience. It is in scien-
tists' interests to maintain what Haraway (1986, p. 83) calls a 'mystifying dichotomy'
between power and knowledge-to be able to claim that they are doing research
rather than practising politics when they are wittingly, or unwittingly, doing both.
One way of sustaining this dichotomy is by separating 'research' from the language
in which it is conceived and reported. As Judith Brett writes:
Scientists do their research, then write it up. The writing is seen as ancillary,
after the fact, and in no way constitutive of the research itself. The adoption
of this way of talking about research masks the centrality of language and
writing ... The fiction is of reality apprehended before language and of the
act of writing as a simple one of reporting on or describing that apprehension.
The true work is thus seen as collecting the facts, ... the findings, and the
writing is simply the report, written in the plain impersonal style characteristic
of reports, as if the author were absent. The role of language in shaping and
probing reality is denied ... (1991, p. 519)
In other words, scientific writing masks the extent to which scientists' language
produces the data they report. The narrative strategies of scientific writing (such
as the use of the passive voice) create an illusion of neutrality, objectivity and
anonymity which contributes to the authority of the text. Scientists tend to write
as though language is merely another inscription device - a vehicle for transmit-
ting data about the objects and outcomes of their research-rather than a medium
which generates a multiplicity of meanings. The meaning of a scientific report
is not fixed in printed words or in their representation of an author's intentions
but, rather, in the reading of the report by others, such as colleagues, students,
science journalists and members of the public. The strategic effect of deploying
a facade of neutrality is captured well by Bleier in relation to the reporting of a
number of studies of human and rat brains which purport to provide evidence
of sex differences in the hemispheric lateralisation of visuo-spatial function:
However unreflective the process may be, scientists ... are able to stop just
short of making the kinds of assertions that their own and others' data cannot
defensibly support, yet they can remain secure in the knowledge that their
readers will supply the relevant cultural meaning to their text; for example,
that women are innately inferior in the visuospatial and (therefore) the
mathematical skills, and that no amount of education or social change can
abolish this biological gap. It is disingenuous for scientists to pretend
ignorance of their readers' beliefs and expectations and unethical to disclaim
responsibility for the effects of their work and for presumed misinterpretations
of their 'pure' texts. Scientists are responsible, since they themselves build
ambiguities and misinterpretations into the writing itself. (1986, p.62)
Much science journalism in the mass media (as represented by, for example,
ABC radio's 'The Science Show' and the Channel Seven television network's 'Beyond
2000') attempts to 'supply the relevant cultural meaning' on behalf of the listening
and viewing audience. With notable exceptions (such as ABC science broadcaster
Norman Swan's exposure of William McBride's misrepresentations of his medical
research), such journalism tends to be adulatory and relatively uncritical. It is left
to popular 'fiction' to cultivate suspicion of the scientist's voice (see exhibit 4: 'Lab
Coat: Robe of Innocence or Klansman's Sheet?').
When Latour (1983, pp. 141-2) reported his investigations oflaboratory life he
was impelled to ask a 'naive but nagging question: if nothing scientific is happening
in laboratories, why are there laboratories to begin with and why ... is the society
surrounding them paying for these places where nothing special is produced?' But,
as Damien Broderick suggests, we might just as well ask:
If nothing metaphysical was happening in medieval monasteries, as plenty of
atheists would surmise, why did society pay for them? If nothing of security is
being fostered by the overwhelming multiplication of nuclear weapons and
'conventional' arms, why are we all paying so much for them? The answer, as
always, lies at the intersection of power and knowledge. Religion and the
profession of arms and the exercise of theoretical and laboratory skills are all
arenas for the deployment of authority, the insertion of levers, the exertion of
force. (1987, p.33)
As we well know, the forces of science and technology can be exerted for both
good and evil- and for purposes of ambiguous virtue (like 'the beauty of our
weapons' and 'the drugs that keep you thin'). Science educators must consider how
best to represent science in schools so that both its virtues and its vices are under-
stood and so that learners are invited to participate in the transformation of science's
oppressive power (for example, by resisting and challenging the strategic rhetoric
of scientific writing which allows a passive voice to command such coercive
As material places, school laboratories neither resemble the sites in which most
scientists work nor are they used for the kind of experimentation and data gener-
ation that characterises much professional science. Rather, they are places where
students follow recipes, perform routine procedures, rehearse technical skills
(e.g. manipulating apparatus, monitoring instruments, measuring and recording),
demonstrate the reliability of selected ('well-accepted') scientific 'laws' or phenom-
ena-and falsify their data when the procedures and demonstrations produce incon-
clusive or 'unexpected' results. By tolerating and tacitly approving the falsification
of data, science educators not only contradict their own mythology-faith in the
'scientific method' - but also trivialise the activities that are most central to the
working lives of professional scientists.
The material conditions of school laboratories-and the textbooks and manuals
which provide the recipes, models and myths supporting the activities conducted
within them-do not lend themselves to critical explorations of the mythic spaces
they symbolise. School science education encourages 'hands on', unreflective 'busy
work' rather than the kinds of activities through which learners might come to
understand science as 'politics continued by other means'. Such activities must
include close analysis of the 'cultural texts' of scientific production, including the
primary sources of scientific reports, historical accounts of scientific work, the biog-
raphies and autobiographies of scientists, scientific journalism in the print and
electronic media, representations of science in the fine arts and-perhaps most
importantly-science fiction in its myriad forms.
Exhibit 4: 'Lab Coat - Robe of Innocence
or Klansman's Sheet?'
It is the lab coat, literally and symbolically, that wraps the scientist in the robe
of innocence - of a pristine and aseptic neutrality - and gives him, like the
klansman, a faceless authority that his audience can't challenge. From that
sheeted figure comes a powerful, mysterious, impenetrable, coercive anonymous
male voice. How do we counter that voice? (Bleier 1986, p.62)
Bleier's comment is nicely illustrated in the graphic novel Animal Man (Morrison et al.
1991), some scenes from which are reproduced below. Note that the scientist's spectacles
(drawn as opaque in the top cell) also contribute to his 'mysterious, impenetrable' presence
- but that he removes this symbol of detachment and objectivity when, later in the story,
he is challenged to tell the truth. This is a savage irony in the light of the mythology
of science which alleges that the pursuit of truth is the scientist's most valued aspiration.
Animal Man 1987 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Indeed, since much of what is presently taught in school science deserves to
be treated as history ('Once upon a time there was a man called Isaac Newton
who ... ') rather than as propositional knowledge ('Newton's first law of motion
is ... '), it can be argued that science education should be centrally concerned
with a critique of science as histoire-the French word which means both 'history'
and 'story'. In this sense, the keys to understanding science in the contemporary
world are not the memorisation of propositional knowledge or induction into 'the
scientific method' but, rather, the dispositions and abilities which enable learners
to deconstruct and reconstruct the narratives and myths of science. Such an approach
is exemplified by Nunan and Homer's (1981) 'social analysis' of selected science
fiction texts (see Reading 1). The authors demonstrate that these texts-all of which
are well-known and accessible examples of science fiction literature - tell us a great
deal about the ways in which science affects individuals as social beings and about
how scientific knowledge is constructed from human transactions in particular social
settings. Other science fiction novels which are ripe for the kind of social analysis
exemplified by Nunan and Homer include Gregory Benford's (1980) Timescape
(a realistic novel about scientists at work with a meticulously thought-out scientific
premise drawn from recent research on tachyons) and George Turner's (1991) Brain
Child (a cautionary tale about genetic engineering). Useful syntheses of the ways
in which science and scientists are depicted in science fiction are provided by
Dowling (1986), Lambourne et al. (1990), Nicholls (1982) and Parrinder (1990).
Nunan and Homer (1981, pp. 326-7) advocate what they call a 'radical science
education' - 'radical in the sense that its values would oppose the present status
quo' - but their version of such an education may fall short of transcending the
'mystifying dichotomy' between power and knowledge which science education
presently reinforces. For example, the conclusion to their paper reveals the extent
to which they have retained some aspects of this dichotomy in their own thinking:
A radical science education ... attempts to educate in and about science in a
particular society. An education in science retains much of the 'hard' science of
present science texts; indeed, this fundamental element of 'hard science' is
central to the kind of education we are proposing. What needs to be stressed is
that an education in science should be carried out conjointly with an education
about science in a particular society. The emphases should be on both the
'social responsibility' of science and the social roots of scientific thought as the
latter interacts with its political, economic, and cultural determinants. Only in
that way can the contradiction between science-teaching and the realities of
science be disposed of. (1981, p.328)
To suggest that it is meaningful to distinguish between education in science and
education about science is troubling enough, but my main concern here is with
the suggestion that there is something 'fundamental' and 'central' about aspects
of science that can be designated 'hard' (with the implication that other aspects
of science may be 'soft'). To do so continues to privilege the subject matters of
existing science textbooks and forecloses debate about the contents of science edu-
cation curricula. I have no quarrel with the view that, for example, Newtonian
mechanics should only be learned and taught within the framework of its social
history and cultural effects. My objection is to the implication that Newtonian
mechanics may constitute a 'fundamental element' of 'hard science' (like all 'hard
science', Newtonian mechanics rests on a fundament of , soft' assumptions). In other
words, it is not only important to consider how Newtonian mechanics should be
taught in a radical science education; we must also consider if, as a body of prop-
ositional knowledge, it should be taught at all. Rather than privileging the contents
of existing science textbooks, any attempt 'to educate in and about science in a
particular society' should treat all of the cultural texts of science equitably. Textbook
science, science fiction, science journalism, and all the other myriad representations
of science in contemporary society's languages, institutions and media, are cultural
expressions of the histoire of science in our society and all are significant resources
for science education.
Intermission: political science
Before considering the interrelationships between science education and science
fiction in more detail, it seems appropriate to use a piece of science fiction to form
a conceptual bridge from the above discussion of ' science is politics by other means'
to the next section's discussion of educating with science fiction. The following
passage is excerpted from George Turner's novel Brain Chld and reports some
reminiscences of a retired federal parliamentarian who, while Minister for Science
in the early years of the twenty-first century, supported 'Project IQ', an attempt
to boost human intelligence by genetic engineering.
If you want to go right back to the starting point you could say that Barry
Jones made it possible. You never heard of him, did you? He was a Science
Minister with some Labour government back in the eighties, last century,
when I was still feeling my way among the shop stewards. Science wasn't a
senior portfolio then but this Jones was vocal at a time when science was
making itself felt - the Microchip Revolution, IVF and all that - but it was still
hard to put across to a public reared on video, booze and football. Not that
the MPs were much better. They all had their specialties that mostly didn't
matter where policy was concerned but about science they knew bugger all and
cared less until it started to stand up and bite them. With this Jones and a
couple that came after him pushing at it, the job became more important.
When my time came in 2002 the portfolio was junior only to the PM, the
Deputy and the Treasurer. If you think that means I knew any science, forget
it. I wanted that job and I worked on the PM till I got it. I didn't need to
know science, I had a Department full of brains to do the knowing; I was an
administrator and a bloody good one and that was the Department with a big
Project IQ was already in the wind when we took government and I had my
eye on it for long-term benefits - a big career, a name in the history books and
a golden handshake hearty enough to last my life out. And who do you think
was the organising mind behind the Extended Span Award? It turned as sour
as I knew it would but that didn't harm me any, did it?
In the end I was wrong about Project IQ but we were out of office by then
and other people took the blast. But I did all right when we got back into
power and the Project fiasco had all blown over, didn't I? You've got to be a
survivor, Davey! Anyway, at the start I pushed it for all it was worth and it
was me that got it up and running.
It wasn't all that hard to do. I'd had this pack of geneticists and gene
topologists snapping at my heels from the moment I took up the Science
portfolio, claiming they had all the variants of the helix charted in the
computers, that they'd sorted out the inert sections of the chain and mapped
the most promising points of interlocation. They had a list of the micro-
surgeons they wanted and a design for the laboratory they wanted, all set to
bounce if I could shake the money out of Treasury.
Science was news just then, with the Greenhouse Effect making headlines,
and cloning big in the magazine sections, so the great silly public was in the
mood for some sort of great leap forward, and what better than super-
intelligence in the test tube? Australian test-tube biology had always been a
special pride.
The scientific community was onside, except the astronomers, of all people.
Did you know there's a high proportion of religious nuts among them,
overwhelmed by the majesty of the universe, looking at their computer-
enhanced pictures of the sky and thinking they're mapping the face of God?
Some of them published an open letter quoting, 'vaulting ambition that
o'erleaps itself.' I had a secretary who knew his Macbeth so I was able to
answer that we'd learned a bit since the witches brewed. That got me a big
response from the cartoonists and put the Bible bangers right back in the bag.
It did better than that - it put me in the public eye as the big white father of
the future. I was in the saddle.
The group I thought would back me by hitting the public in the entertain-
ment field-and that's where the ratbag opinions are really formed-was the
science fiction writers and fan clubs. Not a bit of it! They didn't like science!
It was intrusive, obscure, boring and unimaginative-got in the way of real
creativity! I tell you, Davey, in politics you learn something new and silly
every day. It makes you wonder how we ever came out of the caves. (1991,
Through this politician's recollections (he is elsewhere described as a 'vulgarian
careerist'), George Turner is clearly having a little fun at the expense of a number
of social groups - including science fiction writers and fans. While there is an element
of truth in the assertion that many science fiction writers and readers sometimes
see science as a barrier to 'real creativity', I believe that it is not so much science
per se that they find 'intrusive, obscure, boring and unimaginative' but textbook
science-a critical judgment that I suspect many school students would also endorse.
As I will now proceed to argue, the science of science fiction is not the same as
the fiction that is textbook science, but it may be more meaningful, more interesting
and more central to the lives of learners.
Part 2
Educating with science fiction
As I have demonstrated in the previous section, many representations of science
and technology in popular media are situated in what is usually called 'science
fiction' in its various print, graphic, audiovisual and electronic forms. In recent
years, this field has become known by the more embracing (and more ambiguous)
term 'SF'. As Haraway explains:
In the late 1960s science fiction anthologist and critic Judith Merrill
idiosyncratically began using the signifier SF to designate a complex emerging
narrative field in which boundaries between science fiction (conventionally, sf)
and fantasy became highly permeable in confusing ways, commercially and
linguistically. Her designation, SF, came to be widely adopted as critics,
readers, writers, fans, and publishers struggled to comprehend an increasingly
heterodox array of writing, reading, and marketing practices indicated by a
proliferation of 'sf phrases: speculative fiction, science fiction, science fantasy,
speculative futures, speculative fabulation. (1989, p.5)
I have described elsewhere some of the pleasures oflearning with SF (Gough 1991;
see Reading 2). My account is autobiographical and focuses on a small number
of specific stories - by Arthur C. Clarke and Ursula Le Guin - which have sig-
nificantly influenced my work in curriculum studies and teacher education. It was
not written as an argument for using SF but, rather, as an example of its generative
potential that might whet readers' appetites and motivate them to undertake their
own inquiries. It is also important to note that my account is not intended to dem-
onstrate the 'relevance' of SF to the subject matters and methods of conventional
school science education. Like Nunan and Homer (1981, p. 317) I do not advocate
studying SF for the 'textbook science' it may illustrate: 'To do so would amount
to little more than presenting the school-science orthodoxy in a slightly unorthodox
way'. Rather, I believe that SF is a conceptual territory in which we can explore
ideas and issues that may be more important to us (learners and teachers) than
those to be found in conventional science textbooks and classroom practices. For
example, in my own case SF has been far more effective than any science teacher
or textbook in arousing my curiosity, cultivating a sense of wonder, and helping
me to tolerate ambiguity, paradox, uncertainty and indeterminacy.
The significance of SF for understanding science as a cultural phenomenon has
become increasingly apparent during the last century as the sharp distinction
between scientific 'fact' and 'fiction' has been eroded. Contemporary science edu-
cators tend to conceive fact and fiction as opposites (see, for example, the titles
of the works cited here by Dubeck, Moshier & Boss 1988 and Holman 1985),
but it should be noted that they have cultural and linguistic similarities. The ety-
mology of 'fact' refers to human action; a fact is the thing done, 'that which actually
happened', the Latinjactum being the neuter past participle ofjacere, 'do' (OED).
Thus, both fact and fiction refer to human experience, the important difference
being that 'fiction' is an active form-the act of fashioning-whereas 'fact' descends
from a past participle, a part of speech which disguises the generative act. Facts
are testimonies to experience. Scientific facts are testimonies to the experiences
of scientists in actively producing facts with their increasingly elaborate technologies
of data generation and inscription, their rule-governed practices of interpretation,
and their specific traditions of social relationships and organisation. Thus, the oppo-
sition offact and fiction in modern science is a fiction - part of a story which ration-
alises the strategies used by modern scientists to produce facts. Exposing this fiction
is part of the story of postmodern science.
Postmodern science: reconnecting
fact and fiction
Modern science (beginning with Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and Newton)
was constructed on the assumptions of empiricism and experimentalism. By the
middle of the nineteenth century it had come to be typified by Newtonian physics
and mathematics and, as Newton had foreseen (and, incidentally, deplored), it was
materialistic, deterministic, atomistic and reductionist. Scientists and educators
alike assumed that science was chiefly a matter of patiently seeking the 'facts' of
nature and accurately reporting them. The breakdown of this assumption was given
impetus by a series of events in the physical sciences that began in the late 1880s.
Joseph Schwab provides a useful summary of these events and their significance
for understanding the scientific enterprise:
The discovery of radioactivity suddenly revealed a world within the world then
thought to be the only world. The study of that world and its relations to the
world already known led to a revolution in the goals and the structures of
physics. By the mid-twenties, this revolution in physics had gone so far that
we were faced with the fact that some of the oldest and least questioned of our
ideas could no longer be treated as literally true-or literally false. Classical
space had been a homogeneous, neutral stage on which the dramas of motion
and existence were acted out. The flow of classical time was always and
everywhere the same. The mass and length of bodies were each elementary
properties independent of other properties. Bodies occupied a definite location
and a definite amount of space.
The new physics changed these notions. In its knowledge structure, space
was something that could be distorted and its distortions affected bodies in it.
The magnitude and position of subatomic particles could not be described as
we describe the magnitude and position of a one-inch cube here-now.
But these new assertions did not come about because direct observations of
space, place, time, and magnitude disclosed that our past views about them
were mistaken. Rather, our old assertions about these matters were changed
because physicists had found it fruitful to treat them in a new way-neither as
self-evident truths nor as matters for immediate empirical verification. They
were treated, instead, as principles of inquiry-conceptual structures which
could be revised when necessary, in directions dictated by large complexes of
theory, diverse bodies of data, and numerous criteria of progress in science.
Today, almost all parts of the subject-matter sciences proceed in this way. A
fresh line of scientific research has its origin not in objective facts alone, but in
a conception, a deliberate construction of the mind. On this conception, all
else depends. It tells us what facts to look for in the research. It tells us what
meaning to assign these facts. (1962, p. 198)
Since Schwab wrote these words, the ways in which science is determined by
'deliberate constructions of the mind' have been further amplified and elucidated,
particularly with respect to the wider social and cultural determinants of scientific
work and the truth claims that emerge from it. In effect, Schwab is describing
the emergence of postmodern science - the realisation that many of the percep-
tions, interpretations and explanations that constitute 'reality' and our experience
of it are not 'facts' (as modern science conceived them) but meanings fashioned
by human agents: that is, they are fictions. 'Science' and 'fiction' do not exist in
separate domains but are culturally connected. This is not simply a matter of science
and literature finding common meeting places in SF and other forms of popular
media. Nor is it just a matter of scientific theories being translated into literary
themes, a practice which long preceded the emergence of science fiction as a dis-
tinctive literary mode (for example, Copernican cosmology permeates the poetry
of John Donne and concepts of disease formation are a distinctive feature of Emile
Zola's novels). As Hayles (1984, p. 10) demonstrates, 'literature is as much an
influence on scientific models as the models are on literature', insofar as there is
a two-way traffic in metaphors, analogies and images between them. In recent years,
the deep cultural connections between science and literature have been most clearly
elucidated through the discourses of poststructural criticism. While poststruc-
turalism has obvious origins in literary theory, the cognate interests of post modern
scientists (especially those working in the new chaos sciences) have established
post structural critical discourses as fertile sites for discussing and investigating
both scientific and literary cultures (see also Hayles 1990, 1991).
Structuralists and poststructuralists share the view that the objects and meanings
that constitute our understandings of 'reality' are social constructions-they are
not assumed to exist independently of human perception and activity. Poststruc-
tural inquiries are concerned, in part, with a refinement and critique of the kinds
of stories that structuralists and others have constructed - stories which purport
to describe and explain the structures of other stories, including the stories with
which we construct our shared understandings of the phenomenal world. Post-
structural critics examine the extent to which analyses of narrative constructions
are caught up in the processes and mechanisms they are analysing. In Jonathan
Culler's (1990, p. 4) words, poststructuralists are critical of the view that anyone
can get 'outside' a cultural discourse or practice to describe its rules and norms:
'the analytical system or set of categories does not offer a grounded perspective
on the phenomena from the outside, but proves rather to be problematically caught
up in the processes and functions of the phenomena that it is studying'. Thus,
the analytic posture of post structuralism 'is not one of scientific detachment but
of intractable involvement'. Poststructuralists are particularly critical of
metalanguage-language 'of a higher or second-order kind' (OED). As Culler (1990,
p. 4) says, 'any metalanguage turns out to be more language, subject to the forces
it claims to be analyzing'.
For example, positivism (a philosophy of science which recognises only 'positive
facts' and observable phenomena) can be viewed as an attempt to develop a meta-
language of science - a set of rules characterising positive knowledge. The positivist
story makes rules for other stories by imposing on them categorical distinctions
between analytic and synthetic, linguistic and empirical, observation and theory,
and so on. As Cherryholmes (1988, p. 11) writes, structural thought seeks 'ration-
ality, linearity, progress and control by discovering, developing, and inventing
metanarratives, ... that define rationality, linearity, progress and control', whereas
post structural thought is 'skeptical and incredulous about the possibility of such
metanarratives'. The poststructural position is that a metanarrative is just another
narrative, a social agreement constructed by participants in a particular 'conver-
sation'. Metanarratives are as 'incomplete, time-bound, interest-relative, ideologi-
cally informed, and shaped by power' as any other narratives (Cherryholmes 1988,
Post structural criticism has affinities with postanalytic philosophy and with a
variety of postmodern movements in the arts, humanities and sciences. Postmodern-
isms are characterised by a shared skepticism towards the authority of foundational
discourses (sometimes known as 'totalising' discourses because they are intended
to be universal in their application). Thus, for example, Schwab's account of the
origins of the new physics suggests that the positivist metanarrative no longer guides
the practices of post modern scientists (though it may still be evident in their rhetoric).
As Michael Polanyi, himself a physical scientist and philosopher, wrote in his
Preface to Personal Knowledge:
I start by rejecting the ideal of scientific detachment. In the exact sciences, this
false ideal is perhaps harmless, for it is in fact disregarded there by scientists.
But ... it exercises a destructive influence in biology, psychology and
sociology, and falsifies our whole outlook far beyond the domain of science.
(1958, p. vii)
Post modern science tacitly embraces the relatedness of the observer and the
observed - the personal participation of the knower in all acts of understanding.
By abandoning what Sandra Harding (1986, p. 193) calls 'the longing for "one
true story" that has been the psychic motor fof. [modern] Western science', post-
modern science has accommodated the ambiguities and uncertainties of quantum
mechanics and, more recently, the chaotic 'orderly disorder' of non-linear dynamics,
fractal geometry and irreversible systems far from equilibrium.
Quantum mechanics illustrates some of the characteristic differences between
modern and post modern science. Quantum mechanics is not deterministic: it
attributes something like 'free will' to the smallest particles of matter and predicts
only probabilities. Quantum mechanics is not atomistic: the universe is not por-
trayed as a collection of many small, independent, indivisible particles but as one,
whole and indivisible. Furthermore, quantum mechanics suggests that the observer
is essential: consciousness is a necessary (and perhaps sufficient) condition for the
existence of the universe and we can predict (probabilistically) what occurs only
during observations. In between observations, quantum mechanics has nothing to
say about the universe. Thus, quantum mechanics is non-realistic in the
philosophical sense (realism is the view that observable phenomena are due to some
physical reality whose existence is independent of observation). The implications
of quantum mechanics for science education are profound: if the observer is a
necessary condition for the existence of the universe then to study the universe
we must study the observer-that is, ourselves (see exhibit 5: 'Prototaph').
Poststructural criticism -like postmodern science - challenges the legitimacy of
those discourses and practices of contemporary science education which are
grounded historically in the truth claims of modern science. As presently con-
structed, the language of science education privileges the modernist scientific dis-
course which lays claim to having access to 'one true story' - to the way things
'really' are. We might do better to adopt the skepticism towards metanarratives
that characterises poststructural discourses and act on the kind of understanding
of the phenomenal world that is encapsulated in the words of a poster I once saw
in an English (language) classroom: 'the universe is not made of atoms-it is made
of stories'. Or, as Jean-Francois Lyotard (1984, p. xxiv) puts it: '[postmodern society]
falls less within the province of a Newtonian anthropology (such as structuralism
or systems theory) than a pragmatics of language particles'.
Laboratories of ideas
If science is a kind of storytelling-literally jictio-then what is its relationship
to the storytelling which has come to be known as science fiction? Broderick suggests
Science fiction, speculative fiction, is the explicitly literary landscape where
these issues [of science and technology] are given imaginative form: dressed
gaudily in metaphor, mounted on tin starships, sent out to joust against buggy
aliens and mind-reading foes which are, finally, the limits of our own
constructed knowledge, the fringes of our as-yet-unsayable fears and hopes.
Too often it is an evasion, a retreat to cosy positivism, to the authority of a
theology which now worships at the lab bench instead of the altar. Just as
often it's a game for children, a different sort of backsliding into an adventure
playground. (1987, p. 34)
Like any popular art form, SF ranges widely in quality. But Broderick's descrip-
tion of SF at its worst - 'a retreat to cosy positivism' - could equally well apply
to the majority of conventional science textbooks (although SF is likely to be a
Exhibit 5: 'Prototaph'
The narrator of Keith Laumer's short story, 'Prototaph', first published in 1966, attempts
to buy some life insurance. His application is rejected when he is assessed as being 'unin-
surable' by the supposedly infallible supercomputer known as FATE (Federal Actuarial
Table Extrapolator). Believing himself to be in good health, he challenges FATE and
eventually he and the insurance company officials are told why his application was refused
- at which time he is placed into a pampered combination of protective custody and inten-
sive care. The final page of a comic version of the story (Laumer & Lere 1989, p. 136),
reproduced below, reveals the reason for his treatment. The punchline can be seen as
a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of one of the tenets of quantum mechanics, namely, that
consciousness is a necessary condition for the existence of the universe: no observer, no
good deal more entertaining). Even if SF was no more than 'a game for children'
it would deserve a place in schooling-an 'adventure playground' that exercises
children's minds is no less important than the kind that exercises their bodies.
However, as Broderick asserts, SF does much more: it gives 'imaginative form'
to 'the limits of our own constructed knowledge'. SF also gives imaginative form
to what might lie beyond these limits, beyond 'the fringes of our as-yet-unsayable
fears and hopes'. If much SF seems to focus on our fears, this may be an index
to the anxieties that have been provoked by modern science and technology (see
exhibit 6: 'Organlegging').
While much SF is cautionary, it is also capable of giving form to our hopes.
As Teresa de Lauretis writes, SF is
potentially creative of new forms of social imagination, creative in the sense of
mapping out areas where cultural change could take place, of envisioning a
different sort of order of relationship between people and between people and
things, a different conceptualization of social existence, inclusive of physical
and material existence. (1980, p. 161)
Examples of such 'new forms of social imagination' can be found in SF stories
like Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed (see Nunan & Homer 1981, pp.324-6,
Reading 1, for further details) and Always Coming Home (1986). But whereas The
Dispossessed deals explicitly with issues of a scientist's social responsibility, in Always
Coming Home science and technology are, as it were, 'absent presences'. The setting
for Always Coming Home is 'the Valley', an imagined version of California's Napa
Valley about 2600 years hence. The cities of the US West Coast have sunk beneath
the Pacific or been destroyed by nuclear upheaval. Le Guin does not tell just one
story but evokes the complex culture of the Valley by providing samples of its
narratives, myths, poetry, ceremonies, medical practices, arts and crafts, music,
and so on (the first editions of the novel were profusely illustrated and accompanied
by a cassette tape of music and poetry). Le Guin herself, as 'Pandora', sometimes
enters the text by simply 'being there' in the Valley while simultaneously main-
taining the perspective of our late twentieth century present. In one of these passages
Pandora interviews a Valley archivist who asserts that the novel is not a utopia but
a mere dream dreamed up in a bad time, an Up Yours to the people who ride
snowmobiles, make nuclear weapons, and run prison camps by a middle-aged
housewife, a critique of civilization possible only to the civilised, an affirmation
pretending to be a rejection, a glass of milk for the soul ulcered by acid rain
... (1986, p.316)
Le Guin does not explain how the world of Always Coming Home comes about.
But she gives the reader clues, bits and hints - an archeology of an imagined future
in which industrial sciences and technologies have faded. These are, however,
accessed by a vast computer network, the 'City of the Mind', which is peripheral
to life in the Valley, being used chiefly for agricultural improvements, weather
forecasting and historical study. The Valley dwellers do not value the machine
world and have simply turned their backs on it without violence or anger (they
Exhibit 6: 'Organlegging'
Much SF is an imaginitive response to fears generated by scientific and technological
'progress'. For example, 'organleggers' - near-future smugglers of human organs for use
in transplant surgery - have appeared in such SF works as Larry Niven's (1975) The
Long ARM of Gil Hamilton and the British weekly comic 2000AD. The latter features
Judge Dredd, one of the grim unsmiling law enforcers of Mega City One, a vast twenty-
second-century metropolis covering the whole eastern seaboard of today's USA. The
segment below, from The Chronicles of Judge Dredd (Wagner, Grant & Smith 1985, p. 31),
is part of a story dealing with Shanty Town, a 'vast conglomeration containing the flotsam
and jetsam of the Apocalypse War', located 'a kilometre beyond Mega City One's west
wall' (p. 30). Another strip in which Dredd wrecks an organlegging racket shows the Judge
not only searching luggage and clothing but performing investigative surgery: one smuggler
is caught with two hearts, six kidneys, three livers, two sets of lungs, a windpipe, two
spleens, 28 metres of large intestine and a gallon of blood that are not his own hidden
inside his body. Speculations about an illegal trade in human organs were common in
news stories immediately following the 1991 murder of Victor Chang, Australia's best
known heart transplant surgeon. More recently, the prospects of ' genetic finger-printing',
which requires tissue samples to be taken from suspects in criminal cases, can be seen
as one small step towards investigative surgery.
are not, in our terms, Luddites). Science and technology as we know them are
not gone from this world view: they are just not seen as important or central to
fulfilled human lives. Always Coming Home is a 'laboratory of ideas' in which Le
Guin and her readers conduct 'narrative experiments' (Ormiston & Sassower
1989) - experiments which generate conceptual models of alternative futures in
which, for example, 'big science' and industrialised technologies are not the prime
determinants of'relationship[s] between people and between people and things'
(see exhibit 7: 'Scrub Oak').
At this point it may be worth noting that the narrative strategies of SF are not
uncommon in 'real' science. Newtonian mechanics is very plausible in imagined
worlds-for example, the formula determining force by reference to mass and
acceleration (F= ma) is most easily demonstrated in frictionless space. Similarly,
in the 1930s, Albert Einstein defended realism and relativity against the paradoxi-
cal truth claims of quantum mechanics by means of a 'thought experiment' - an
experiment which so 'obviously' had the outcome he wanted that it did not actually
require anyone to perform it. Einstein's strategy was persuasive: nearly thirty years
elapsed before other physicists went to the trouble of uncovering his unstated
assumptions and used them to predict the outcomes of feasible experiments which
could be compared with the outcomes predicted by quantum mechanics. Many
physicists interpret the results of these experiments as being decisively in favour
of quantum mechanics. But I am less concerned here with whether or not Einstein
was 'right' than with the ways in which he exercised discursive authority in the
community of physicists. In effect, Einstein sustained doubt in the explanatory
power of quantum mechanics (for many years and among many colleagues) with
no more, and no less, than a 'thought experiment' - a plausible story (for a more
detailed discussion of the narrative strategies found in science and science fiction
see Broderick 1989; Ormiston & Sassower 1989).
SF often registers new scientific knowledge (and speculates on its consequences)
long before it is recognised by the general public-and even longer before it is
registered in textbook science. For example, in The Time Machine, H. G. Wells
(1895) acknowledges the existence of non-Euclidean geometries and suggests a
relationship between space and time that appears, in retrospect, to anticipate the
Einstein-Minkowski notion ofa space-time continuum. Wells was clearly abreast
of the scientific debates of his era and the Time Traveller's opening remarks include
an assertion that remains pertinent to this day: 'The geometry . . . they taught
you at school is founded on a misconception'. The limitations of Euclidean geometry
were well known to nineteenth-century mathematicians, yet, nearly a century later,
few school children have been taught that Euclid's geometry is only one among
many possible geometries. By the late nineteenth century there was growing interest
among mathematicians in the abstract geometry of four (and more) dimensions,
yet this was not reflected in popular or school texts. As Richard Costa (1967, p. 32)
writes: 'For a generation yet to hear of Albert Einstein, the opening pages of The
Time Machine provided an introduction to the possibilities of the Fourth Dimen-
sion which in 1895 was not elsewhere available outside scientific journals' (for further
details of the science and mathematics of The Time Machine, see Geduld 1987).
Exhibit 7: 'Scrub Oak'
In this passage from Always Coming Home, Ursula Le Guin 'finds a way into the Valley through
the Scrub Oak'. In so doing she captures some differences between the imagined worldviews of the
Valley people and presently dominant ways of apprehending nature. Many of the statements in this
passage (such as: 'You don't count scrub oaks. When you count them, something has gone wrong.'
and 'This thing is wilderness. The civilised human mind's relation to it is imprecise, fortuitous, and
full of risk. There are no shortcuts.') offer critical perspectives on modern scientific techniques of
observing and interpreting nature.
Look how messy this wilderness is.
Look at this scrub oak, chaparro, the
chaparral was named for it and
consists of it mixed up with a lot of
other things, but look at this shrub
of it right here now . . . A lot of the
smaller branch-ends look broken or
bitten off. Maybe deer browse the
leafbuds. The little grey branches and
twigs grow every which way, many
dead and lichened, crossing each
other, choking each other out.
Digger-pine needles, spiders' threads,
dead bay leaves are stuck in the
branches. It's a mess. It's littered. It
has no overall shape. Most of the
stems come up from one area, but not
all; there's no center and no
symmetry. A lot of sticks sticking up
out of the ground a little ways with
leaves on some of them . .. The
leaves themselves show some order,
they seem [0 obey some laws, poorly.
They are all different sizes .. . but
each is enough like the others that
one could generalise an ideal scrub-
oak leaf: a dusty, medium dark-green
color, with a slight convex curve to
the leaf, which pillows up a bit
between the veins that run slanting
outward from the central vein; and
the edge is irregularly serrated, with
a title spine at each apex. These
leaves grow irregularly spaced on
alternate sides of their twig up to the
top, where they crowd into a bunch,
a sloppy rosette. Under the litter of
dead leaves, its own and others', and
moss and rocks and mold and junk,
the shrub must have a more or less
shrub-shaped complex of roots, going
fairly deep, probably deeper than it
stands aboveground, because wet as
it is here now in February, it will be
bone dry on this ridge in summer.
There are no acorns left from last fall,
if this shrub is old enough to have
borne them. It probably is. It could
be two years old or twenty or who
knows? It is an oak, but a scrub oak,
a low oak, a no-account oak, and there
are at least a hundred very much like
it in sight from this rock I am sitting
on, and there are hundreds and thou-
sands and hundreds of thousands
more on this ridge and the next ridge,
but numbers are wrong. They are in
error. You don't count scrub oaks.
When you count them, something
has gone wrong. You can count how
many in a hundred square yards and
multiply, if you're a botanist, and so
make a good estimate, a fair guess,
but you cannot count the scrub oaks
on this ridge, let alone the ceanothus,
buckbrush, or wild lilac, which I have
not mentioned, and the other vari-
ously messy and humble components
of the chaparral. The chaparral is like
atoms and the components of atoms:
it evades. It is innumerable. It is not
accidentally but essentially messy.
This shrub is not beautiful, nor even
if I were ten feet high on. hashish
would it be mystical . . . This thing
is nothing to do with us. This thing
is wilderness. The civilised human
mind's relation to it is imprecise, for-
tuitous, and full of risk. There are no
shortcuts. All the analogies run one
direction, our direction ... Analogies
are easy: the live oak, the humble
evergreen, can certainly be made into
a sermon, just as it can be made into
firewood. Read or burnt. Senna, I
read; I read scrub oak. But I don't,
and it isn't here to be read, or burnt .
It is casting a shadow across the page
of this notebook in the weak sunshine
of three-thirty of a February after-
noon in Northern California. When
I close the book and go, the shadow
will not be on the page, though I have
drawn a line around it; only the
pencil line will be on the page. The
shadow will then be on the dead-Ieaf-
thick messy ground or on the mossy
rock ... and the shadow will move
lawfully and with great majesty as the
earth rurns. The mind can imagine
that shadow of a few leaves falling in
the wilderness; the mind is a won-
derful thing. But what about all the
shadows of all the other leaves on all
the other branches on all the other
scrub oaks on all the other ridges of
all the wilderness? If you could
imagine those even for a moment,
what good would it do? Infinite good.
Ursula Le Guin, Always Coming
Home, 1986, pp.239-41.
Illustration by Margaret Chodos
from Always Coming Home
Many accounts of the relationship between 'real' science and SF are overly con-
cerned with demonstrating the wisdom of their own hindsight. For example, in
The Science in Science Fiction, Peter Nicholls (1982) catalogues the various ways
in which particular works of SF can be seen, in retrospect, to have accurately
predicted developments in science and technology; he is also concerned to dem-
onstrate 'where science fiction gets it wrong' (Nicholls 1982, p. 190). But from
the point of view of science education, it may be more important to attend to the
subject matters about which SF speculates than to the accuracy or otherwise of
its predictions.
As I have already argued, one of the purposes of science education is to represent
science as a form of knowledge in the curriculum. Lawrence Stenhouse provides
a useful description of what such a representation entails:
... a form of knowledge has structure, and it involves procedures, concepts
and criteria. Content can be selected to exemplify the most important
procedures, the key concepts and the areas and situations in which the criteria
Now it might be thought that this is to designate procedures, concepts and
criteria as objectives to be learned by the students. This strategy ... would, I
believe, distort the curriculum. For the key procedures, concepts and criteria
in any subject-cause, form, experiment, tragedy-are, and are important
precisely because they are, problematic within the subject. They are the focus
of speculation, not the object of mastery. (1975, p.85)
Many of the concepts that are 'problematic' and 'the focus of speculation' in science
at any given time cannot be found in the textbook science of the day-but it is
more than likely that they will be among the foci of speculation incorporated into
contemporaneous works of SF. Thus, for example, part of the educative value
of The Time Machine in its day was that it gave imaginative form to concepts that
were deeply problematic and key foci of speculation among late-Victorian scien-
tists and mathematicians, such as the space-time relationship, entropy and
evolution-concepts that were not addressed by late-Victorian schooling. In a similar
fashion, much of the textbook science of today is concerned with the kind of subject
matter that is amenable to being treated as an 'object of mastery', such as stipu-
lative definitions and relatively secure and stable propositions and 'laws'. It is left
to science journalism and SF to provide public access to the problematic concepts
which are presently the foci of speculation for working scientists. Apart from the
journals in which reports of current scientific research are published, science
journalism and SF are key sites for exploring the conceptual territories that mark
out the 'leading edges' of science, whereas textbook science seems to be chiefly
concerned with the trailing edges of scientific inquiry. For example, Goswami (1983)
refers to more than seventy SF novels and short stories which incorporate discus-
sions and interpretations of such significant concepts and speculations in twentieth-
century physics and astronomy as antimatter, black holes, entropy, negentropy,
quantum paradoxes, relativity, tachyons, wave phenomena, Bell's theorem,
de Broglie wavelength, the Drake equation, the Dyson sphere, Hubble's law and
Schrodinger's cat.
A recent example of SF embodying the leading edges of scientific speculation
is provided by the emergence of chaos theory as a theme in SF. Chaos theory,
as developed by Belgian thermodynamicist Ilya Prigogine during the 1960s and
1970s, explains how complex, far-from-equilibrium systems spontaneously trans-
form themselves into new levels of complex organisation. Prigogine's model of
self-organising systems as 'dissipative structures' appears to reconcile a number
of deeply problematic contradictions in twentieth-century science, including the
very different models of physical function provided by entropy versus evolution,
and the different roles and attributes of time in microscopic physics and macro-
scopic biology. The profound cosmological implications ofPrigogine's work were
quickly recognised and he received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1977. However,
his work was not published in English in any popular form until 1984 when Order
Out of Chaos (Prigogine & Stengers 1984) was translated from the French. Stories
about chaos began to appear in the popular press during the mid-1980s (e.g.
Atkinson 1985; Strauss 1985), at about the same time as its application to edu-
cational issues was beginning to be explored (e.g. Sawada & Caley 1985; DoUI986).
The mass popularisation of chaos theory was provided by James Gleick's (1987)
bestselling book, Chaos: The Making of a New Science.
With this chronology of chaos theory's public dissemination in mind, it is easy
to agree with David Porush when he writes:
... it is a tribute to the general intuition of SF, and in particular the long-
distance imaginative radar shown by A. A. Attanasio, that in his extravagant
and lavishly-imagined tour de force, Radix, Prigogine's theories make a crucial,
if cameo, appearance. Attanasio must have seized very quickly upon Prigogine's
work ... in order to have abstracted some of its essential implications ... in a
novel that was published as early as 1981. (1991, p.372)
Other SF writers to give imaginative form to Prigogine's work are Bruce Sterling
(1986, 1990), Lewis Shiner (1988), William Gibson (Gibson & Sterling 1991) and
the graphic novelist Alan Moore (Moore et a1. 1987; Moore & Sienkiewicz 1990).
The point I want to emphasise here is that while Prigogine's thinking has promoted
highly original interdisciplinary work in astrophysics, biology, biophysics, chemistry,
ecology, economics, education, management, neurology, particle physics, ther-
modynamics and traffic studies, it has had little or no effect on 'textbook science'
and school science curricula. Yet many ofPrigogine's ideas and their applications
can be accessed immediately through SF.
For example, in Watchmen (Moore et a1. 1987), a dark satire on superhero myth-
ologies and US politics, one central character is the aptly named Dr Manhattan,
a towering (and blue-skinned!) physicist with superhuman qualities. Dr Manhattan
is the reincarnation of a nuclear scientist who is materially 'deconstruct ed' when
he is accidentally irradiated by sub-atomic particles. The novel's representation
of the scientist's reconstruction involves two intertwining-and contradictory-
metaphors. One metaphor is borrowed explicitly from Einstein's rueful reflection
on his role in the release of atomic energy: 'if only I had known, I should have
become a watchmaker'. The scientist repairs a friend's watch a short time before
his demise, and his reconstruction is depicted as 'just a question of reassembling
the components in the correct sequence'. But other visual and verbal cues (not
all of which are apparent in the sequence shown here) suggest that his transform-
ation can itself be conceived as a metaphor of chaos. That is, the scientist's disas-
sembled particles can be interpreted as a chaotic system, a dissipative structure
which spontaneously reorganises itself at a higher level of complexity represented
by Dr Manhattan's superhuman powers (see exhibit 8: 'Dr Manhattan: Order out
of Chaos?'). Thus, Dr Manhattan's ambiguous genesis can be seen to symbolise
the contesting paradigms of modern and postmodern science - of deterministic
mechanics (Newton's 'clockwork universe') versus the unpredictable dynamics of
chaotic self-organising systems.
Another SF novel which incorporates chaos theory in significant ways is Lewis
Shiner's (1988) Deserted Cities of the Heart. The central character is Thomas, an
anthropologist investigating 'the application of Ilya Prigogine's dissipative struc-
tures to the Mayan collapse, circa 900 a.d.' (Shiner 1988, p. 24). Prigogine's theories
provide numerous images and metaphors throughout the story. In a key passage,
Thomas throws pebbles into a pond beneath a waterfall:
The turbulence made them dance, two steps to the right, up for a second, then
spinning off sideways and down. Waterfalls were very big in Chaos Theory, of
which Prigogine's and Thomas' own work were just a part. According to
classical physics the patterns should be predictable, because everything that
went into them was quantifiable. Volume of water, depth of streambed, angle
of gradient, everything. But the patterns were like living organisms, influenced
by their own history and their reactions to each other, and they could never be
nailed down.
What does this tell us, he thought? (1988, pp. 146-7)
This unanswered question exemplifies to some extent the speculations of contem-
porary chaos scientists. As contextualised in this particular SF story, it is a question
equally open to conjecture by learners in school science education. At the moment,
such stories are one of the few ways in which the characteristics and possible impli-
cations of chaos theory can be explored by young learners (for a more detailed
discussion of the links between chaos and SF, see Porush 1991). Furthermore,
harking back to the theme of this section, distinctions between 'fact' and 'fiction'
are irrelevant when considering the above passage's merits as a 'focus of specu-
lation'. Indeed, embedding chaos concepts in an explicit fiction (rather than in
the fiction that masquerades as fact in science textbooks), may make it more likely
that the concepts will be treated as foci of speculation rather than as objects of
Using SF to deconstruct science:
Haraway's primatology
The insights which can emerge from a deliberate blurring of distinctions between
science and literature, fact and fiction, are shown to advantage in Primate Visions,
Donna Haraway's critical history of the development and cultural effects of prima-
tology. The introduction to Primate Visions is subtitled 'the persistence of vision',
and it is no coincidence that this is also the title of a story by John Varley (1978).
Exhibit 8: 'Dr Manhattan: Order out of
In Watchmen (Moore, Gibbons & Higgins 1987, chapter 4, pp. 7-10), the superhuman
Dr Manhattan is a reincarnation of a nuclear research scientist who is 'taken to pieces'
in a laboratory accident. Two contradictory metaphors attend his reconstruction. On the
one hand he is seen to be reassembled in an orderly fashion (like repairing a watch) but,
on the other hand, there are visual and verbal cues which suggest that his metamorphosis
involves the transformation of a dissipative structure - a spontaneous reorganisation at
a higher level of complexity.
--- j
- --J
.. . I
.- -
" .
. ...
Watchmen 1987 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Watchmen 1987 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.
5TA'Z"rED 5T1Cl{IN' UP
EVED ~ / N 6 E R , THAT
PUNK PfilESlEY ...
Watchmen 1987 DC Comics Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Haraway writes:
John Varley's science fiction short story, 'The persistence of vision', is part of
the inspiration for Primate Visions. In the story, Varley constructs a utopian
community designed and built by the deaf-blind. He then explores these
people's technologies and other mediations of communication and their
relations to sighted children and visitors ... The interrogation of the limits
and violence of vision is part of the politics of learning to revision. (1989,
Haraway exposes the 'violence' that arises from the relationship between our
vision-what, how, why, who, when and where we choose to see-and those others
(human, animal) who are the subjects and objects of (and who are subjected to
and objectified by) our vision. In primatology, as in other disciplines, this violence
is both literal and symbolic. As Haraway (1989, p. 1) notes, 'the commercial and
scientific traffic in monkeys and apes is a traffic in meanings, as well as in animal
lives'. Some of these meanings bear 'the terrible marks of gender and race' (p. 1),
because primatology has been a particularly important legitimating discipline for
patriarchal, Eurocentric and anthropocentric mythologies. Haraway is thus con-
cerned to elucidate the ways in which the story-telling practices of science, as exemp-
lified by primatology, 'structure scientific vision' and, in turn, construct myths
of gender, race and nature in our culture.
Looking at primatology, a branch of the life sciences, as a story-telling craft
may be particularly appropriate. First, the discourse of biology, beginning near
the first decades of the nineteenth century, has been about organisms, beings
with a life history; i.e., a plot with structure and function ... Biology is the
fiction appropriate to objects called organisms; biology fashions the facts
'discovered' from organic beings. Organisms perform for the biologist, who
transforms that performance into a truth attested by disciplined experience;
i.e., into a fact, the jointly accomplished deed or feat of the scientist and the
organism ... Both the scientist and the organism are actors in a story-telling
Second, monkeys, apes, and human beings emerge in primatology inside
elaborate narratives about origins, natures, and possibilities. Primatology is
about the life history of a taxonomic order that includes people. Especially
western people produce stories about primates while simultaneously telling
stories about the relations of nature and culture, animal and human, body and
mind, origin and future. Indeed, from the start, in the mid-eighteenth century,
the primate order has been built on tales about these dualisms and their
scientific resolution (Haraway 1989, pp.4-5).
Many of the 'narratives about origins, natures, and possibilities' to which Haraway
refers are sustained by popular media, such as the numerous film and video
documentaries about Jane Goodall's work with chimpanzees and various versions
of the life and death of Dian Fossey (as in the movie, Gorillas in the Mist 1988).
Another recent example is provided by William Boyd's popular novel, Brazzaville
Beach (1991), in which the central characters are scientists undertaking field studies
of chimpanzees. Science fiction has also produced many primate stories. For
example, the Morlocks in H. G. Wells's The Time Machine are described as an
'ape-like' evolutionary 'degeneration' of humans and were inspired, in part, by a
picture of a gorilla in an illustrated book of natural history which Wells read when
he was seven (see Geduld 1987, p. 2). Wells (1934, p. ix) describes The Time Machine
as 'a glimpse of the future that ran counter to the placid assumption of that time
[the late Victorian era] that Evolution was a pro-human force making things better
and better for mankind [sic]'. In similar ways, monkeys and apes have inspired
numerous images of human fears-including fears of what humans might become-
in SF stories and movies (see exhibit 9: 'Primate Images').
The inspiration of Varley's SF story explicitly foreshadows one of the ways in
which Haraway (1989, p. 5) 'reads' primatology, that is, 'as science fiction, where
possible worlds are constantly reinvented in the contest for very real, present worlds'.
I am interested in the narratives of scientific fact - those potent fictions of
science-within a complex field indicated by the signifier SF ...
SF is a territory of contested cultural reproduction in high-technology
worlds. Placing the narratives of scientific fact within the heterogeneous space
of SF produces a transformed field. The transformed field sets up resonances
among all of its regions and components. No region or component is 'reduced'
to any other, but reading and writing practices respond to each other across a
structured space. Speculative fiction has different tensions when its field also
contains the inscription practices that constitute scientific fact. The sciences
have complex histories in the constitution of imaginative worlds and of actual
bodies in modern and postmodern 'first world' cultures. (Haraway 1989, p. 5)
By using SF as a conceptual 'lens' through which to read the primatology story,
Haraway demonstrates the effectiveness of a learning strategy that was described
by Marshall McLuhan in the following terms:
Our time is a time for crossing barriers, for erasing old categories-for probing
around. When two seemingly disparate elements are imaginatively poised, put
in apposition in new and unique ways, startling discoveries often result. (1967,
'Ibe results of adopting such a strategy are particularly apparent in the final chapter of Pn'rnate
Visions (see Reading 3) which alternates between 'reading primatology as science fiction'
and 'reading science fiction as primatology' (pp. 368, 376). Haraway begins this chapter
by using Isaac Asimov's The Second Foundation (1964) to recapitulate the themes of Primate
Visions. She then reviews the work of several women SF writers in the light of her recon-
structed narratives of primatology. Haraway reasons that:
Mixing, juxtaposing, and reversing reading conventions appropriate to each
genre can yield fruitful ways of understanding the production of origin
narratives in a society that privileges science and technology in its
constructions of what may count as nature and for regulating the traffic
between what it divides as nature and culture. (1989, p. 370)
Primate Visions testifies to the potential effectiveness of SF in helping to decon-
struct and demystify contemporary orthodoxies - in this case, the social, textual
and material history of primatology. Clearly, SF has mediated Haraway's own
learning in important ways. The kind oflearning that Haraway models in Primate
Exhibit 9: 'Primate Images'
In SF, monkeys and apes are prototypical images for modelling a wide range of human
fears and hopes. Primatology has nurtured many cultural myths about what it means to
be 'almost human'. Images of past and future humans, near humans and aliens draw upon
these myths. For example (clockwise from top left): a 'blue Mercurian' (from an illustra-
tion in Amazing Stories 1951); the tragic giant ape of the movie King Kong (1933); a Morlock
(from a 1950 magazine illustration for H. G. Wells's The Time Machine); 'civilised' simians
and a 'primitive' human in the movie Planet of the Apes (1968).
Visions is as applicable to school science education as it is to research in the history
and philosophy of primatology. In my experience, school students require little
encouragement to mix and juxtapose the narratives of'scientific fact' with the nar-
ratives of science fiction. Indeed, they may be more willing than their teachers
to mix and juxtapose these 'seemingly disparate elements' in critical and creative
ways. The difficulty for science teachers is that many seem to have cast them-
selves in roles as 'defenders of the faith' - defenders of the privileged status of science
and technology-rather than 'understanders' of the myths, narratives and rituals
which constitute science and technology in the contemporary world.
'Into the future I this nervous game':
SF and young people
In discussing the work of Donna Haraway, and other postmodernists for whom
SF is generative and inspirational, Istvan Csicsery-Ronay (1991a, p. 308) argues
that 'SF has ceased to be a genre of fiction per se, becoming instead a mode of
awareness about the world, a complex, hesitating orientation toward the future'
(see also Csicsery-Ronay 1991 b). It is a mode of awareness which finds expression
in a variety of young people's media, as can be heard in the words of a popular
song (Seymour 1987) performed by the group Hunters and Collectors:
And everyday
I hear the sound
Of running feet
'cross the open ground
Into the future
this nervous game
We'll always circle
around the flame
Many adults have an intense dislike for the kinds of SF that are popular with young
people, as evidenced by the well-publicised debates over the virtues and vices of
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In criticising such works, adults are questioning
not only the quality of these media but also young people's taste and judgment.
As I have argued elsewhere (Gough 1988, 1989a, 1990; see also Beavis & Gough
1991), many adult understandings of young people's imaginative lives - especially
in regard to their allegedly pessimistic attitudes to the future-are condescending
and patronising. Adults should at least be prepared to entertain the possibility
that the pathology they are investigating is not situated in popular media or chil-
dren's minds but, rather, in their own failure to transcend (or even attempt to
transcend) the adult myths and stereotypes which frame their judgments. Young
people may be attracted to SF because its 'complex, hesitating orientation toward
the future' is hospitable to their sense of moving 'into the future / this nervous
game'. I will explore this proposition, and its implications for science education,
by reference to four kinds of SF:
cyborg cinema,
graphic novels,
feminist SF, and
children's SF.
Teenage mutant cyborg cinema
Science educators frequently portray popular media as sites of fantasy or 'incor-
rect' science. Thus, a common use of SF movies in science education is to encourage
students to identifY 'violations' of scientific principles in them. For example, Holman
(1985, p.38) is concerned with 'misconceptions' like the 'loud explosions heard
in a vacuum' in Star Wars (1977) and Dubeck, Moshier and Boss (1988, p. x) devote
a whole book to exposing 'pseudoscience' in more than thirty SF movies. Such
readings constitute very narrow interpretations of these media and implicitly devalue
their educative potential by suggesting that SF is in some way deficient unless
it illustrates 'correctly' the 'one true story' of modern science. This obscures the
sense in which particular works of SF function as critical and creative probes of
issues in science, technology and society that are seen to be problematic by those
who create and consume them.
Many examples of the most recent wave of popular SF movies feature mutants
(e.g. Total Recall 1990) and cyborgs (e.g. RoboCop 1987, Terminator 1984 and
their respective sequels). These movies can be interpreted as speculative recon-
ceptualisations of what it means to be human in a world of increasingly intrusive
technological mediations. The popularity of these movies among teenagers may
be a reflection of young people's curiosity about questions that are significant to
them - questions that also merit the serious attention of science educators. In my
experience, students who have watched the RoboCop and Terminator movies are
far more interested in discussing their attitudes to (and anxieties about) various
aspects of biotechnology (including bionic organs, organ donation and organ trans-
plants) than in considering the scientific or technical plausibility of the phenomena
these films depict.
SF movies are trivialised by being used merely as resources for games of 'spot
the scientific misconception'. Many of the most popular and critically acclaimed
SF movies exemplify Haraway's proposition (quoted above) that 'SF is a territory
of contested cultural reproduction in high-technology worlds'. The task for teachers
and learners alike is to explore and elucidate the contested meanings that each
movie generates. For example, writing of Blade Runner (1982) (arguably the most
challenging cyborg movie to date), McKenzie Wark suggests that
... it raises the possibility that the difference between the human and the
inhuman, between culture and technology, is too far gone to be unscrambled.
There can be no naIve appeals to 'human nature' or a return to nature when
the human is a product of the technical as much, if not more, than vice versa
[sic]. (1991, p. 52)
Sarah Franklin concludes that cyborg cinema, as represented by the RoboCop (1987,
1990) and Alien (1979, 1986) series and Total Recall, depicts 'the turbulence of
post modernity' :
To participate as a spectator in these mutant cyborg plots is to view the
postmodern condition depicted in celluloid. If this condition denotes a loss of
certainty, a collapse of the once taken-for-granted foundations of modern
society (such as the belief in progress, particularly scientific and technological
progress), a blurring of the fundamental boundaries through which the world
was once classified (such as the distinction between humans and machines),
then films such as RoboCop 2 are definitely postmodern. As such they
represent an exploration of what becomes thinkable in the wake of rapid
technological innovation, what is threatened by technological change, or what
is possible in imagined high-tech future societies. But they also constitute a
significant renegotiation of the power and the meaning of science and
technology in relation to certain age-old and fundamental questions such as
what it means to be human. (1990, p. 71)
If teachers are to use such movies as foci for non-trivial classroom learning, they
need to be tolerant, open-minded and responsive. These qualities are evident in
Julie Faulkner's account of how, as an English teacher, she 'put Shakespeare on
hold and learned to love Arnold Schwarzenegger':
I was discussing the notion of an author playing a literary game with the
reader in my Year 12 English class. I mentioned one or two stories which did
this and invited comment on the technique. Several of my boys asked me if I
had seen Total Recall, currently a very popular Arnold Schwarzenegger video.
When I laughed at the suggestion, my condemnatory response was quickly
quashed by the statement that the film dealt with a number of levels of
perceived reality and the viewer was left in a quandary over whether what she
thought had happened, had in fact happened. I should see it, I was told, I'd
like it.
Well, I didn't. But in the process of viewing, a new perception emerged. It
struck me that what I was doing in that class, and indeed all my classes to
date, was typical of what most teachers do; by peremptorily dismissing the
ideas contained in popular culture, we are imposing a fixed and narrow notion
of what is considered 'worthy' for our students. After an enthusiastic debate on
the tensions between good and evil in Blade Runner, I tossed in the idea that
perhaps we should teach Blade Runner instead of Macbeth. This was met with
mixed enthusiasm by my cyberpunk devotees; they wanted both. And why not?
(1991, p. 1)
The films to which Faulkner refers pose questions that merit exploration in science
and technology studies as well as English. For example, Total Recall deals with
the possibility of artificial memory. The Schwarzenegger character, despite his
considerable physical prowess, is so controlled by the techno-conglomerate that
dominates the mining colonies and economy of Mars that he is frequently unable
to distinguish synthetic 'reality' from anything else or, indeed, one synthetic reality
from another. The questions that are raised for science education do not concern
the plausibility or probability of the kind of memory control imagined in the film.
Rather, such questions should be concerned in part with identifying the present
circumstances and conditions (including relevant theoretical and technical
knowledge) which make the events portrayed in Total Recall even thinkable. Most
importantly, who presently has power over and control of these circumstances, con-
ditions, know ledges and technologies? How is this power exercised? What safeguards
exist against irresponsible uses of this power? What does it mean to be 'respon-
sible' or 'irresponsible' in the circumstances and conditions made possible by these
new know ledges and technologies?
One difficulty with using some of the most popular examples of cyborg cinema
in classrooms is the high frequency of R-rated ianguage and violence in them
(although many such movies are also available in M-rated versions, as modified
for television). For example, despite being labelled 'action/comedy', the slip-case
of the RoboCop 2 video elaborated on its R-rating by acknowledging its 'very frequent
violence' and 'assaultive coarse language'. In part, this is because cyborg cinema
has complex origins not only in SF but in male-orientated fantasies of power, heroics
and domination: thus, for example, RoboCop is an amalgam of heroes and fabula-
tions including Frankenstein's monster, the Tin Man (from The Wizard of Oz 1939),
John Wayne, Dirty Harry and Rambo.
My own view is that watching such movies in full is an out-of-school activity
and therefore is entirely a matter for students and their parents: classroom time
is too limited to be used for showing feature-length films. However, selected
segments of SF videos can be presented in class and supplemented by print media
which provide a context for them. For example, Blade Runner is based on Philip
K. Dick's (1968) novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Total Recall is
adapted from the same author's short story, 'We can remember it for you whole-
sale' (in Dick 1990). These stories are not as violent as their movie equivalents,
nor do they contain the kind of dialogue that some audiences find offensive. Like
much SF cinema, the Terminator and RoboCop movies are also available in 'graphic
novel' (comic book) versions which, because segments can be readily reproduced
or displayed as overhead projector transparencies, are a particularly suitable medium
for classroom use.
There are also a number of juvenile SF movies which explore similar themes
to the ado1escent- or adult-orientated films mentioned above. For example, Short
Circuit (1985), about a military robot that comes to 'life', and Project X (1987),
which focuses on the plight of chimpanzees in a military research facility, are
delightful family entertainment. These movies have strong parallels with cyborg
cinema through their use of'a1most human' central characters. They raise profound
issues about anima1-human-machine interrelationships in ways that young
audiences can readily comprehend (however, like adult movies, the quality of
juvenile SF cinema is extremely variable: for example, while Short Circuit is cen-
trally concerned with contested views of human responsibility for the products
of human invention, its sequel, Short Circuit 2 (1989), is a routine action -comedy-
the robot 'hero' foils would-be jewe11ery thieves-in which such issues are virtu-
ally ignored). Another G-rated film, The Right Stuff (1985), a 'docudrama' about
the first US space program, presents some striking images of what Haraway (1989,
p. 138) ca11s 'cyborg neonates' - the telemetrically implanted chimps who made
Earth-orbital flights in the Mercury spacecraft prior to human astronauts (for a
more detailed discussion of cyborgs as both 'a myth and a tool' see Haraway 1989,
pp.136-9; 1991, pp. 149-81).
Graphic novels
Graphic novels are among the most intriguing, adventurous and challenging forms
of popular media to have evolved in recent years. Writers and graphic artists have
collaborated in reconceiving or rejecting the formulaic monsters, superhero myth-
ologies and other conventions of the comic book and, instead, have fashioned
ingenious and complex narratives of two enduring human quests: the struggle for
survival and the search for meaning in existence. Comics have always had a strong
science fictional dimension. Most superheroes are either aliens (Superman), tech-
nology buffs (Batman) or mutants whose superpowers are the result of laboratory
accidents (the Incredible Hulk, the Flash). The myth of a mutant or monster
produced in a laboratory - either by accident or design - has long been a dominant
theme of SF, with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (first published in 1818) providing
an archetypal example (see also exhibit 10: 'DNAgents'). As with the protagonists
of cyborg movies, the mutated superhero is a product of deep cultural concerns
about the social repercussions of developments in science and technology.
Alan Moore's ground-breaking graphic novel Watchmen (Moore, Gibbons &
Higgins 1987) has already been mentioned for its evocations of chaos theory (see
exhibit 7). Watchmen is complex and convoluted, full of conceptual twists and
allusions that belie the superficial crudeness of its comic book format. One reviewer
(Gilmore 1990, p. 54) calls it a 'masterwork ... [of] astute political analysis and
a peerless thriller ... To read it [is] to understand the power and depth that this
renascent art form [can] yield'. Another critic calls it
a superlative feat of imagination, combining sci-fi [sic], political satire, knowing
evocations of comics past and bold reworkings of current graphic formats ...
It is as engagingly knotty and self-referential as The Name of the Rose, but
instead of monks doubting their faith, here are superheroes weighed down by
their creed, caught in a world they never made but that is remaking them, and
showing no mercy. (Cocks 1988, p. 63)
Watchmen also has a strong vein of sharp satire and is embellished with some delight-
fully tongue-in-cheek fictional artefacts. For example, the Nightowl (one of the
retired masked vigilantes on whose exploits the novel is focused) is also an amateur
ornithologist and the novel includes a 'reprint' of an article he has written for the
Journal of the American Ornithological Society which begins:
Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its
peculiarities in such minute detail, that it becomes invisible? Is it possible that
while fastidiously calibrating the span of its wings or the length of its tarsus,
we somehow lose sight of its poetry? ... I believe that we do. I believe that in
approaching our subject with the sensibilities of statisticians and dissectionists,
we distance ourselves increasingly from the marvelous and spell-binding planet
of imagination whose gravity drew us to our studies in the first place.
In its entirety, the mock scholarship of the Nightowl's article (and it mocks a mul-
tiplicity of subjects including itself, science, and the discursive forms it both criti-
cises and emulates) stands as a lucid critique of identifying-naming-collecting-
Exhibit 10: 'DNAgents'
DNAgents is yet another contribution to the mythology oflaboratory-crafted superheroes:
'It took five years to grow them ... five years and umpteen billion dollars. Finally, there
came the day when they were ready ... sort of (Evanier et a1. 1983, p. 1). As one of
the scientists who creates them says, the DNA gents 'look human, they act human ...
but the deoxyribonucleic acid codes have been altered just enough to make them more than
human: the perfect special agents . . .' (p. 1; emphases in original). The DNAgents are crude
stereotypes of the Frankenstein myth and their adventures rarely transcend comic-strip
cliches and conventions. However, there is some interest for science educators in a subplot
which explores some of the problems that arise when scientists and technologists fail to
consider - and take moral responsibility for - the consequences of their discoveries and
inventions. As with many contemporary explorations of this theme, the chief villains are
the unscrupulous chief executives of the megacorporation in whose laboratories the
DNA gents were produced.
measuring-classiFying-dissecting approaches to bird-watching (and other 'scientific'
studies of the natural world). Moreover, unlike a 'real' journal article, it is written
in language which is accessible to the young people who are among the prime
audience of graphic novels like Watchmen.
Animal Man (Morrison et a1. 1991) is another graphic novel which drastically
revises superhero myths as it chronicles the fortunes and misfortunes of a some-
times zealous, sometimes self-doubting animal-rights activist with the power to
take on the characteristics of animals with whom he comes into contact. Animal
Man is a rich blend of ancient and modern myths and postmodern critical dis-
courses. The first four issues rework the conventions of superhero comics to tell
a sinister tale of the moral corruption of modern scientists' labours by the interests
of the capitalist military-industrial complex (see exhibit 4). These are followed
by a particularly thought-provoking episode, 'The coyote gospel', which reinter-
prets one of the most powerful native American creation myths in postmodern
terms. Later issues introduce a native American physicist through whom further
connections between premodern narratives and postmodern science and com-
munications technologies are explored (see exhibit 11: 'Animal Man').
The popular success of Watchmen and Animal Man in their original comic book
form testifies to the critical sophistication of their prime audiences of 10-14 year
olds (comics usually have to achieve regular high monthly sales before they are
transformed into graphic novels). Both stories are extremely complex narrative
constructions and each draws on conceptual domains of the sciences and other
disciplines which are assumed by adults to be 'difficult'. Since many adults find
these stories baffling, the attractions they clearly hold for young audiences may
be a symptom of the different modes of awareness that adults and young people
bring to their transactions with texts and the worlds they represent. If we are to
engage learners in critical explorations of science, technology and society we need
to have some understanding of, and empathy with, their perceptions and values.
One of the reasons for so doing is captured in Easy Travel to Other Planets by
an architect who becomes a school teacher:
'I like to see what the children are up to. You might say 1 think of them as a
kind of early warning system for what's next in the world. Here we are getting
older, and there they are getting different.' (Mooney 1982, p. 80)
Most graphic novels reflect clearly their comic book ancestry (even while they
are transcending those origins in strikingly original ways), but some authors have
made distinctive breaks with this tradition. For example, Big Numbers (Moore
& Sienkiewicz 1990), is drawn in a way that recalls the gritty black-and-white images
of much post-war European social realist cinema. Unfortunately, while originally
planned as a twelve-part series, Big Numbers was abandoned after three issues (appar-
ently as a result of artistic differences between its creators). Big Numbers is an
incomplete chronicle of the lives of approximately forty main characters in a small
English town where a community is being transformed and displaced by the impact
of a sprawling new shopping mall. One of the most fascinating qualities of Big
Exhibit 11: 'Animal Man'
These excerpts from chapter 8 (issue 8 of the original monthly comic book series) of Animal
Man (Morrison et a1. 1991) illustrate the narrative complexity of the medium. Epilogue
II literally arrives 'out of the blue' - it has no immediately apparent connection with
what has preceded it - and epilogue III is continuous only with the prologue to this
issue (which shows the same computer screen building up to the completion of the Einstein
quote). These epilogues are early hints of a convoluted plotline that is not resolved until
issue 26. As these epilogues suggest, Animal Man is much more sophisticated than the
average superhero comic. Indeed, it embodies concepts drawn from postmodern physics
and cosmology which reflect the leading edges of scientific speculations about the nature
of 'reality' and human perception.
Aoimal Mao 1987 DC Comics Ioc. All Rights Reserved.
Numbers is that it uses fractal mathematics and chaos theory as sources of metaphors
which illuminate the social, economic, political, climatic and personal emotional
turbulences that accompany this transformation. Big Numbers does not oversim-
plify these concepts but, rather, places them in a context which invites explora-
tion by learners (see exhibit 12: 'Big Numbers').
Feminist SF
While many of the visual arts of SF retain the male-dominated stereotypes that
were prevalent in the popular pulp magazine SF of the 1930s and 1940s, there
is a strong connection between SF and feminism, which has become increasingly
evident in recent years. Sarah Lefanu identifies some of reasons for this connection:
Science fiction seems ... most at ease when it deploys a sceptical rationalism
as its sub-text ... feminist ideas are able to flourish within SF [because]
feminism is based upon a profound scepticism: of the 'naturalness' of the
patriarchal world and the belief in male superiority on which it is founded ...
. . . science fiction is feminism-friendly. With its metaphors of space and
time travel, of parallel universes, of contradictions co-existing, of black holes
and event horizons, science fiction is ideally placed for interrogative functions.
(1988, pp.92, 95)
Reproductive technologies and genetic engineering are important progenitors of
SF which performs such 'interrogative functions' for women. These technologies
are controversial in SF (see Broege 1988), just as they are in society at large, and
most feminist writers treat them with 'profound scepticism'. For example, Angels
of Power and Other Reproductive Creations (Hawthorne & Klein 1991) is a col1ec-
tion of feminist prose, poetry and plays (much of it Australian) which explores
the personal and social consequences of the new reproductive technologies. Angels
of Power highlights the sociopolitical dangers inherent in in vitro fertilisation, tech-
nologically assisted surrogacy, fertility drugs and 'designer children'. The col1ec-
tion raises questions about who real1y benefits from these technologies: the women
who are the subjects/objects of the research and technologies or the scientists who
compete within a predominantly Eurocentric, white, male scientific establishment
for international prizes or funding from transnational pharmaceutical corporations
and departments of defence. The inclusion of poetry and plays in the collection
makes it especial1y useful as a classroom resource (see exhibit 3). Poetry is a 'compact'
resource which does not require extensive duplication and most poems can be read
in much shorter times than even the shortest SF stories. Plays can be read aloud
or acted out, which many students find preferable to the sometimes solitary and
silent act of reading stories.
While reproductive technologies are among the distinctive concerns of feminist
SF (see also Lefanu 1988; Le Guin 1989; Webb 1992), feminist SF ranges across
al1 of the conventional-and many unconventional-themes of the genre (as is
evident in anthologies of women SF authors, e.g. Green & Lefanu 1985; Sargent
1974, 1976, 1978, and single-author collections, e.g. Love 1989). In addition, many
works of feminist SF have two qualities which make them particularly suitable
Exhibit 12: 'Big Numbers'
This excerpt from Big Numbers (Moore & Sienkiewicz 1990, pp. 30-1) is
preceded by a sequence showing what the boy was doing in school, including
part of a teacher-directed study of the community on which the graphic
novel is focused. The teacher's final words, as the class is dismissed, are
' ... if we don't pay any attention to the place where we are, well ... then
we might as well not be here' (Moore & Sienkiewicz 1990, p. 29). In regard
to the sequence shown here, it should be noted that fractal geometry is
particularly appropriate for representing the forms, shapes and patterns
found in natural environments. Hilbert space is one among several
alternatives to Euclidean space.

. ,
for use in schools: (1) they are humorous and (2) they are explicitly pedagogical
in their intent. For example, many works of feminist SF use an approach which
Webb (1992, p. 187) calls 'educating the alien'-a mode in which the author 'dis-
cusses the human condition as it is revealed through attempts to render humanity
explicable to an astonished or appalled alien intelligence'. In so doing, feminist
SF texts educate not only the alien but their readers. Furthermore, in the feminist
education of aliens, humour is a favourite method of deconstructing patriarchy-
including patriarchal sciences and technologies.
Feminist SF is sometimes seen as presenting science and technology in negative
terms, but this is not so much because feminist authors are anti-science or Luddites
but, rather, because feminism offers a particular kind of critique of science and
technology. Thus, introducing her short story, 'A sun in the attic', Mary Gentle
writes, 'it isn't technological gadgets, but the scientific perception of the world
that worries me' (in Green and Lefanu 1985, p. 111). Feminist SF often seeks out
the radical potential of science and technology, envisaging women appropriating
and using it as a force for positive change.
Children's SF
In a very useful review of SF for Australian children, Ann Grieve (1991, p.5),
quoting A. E. Houseman, suggests that many are saying, in effect, that 'I am a
stranger and afraid / in a world I never made'. This is not to say that children's
SF is gloomy or pessimistic but, rather, that it realistically confronts the alien-
ation that many children feel from the world that adults have bequeathed them
and rehearses possible responses children may make to its inherent dangers (see
exhibit l3: 'Final Exam').
In much children's SF, as exemplified in novels like Gillian Rubinstein's (1986)
Space Demons, 'technology is becoming a new archetype for evil' (Grieve 1991,
p. 5). However, like much feminist SF, it is not technology per se that is evil but
the technological mindset: 'humanity'S answer to anything that is different is to
take it apart to see how it works-even knowing that they cannot put it back together'
(Grieve 1991, pp. 4-5).
Another parallel between children's and feminist SF is the use of aliens (or people
who are in some way different from the norms of modern Western society) to provide
a critical perspective. For example, Gillian Rubinstein's (1988) Beyond the Labyrinth
focuses on 14-year-old Brenton and his family who are seen, in part, from a point
of view provided by Cal, a visiting alien anthropologist. Towards the end of the
novel, Brenton sums up the anger and fear that many adolescents feel for 'the world
they never made': 'I don't think the world belongs to men any more - not to Western
men. They've fucked it all up too much. It's someone else's turn to have a shot
at it-women, other races, other cultures' (Rubinstein 1988, p. 142).
Rubinstein is not just putting old words into a young mouth. Similar views are
evident in children's SF written by young people. For example, two post-nuclear-
holocaust novels, Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody (1987) and The Inheritors by
Jill Dobson (1988), were written when their respective authors were 16 years old
Exhibit 13: 'Final Exam'
In Thomas Scortia's short story 'Final exam', represented here by a comic version (in Zimmerman,
Reit & Brenner 1989, pp. 30-1), Doug and Mary's 'state science fair project'-a laser beam generator-
proves to be unexpectedly powerful and destroys a statue outside the laboratory. The explanation
seems to lie in a jar of mysterious gas which has been supplied, apparently in error, instead of the
gas they required. Doug's response to their science teacher's news demonstrates a common theme
in chidren's SF - that young people may be more prepared than adults to consider their moral respon-
sibilities in their dealings with technology.
(Mary Shelley was still a teenager when she wrote Frankenstein). The Inheritors
is set in a domed city and details the ideologies, social structures and technologies
that protect its inhabitants. Perry Nodelman (1985) has observed that a common
pattern in children's SF involves a journey from an enclosed city (and a constricted
lifestyle) to a wider and more open world. Such stories can be read, in part, as
metaphors for the adolescent's rite of passage from the protected (but sometimes
stifling) world of childhood to the relative freedom of adulthood. One of the implicit
messages in such stories is that the unspoiled 'natural' world is superior to the
technology-dominated city. Nodelman (1985, p. 292) concludes that 'most novels
for young readers are fantasies, descriptions of utopian worlds; even those that
describe a recognisably realistic world make it safer and more understandable than
most of us know the real world to be' (this is a somewhat sweeping generalisation,
though it is clearly true of many popular stories for children; see also May 1986).
In regard to Nodelman's thesis, Dobson's book is particularly thought provoking
because it does not offer escape from the dome as a resolution to the problems
of living in a restrictive environment. Rather, it sees survival in terms ofa dynamic
balance between personal autonomy and social responsibility. In other words,
Dobson appears not to be reproducing the conservative, escapist themes that adults
write for children but, as a young author writing for an even younger audience,
adopting the 'complex, hesitating orientation toward the future' that Csicsery-Ronay
(1991 a, p. 308) sees as characterising postmodern SFs 'mode of awareness about
the world'.
Pamela Sargent is another author who does not patronise young readers. Her
novels for teenagers, such as the 'Watchstar trilogy' (Watchstar 1980, Eye of the
Comet 1984a, Homesmind 1984b), Earthseed (1983) and Alien Child (1988), deal
with themes similar to those in her adult SF: cybernetics, biological engineering,
transformation of alien worlds, nuclear catastrophe. Sargent is perhaps more trusting
of the positive potential of scientific and technological 'progress' than many other
feminists. As Morrissey (1989, p. 189) writes of Sargent's work, 'gender equality
is not just a matter of political principle ... it is also the almost inevitable result
of technological change'. Thus, the young female protagonists of each novel are
inquisitive, strong and comfortable with technology of all kinds. Whether they
are on space stations, alien worlds or post-cataclysmic Earth, they are strong and
effective partly because technology has made physical differences between men
and women insignificant and both sexes have more or less equal access to the sources
of power in these worlds.
For science educators, the significance of children's SF does not lie in the plausi-
bility of the science and technology that may be embodied in any particular story
but, rather, in the rehearsal of the choices, actions and decisions that are made
possible by scientific and technological achievements. For example, in 'The jumping-
off place' a young girl is stricken by a debilitating illness and reflects on the reasons
for there being little prospect of a cure:
It was during the Great Changing Time that they'd stopped medical research.
Stephanie had seen videos shot during the Time. She remembered a woman
wearing a stethoscope, looking into the camera and saying, 'Our planet is
extremely sick. It has not been well for many years, but now it is close to
death. If it is to survive it must have intensive care. The Coalition of
Countries, which now includes representatives from every nation, has decided
that for the next few decades, perhaps longer, the great minds of the world
must work on ways to heal the soil, the air, and the seas. Existing technology
can continue to be used if it does not damage the environment, but advances
will not be encouraged unless they contribute directly to the rehabilitation of
the planet.'
When she'd first seen this video, Stephanie had found it hard to believe that
such a thing had needed to be made, that people had to be told that their
needs as individuals were not as important as the health of the Earth itself.
She thought of a couple who had been shown crying on screen because IVF
research had been scrapped and they would never have a baby. That is the
height of selfishness, she had thought. The last thing the world needed was
another person! Now, lying flat on her back waiting for someone to come and
attend to her, Stephanie understood that crying couple a little better. (Pershall
1991, pp.91-2)
This story introduces, in a simple but effective way, the complex debates about
priorities in research funding that are an inescapable aspect of science and tech-
nology. Such issues should not be seen as 'irrelevant' or 'too complicated' for young
learners to deal with. Nor should such stories be seen as relevant only to the peda-
gogical domain of English teaching. The assigning of priority to research efforts
in and between medical and environmental research (and other disciplines) is a
worthy topic for science education and it is stories like 'The jumping-off place'
that make the topic accessible to children's understandings and concerns.
Indeed, such topics sometimes find expression in media pitched toward quite
young audiences. For example, one of the early episodes of the animated cartoon
series 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' (as presented on Australian television during
1991) introduces the inventor Baxter Stockman and his employment by the resident
villain of the series, 'the Shredder'. Stockman has invented a mechanical 'mouser'
which he hopes will rid the city of its rodent population. He demonstrates it to
the proprietor of a pest extermination company whose judgment on the merits
and effectiveness of Stockman's invention is: 'What do I think? I'll tell you what
I think. In one word: GEDOUTAHERE!! Are you trying to run me outa business?!'
The Shredder then appears and offers to manufacture thousands of the 'mousers'.
Though suspicious of the Shredder's intentions, Stockman agrees. This incident
can readily be interpreted as an allegory for scientists' acquiescence in the appropri-
ation of the applications of their research by military-industrial interests.
SF embodies what J. G. Ballard (1974, p. 5) calls 'the main "fact" of the 20th
century', that is, 'the concept of the unlimited possibility'. This concept has, in
part, been nurtured by the breakdown of modern scientific dualisms between human
and animal, organism and machine, physical and non-physical, imagination and
reality. For example, of the organism-machine boundary Haraway writes:
Late twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the
difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and
externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to
organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we
ourselves frighteningly inert. (1991, p.152)
Textbook science, and school science in general, has for the most part ignored
the consequences of unlimited possibility and insecure borders, whereas SF has
responded with powerful myths, metaphors and images: cyborgs, cyberpunks,
mutants, time travel, xenogenesis and many others. The 'disturbingly lively' texts
of SF stand in sharp contrast to the 'frighteningly inert' science textbooks (and
the frightful inertia of school science curricula). For science educators to ignore
or belittle SF is like art educators ignoring surrealism- both are vital manifesta-
tions of their respective subject's cultural significance. To suggest that SF might
revitalise school science is no false hope but, rather, an expression of confidence
in the unlimited possibilities of postmodern science, technology and SF.
Part 3
Sound ideas and
(en)light(ening) entertainments
Science and technology are represented in many media that are unlikely to attract
the label 'science fiction' or even 'SF'. In this final section I will consider some
of the possible connections which can be made between these media and science
education. I will begin with some 'sound ideas' about pop music and then consider
a miscellany of'(en)light(ening) entertainments' among mainstream popular novels
and cinema. I will conclude with a case study of a particular topic, climate change,
which is presently addressed in many science education programs and which merits
exploration through popular media.
Sound ideas: pop music in
science and technology education
The acoustic environment of most classrooms is rather boring. Music while you
work can be pleasant, especially if it also works for you and your students. Any
kind of background music can be an improvement on the ambient noise of some
classrooms. This is the function of , Muzak' (sometimes known as 'elevator music'),
bland background music which masks irritating intermittent noise - passing traffic,
air conditioner hum, conversation buzz. Muzak is not meant to be listened to,
but there is a teaching point to be found in its use in science and technology edu-
cation: acoustic environments can be manipulated to reduce noise pollution. The
effectiveness of Muzak is a good example of the difference between human per-
ception and the environmental qualities that can be measured mechanically or elec-
tronically (Muzak doesn't 'reduce' noise in ways detectable by scientific instruments,
but it may make some noises less noticeable). Muzak is useful when students are
working on assignments individually or in small groups and when they are engaged
in routine laboratory work.
Background music can also be chosen with a view to its meaning for the learning
activities being undertaken. For example, I recall that when I was teaching senior
secondary school biology, there were a number of laboratory exercises which
required students to work at various stations around the room, spending a set amount
of time at each workstation. I recorded a program of songs, each of about 3-4
minutes duration, using the pauses between songs as a signal to students to change
stations. At the time I had an extensive personal collection of recorded folk music
and it was easy to compile a program of songs with 'biological' themes - 'The
Cuckoo', 'Wild Mountain Thyme', 'Turn, Turn, Turn (to everything there is a
season)' and so on. I didn't draw the attention of students to this theme, but part
of the way through the program I inserted a bluegrass instrumental, 'Cumberland
Mountain Bear Chase'. As it was playing, several students expressed curiosity about
its inclusion ('Hey, Mr Gough, all the other songs have been about plants and
animals and stuff-what's this one got to do with them?') which suggested that
they had made their own connections between the music and their work.
It would be easy to do something similar with contemporary pop songs which
either focus on some aspect of science and technology or use metaphors and anal-
ogies drawn from these fields. Some recent examples of suggestive titles (with some
pertinent lyric excerpts) include:
Paula Abdul's 'Opposites Attract' (' ... it's a natural fact / We come together
'cause opposites attract')
John Farnham's 'Chain Reaction'
Prince's 'Something in the Water (does not compute)'
Sting's 'We Work the Black Seam' (' ... deadly for twelve thousand years is
Carbon 14')
Kate Bush's 'Experiment IV' ('We were working secretly I for the military /
Our experiment in sound was nearly ready to begin / We only knew in theory
what we were doing ... ')
Elton John's 'Rocket Man' (' ... and all this science / it don't mean a thing
I it's just my job five days a week'; in Kate Bush's recent revival of this song
these lines become' ... and all this science I I don't understand I it's just my
job five days a week').
If I were making such a tape now, I would also include some older personal
favourites like Blondie's 'Atomic', Donald Fagen's 'IGY (International Geophysical
Year)', the Divinyls' 'Science Fiction' and The Byrds' 'SD (Fifth Dimension)' (' ...
I saw the great blunders my teachers had made I scientific delirium madness').
Pop music can also be used more overtly to set the scene for themes or investi-
gations which are to follow. This is already a popular technique with teachers
pursuing environmental and health-related themes. Indeed, I've lost count of the
times I've heard Midnight Oil's 'Blue Sky Mine' and Joe Jackson's 'Cancer' used
in these contexts. However, there are some potential pitfalls for teachers using
popular songs in this way. Some teachers seem to forget that what attracted them
to a song in the first place was the force and economy with which its 'message'
was delivered, yet they still insist on making students state and restate this message
in their own words. Any discussion following the playing of popular songs may
be superfluous unless it is very largely initiated by students. Rather than trying
to wring every drop of meaning and significance out of every word, it may be
preferable to let the song speak for itself and to function as a point of departure
for discussing the issue to which it refers. Teachers should also be sensitive to
the possibility that young people may resist having their favourite cultural texts
trundled into the classroom for dissection.
Some songs, however, address issues in science and technology which clearly
deserve to be examined closely. For example, Sting's (1985), 'Russians' includes
the following lines:
How can I save my little boy
From Oppenheimer's deadly toy
There is no monopoly on common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology ...
What might save us me and you
Is that the Russians love their children too.
While the most obvious 'message' in these lines is concerned with fears of nuclear
war, my own preference would be to focus any classroom discussion and debate
it might stimulate on two other issues. First, the reference to 'Oppenheimer's deadly
toy' raises questions about the nature of scientific work, the kinds of people it attracts,
and the kinds of people research scientists become through their commitment to
that work. In their study of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research,
Charlesworth et al. (1989, p. 128) raise similar issues when they quote a woman
scientist who left the institute after working in it for several years because 'you
have to choose between being a research scientist and a mature human being'.
Another woman scientist at the institute spoke of the predominantly male senior
researchers being 'completely myopic', with 'very simple-minded views about larger
social and political and philosophical issues', allowing their lives to be 'dominated
almost completely by their current scientific concerns'. Yet another of Charlesworth
et al.'s interviewees 'paints a rather grim picture of personal impoverishment and
immaturity among the Institute scientists as though their scientific careers had
inhibited normal personal growth'. Juxtaposing these quotes with Sting's lyrics
makes it clear that 'Oppenheimer's deadly toy' is not a cheap shot-a gratuitous
slur on a respected research scientist's reputation, who nevertheless displayed an
apparent disregard for the mass destruction of human life; when exploring the
possibility of radioactive food poisoning he is reported as saying: 'I think we should
not attempt a plan unless we can poison food sufficient to kill half a million men'
(in Dowling 1986, p. 140). The problem raised by the suggestion that scientists
sometimes play with deadly toys is of profound importance for scientists and non-
scientists alike. As Marjorie Grene writes:
If the social and political conditions necessary to the existence of science are to
be maintained, if scientists are to give their lives to the pursuit of discovery,
and if their contemporaries are to support them, both 'morally' and financially,
in that pursuit, we need to understand better than we have done the reasons
for their devotion and our respect. (1977, p. 166)
As recent feminist research has demonstrated, a better understanding of scientists'
'devotion' to their various pursuits may lead us to conclude that many of them
are not worthy of our respect. In such cases, science educators have no duty to
protect or defend them.
The second issue raised by 'Russians' concerns the assertion that 'we share the
same biology'. As another way of saying 'we're all human' this statement may seem
unremarkable. But at a literal level it is false. We do not 'share the same biology
/ regardless of ideology', because biology as a form of knowledge is socially con-
structed (and thus ideologically constructed). Different cultures and belief systems
understand the concept of life, and what it means to be a 'living' thing, in different
ways. A glance at the biology texts and references used in various countries (or
at different times in the same country) is sufficient to demonstrate that what is
valued as 'knowledge of living things' also differs from place to place and from
time to time.
Pop musicians have addressed issues of science and technology in a number of
ways, mostly with an emphasis on technology and then usually in a science fictional
mode. For example, the Alan Parsons Project made several thematic albums in
the 1970s on such topics as automation (1 Robot) and satellite communications
(Eye in the Sky). David Bowie has drawn heavily on SF in such songs as 'Space
Oddity' (and its sequel, 'Ashes to Ashes'), 'Starman' and 'Life on Mars'. The Byrds
recorded a number of songs with aerospace and SF themes including '5D' (Fifth
Dimension), 'Eight Miles High', 'Mr Spaceman', 'Space Odyssey' (based on Arthur
C. Clarke's short story, 'The sentinel' (in Wells 1977), which inspired the movie
2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968), 'Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins' and '2-4-2 Foxtrot'
(The Lear Jet song) (inspired by the narrative techniques of William Burroughs).
Kate Bush has made at least two music videos which might best be described as
SF mini-operas: 'Cloudbusting' (a Kafkaesque tale in which the inventor of a rain-
making machine falls foul of agents of a police state) and 'Experiment IV' (scien-
tists working for the military develop 'a sound that could kill someone at a distance').
J. G. Ballard's Crash (1974), which is among the most celebrated examples of post-
modern SF, inspired 'Warm Leatherette', first recorded in the late 1970s by The
Normal and rerecorded relatively recently by Grace Jones. Billy Joel's 1991 hit,
'We Didn't Start the Fire', is a potted history of postwar USA in which numerous
references to science, scientists and new technology are embedded.
No chemistry teacher should be without a recording of Kate and Anna McGar-
rigle's 'NaCl':
Just a little atom of Chlorine valence minus one
Swimming through the sea digging the scene just having fun
She's not worried about the shape or size
Of her outside shell- it's fun to ionize
Just a little atom of CI
With an unfilled shell
But somewhere in that sea lurks handsome Sodium
With enough electrons in his outside shell plus that extra one
'Somewhere in this deep blue sea
There's a negative for my extra energy
Yes somewhere in this foam
My positive will find a home'
Then unsuspecting Chlorine felt a magnetic pull
She looked down and her outside shell was full
Sodium cried 'What a gas! Be my bride
And I'll change your name from Chlorine to Chloride'
Now the sea evaporates to make the clouds for the rain and snow
Leaving her chemical compounds in the absence of H
But the crystals that wash upon the shore
Are happy ones. So if you never thought before
Think of the love you eat
When you salt your meat
Students could, perhaps, be asked to try to rewrite 'NaCl' so that the chemistry
conforms to the textbook version of each ion's subatomic behaviour!
One of the most fascinating and entertaining examples of science, technology
and SF in pop music is Transverse City by Warren Zevon (1989), a thematic album
inspired by the cyberpunk SF of William Gibson. Gibson's stories, especially his
astonishing first novel, Neuromancer (which made a clean sweep of the major SF
writers' awards in 1985), are concerned with the lowlife of high technology. His
stories evoke a plausible near future world in which the kind of young people we
would now call 'streetwise' deal in cybernetics, biotechnology and the global com-
munications web. Information is the main industry, the most significant commodity
and the strongest currency-it is what people steal and trade, and live and die
for. Among the key actors in Gibson's world are the console jockeys, high-speed
navigators of cyberspace, an environment created-and entered-at the interface
of mind and machine. Zevon is a sardonic and ironic songwriter, and many of
the songs on Transverse City are wry interpretations of Gibson's dominant themes,
including information technology ('Networking'), space vertigo ('They Moved the
Moon'), high-density urban sprawls ('Gridlock'), consumerism ('Down in the Mall').
The title song includes many references to the biotechnologies that are integral
to the cyberpunk milieu: 'Here's the test tube mating call, I Here's the latest carbon
cycle, ... Here's the well-known double helix, ... Here's the narcoleptic dream'
(symbols for organic chemicals also form the background to the lyrics printed on
the album's liner).
'Run Straight Down' is one of the more dramatic songs on Transverse City. It
begins with the names of the following organic chemicals being chanted by a bass
4-Aminobiphenyl, hexachlorobenzene
Dimethyl sulfate, chloromethyl methylether
2, 3, 7, 8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-
para-dioxin, carbon disulfide
Dibromochloropropane, chlorinated
2-Nitropropane, pentachlorophenol
Benzotrichloride, strontium chromate
1, 2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane
This chant is repeated over and over as an ominous dirge-like backdrop to the
main vocal, in which Zevon ruminates on social and environmental entropy:
I went walking in the wasted city
Started thinking about entropy
Smelled the wind from the ruined river
Went home to watch TV ...
Fluorocarbons in the ozone layer
First the water and the wildlife go
Pretty soon there's not a creature stirring
'Cept the robots at the dynamo
And it's worse when I try to remember
When I think about then and now
I'd rather see it on the news at eleven
Sit back and watch it run straight down
Many of the songs on Transverse City are rich in scientific and technological
meanings which students could explore in a variety of ways. For example, it would
be interesting to compare the textbook descriptions of the chemicals named in
'Run Straight Down' with the meanings (and contextual clues to their properties)
insinuated by the song. It is also interesting to consider the assumptions Zevon
seems to have made about the 'scientific literacy' of his intended audience.
I could cite many other examples of pop music embodying science, technology
and/or SF but these should be sufficient to indicate the potential richness of the
field. Indeed, it is not necessary for teachers to undertake exhaustive searches for
more examples-once they have made it clear to learners that pop music is a welcome
resource in science classrooms then students will do the searching for themselves.
A miscellany of (en)light(ening)
Science and technology crop up in all kinds of popular entertainments. I have
already mentioned mainstream novels such as Janette Turner Hospital's Charades
(1988) and William Boyd's Brazzaville Beach (1991), which feature scientists as
main characters and, especially in the case of Charades, present some of the problems
of scientific knowledge in thought-provoking ways. Another intriguing example
is Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (1990), a novel which has many fantastic
elements but which resists categorisation in any of the SF subgenres (although
the term 'magical realism' has recently been applied to such stories). One of the
multiple narrative threads of Robbins's frequently hilarious story is nothing less
than an alternative history of Western civilisation, as told by two 'inanimate'
objects-Painted Stick and Conch Shell-whose 'consciousness' dates back several
thousand years. These objects were once used in temple rituals by priestesses of
the goddess Astarte and were subsequently appropriated by the followers of other
gods, including Yahweh ijehovah). The reader meets them in a cave in the midwest
of the USA, where they befriend some other 'inanimate' objects-Can o' Beans,
Spoon and Dirty Sock - to whom they teach the arts of animation and locomo-
tion. This is achieved by 'boosting their vibrations' in a 'frequency-raising ritual'.
As Robbins (1990, pp.69-70) explains:
The inertia of objects is deceptive. The inanimate world appears static, 'dead',
to humans only because of our neuromuscular chauvinism. We are 80
enamored of our own activity range that we blind ourselves to the fact that
most of the action in the universe is unfolding outside our range, occurring at
speeds so much slower or faster than in our own that it is hidden from us as if
by a ... a veil.
We regard the objects that polka-dot our daily lives as if they were rigid,
totally predictable solids, frozen inferiorly in time and space. Yet, how can we
be so sure that we know what things are doing when we aren't looking at
them? When our eyesight is inadequate to truly look at them?
For example, here is a can of Van Camp's pork and beans. Familiar? Take a
closer look at the label. Forget the ingredients list (including the sugar and
com syrup you may not have guessed this product contains); forget the heating
instructions, the declaration of weight (twenty-one ounces or 595 grams, a little
heavier than the brain of a horse); forget the modified Old West typeface in
which this information is printed, cow-face white and rodeo yellow against a
background of bandanna red. Look deeper.
You'll require a magnifying glass, which, incidentally, glass being essentially
a liquid, is hardly the passive, inactive object we regard it, either: it just drips
and flows at rates we normally fail to register. In any case, the label is paper.
When seen close up, it is a rough, tangled bog of wood chips, fragments of
hemp, linen fibers, asbestos fibers, wool fibers, and clots of ink, oil, and glue.
Each of these substances has its own formal characteristics, and if you look
more closely (you must switch to an electronic microscope), if you examine the
molecular structure of each, the variety in form-pyramids and rings, spirals
and stacks and zigzag chains-is dazzling. And that's the opening act. For the
main show, you must look deeper still.
On the atomic and subatomic levels, weird electrical forces are crackling and
flaring, and amorphous particles (directly related, remember, to the
composition of the bean-can label) are spinning simultaneously forward,
backward, sideways, and forever at speeds so uncalculable that expressions
such as 'arrival', 'departure', 'duration', and 'have a nice day' become
meaningless. It is on those levels that 'magic' occurs.
The magic performed by Conch Shell and Painted Stick consisted of
focusing their own force fields to raise ever so slightly the velocity of the
others' electron recoil, to widen by a fraction of a degree the scattering angles
of their photons. A quantum jump start, if you will. They had always been
capable of movement. Now, after hours of energy exchanges, controlled power
surges, and meticulous synchronizations, they were able to move at rates
detectible to human measure, at rates that allowed them to depart the cave as
absolutely, if (from an anthropomorphic perspective) not quite as efficiently, as
Boomer Petway and Ellen Cherry Charles [the humans who had left Can 0'
Beans, Spoon and Dirty Sock in the cave].
Robbins is raising issues here that are central to scientists' (or, indeed, anyone's)
efforts to understand 'reality'. Our 'neuromuscular chauvinism' shapes our under-
standing not only of what we perceive but what we believe is worth perceiving.
Just as we are blind to electromagnetic wavelengths that fall outside the ranges
of our visual receptors, we are similarly blind to the 'action in the universe' that
unfolds outside our activity range. The notion that we cannot be 'sure that we
know what things are doing when we aren't looking at them' is, of course, central
to the world view provided by quantum mechanics. Ifwe compare Robbins's nar-
rative strategy here with that of the conventional science textbook we can see that
they have some things in common, insofar as both report some of the propositional
knowledge that arises from scientific investigations. But Robbins is doing some-
thing more: he is not only retelling what we 'know', he is probing the limits of
our knowledge. The conventional textbook tells us about the knowledge in which
we are supposed to have confidence, whereas Robbins also adds to our fund of doubt.
Two examples of 'young adult fiction' which are worthy of science educators'
attention are Strange Objects by Gary Crew (1991) and The Blue Chameleon by
Katherine Scholes (1989). Strange Objects is an epistolary novel, being made up
of letters, notes, news items and other documents, many of which are provided
by a (female) scientist, 'Dr Hope Michaels, Director, Western Australian Insti-
tute of Maritime Archeology'. It is based in part on some of the earliest known
historical evidence of the European invasion of Australia, which concerns the sinking
of the Dutch vessel Batavia off the Western Australian coast in 1629. In the after-
math of this shipwreck, 120 men, women and children were murdered by a small
number of their fellow survivors. In Crew's story, some relics of the wreck are
found by a teenager, Stephen Messenger, in 1986. Four months later, he disap-
pears without a trace. Parts of the novel can be read as Messenger's (and other
characters') fantasies. Aboriginal perspectives are also integral to the book's themes
and plot. Through the character of Hope Michaels, Strange Objects raises many
questions about the nature of evidence and its interpretation. Indeed, as a whole,
Strange Objects raises questions about how we come to 'know' anything, especially
in the domains of history and science.
The Blue Chameleon is equally complex, although most of the story is told from
the point of view of just one character, Beni Ish-Mahel, a teenage survivor of an
ancient Saharan desert clan. Beni has little English and works for his uncle in
a Melbourne shipyard. When an Egyptian ship arrives, he tries to escape-to return
to his homeland to find his lost twin brother, Ziad. But the ship on which he stows
away is bound for Antarctica, and Beni becomes involved in another quest with
Chris Travers, a non-stereotypical scientist who is trying to unlock the secrets
concealed in the diaries (and, eventually, the deserted laboratory) of a French biol-
ogist, Roszak, who has died in puzzling circumstances. Ironically, Roszak has des-
troyed the object of his own quest, which involves the possible uses of plants which
have mutated as a result of the atmospheric conditions created by the ozone hole
over the Antarctic. There is a hint of SF in The Blue Chameleon, but this is incidental
to the most compelling features of the novel, which include the positioning of
modern science and technology in counterpoint to Beni's ancient tribal knowledge.
For example, Beni uses the symbolism of earth, fire, water and air-the four natural
elements of ancient philosophy - to make sense of his surroundings. He looks for
old signs in new environments to make sense of them. For example, he takes par-
ticular notice of colours, lines and patterns and makes very effective use of a Polaroid
camera in his quest (a nice example of technology supplementing human senses
by finding messages invisible to human eyes).
The Blue Chameleon raises a number of issues concerning the social responsi-
bility of scientists, especially the relationship between an individual's quest for
knowledge for its own sake as balanced against potential dangers to humankind.
The pressures on research scientists (in this case geneticists)-from governments
and industry-and the need to balance ideas of 'progress' with ethical consider-
ations are also explored in subtle (but not obscure) ways. The great value of both
Strange Objects and The Blue Chameleon for science education is that the scientific
issues each raises are not laboured - they arise 'naturally' from the rich, varied and
complex lived experiences of their central characters. The issues are given a local
context rather than treated as abstractions. In company with some of the distinc-
tively science fictional novels for children and young adults (such as Rubinstein's
Beyond the Labyrinth, 1988), these novels would make excellent resources for team-
teaching efforts in which, say, science, social studies and English teachers col-
Popular literary and movie genres which border on SF include those that are
concerned with natural disasters (for example, movies such as Earthquake 1974,
Hurricane 1974, and Meteor 1979) and threats from other species (usually precipi-
tated by the unintended effects of human action, such as nuclear tests or chemical
sprays). The latter often embody a 'nature bites back' motif and any science fictional
element is usually little more than a thin plot device to animate a horror story.
Movies of this kind include Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Empire of the Ants (1977),
Squirm (1977) (flesh-eating worms) and Willard (1971) (rampant rats). Among the
best known examples of such movies are Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963) and
Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1977). All of these movies explore, with varying degrees
of subtlety, the limits of human 'control' of the natural world. The Birds is perhaps
the most challenging of all the 'nature bites (or, in this case, pecks and claws) back'
movies because it offers no explanations for the altered bird behaviour and, there-
fore, invites speculation and inquiry at a number of levels.
Arachnophobia (1990) is reminiscent of both The Birds and Jaws, though it is
much more light-hearted-and more plausible. In particular, it illustrates very clearly
the consequences of scientists pursuing their own ideals with scant regard for
possible wider effects. An arrogant biologist finds a new species of venomous spider
in a sink-hole in the South American jungle and, as a result of his careless quaran-
tine procedures, a live specimen is unwittingly transported to a small town in rural
California. The spider mates with local variants and produces equally venomous
offspring-with mildly horrific (but very entertaining) results. Arachnophobia is
a comedy-thriller which can be enjoyed by any age group (I first saw it in the enthusi-
astic company of my then eight-year-old daughter and several of her agemates,
and even my four-year-old son makes frequent requests for repeat screenings of
'the spider movie'). Interestingly enough, two aspects of the spiders' behaviour
which the screen scientist regards as 'highly unusual' - fertile hybrids and social
behaviour-were recently reported by Australian scientists (see exhibit 14: 'Arach-
A concluding case study: popular media
and climate change
The most common approach to education about climate change emphasises learners'
acquisition of scientific information about observed trends in the atmospheric com-
position of greenhouse gases and the ozone layer, on causal explanations for these
trends, and on predictions about their environmental and social effects. This
approach is based on the assumption that understanding environmental circum-
stances 'objectively' is of great importance in encouraging people to respond
appropriately to greenhouse and ozone issues.
But human responses to change usually involve more subtle and subjective cultural
influences, including values, interests and language. An educative response to climate
change requires us to understand how expected climate change influences the ways
in which people think, behave and live their lives. Such an understanding demands
that we look beyond scientific interpretations of the greenhouse effect and people's
immediate and superficial responses to its expected consequences. We also need
to examine the cultural perceptions, meanings and values that constitute people's
subjective understandings of climate change and mediate their responses to it. Edu-
cation for a critical understanding of climate change must therefore attend to these
cultural perceptions, meanings and values.
For example, to understand the personal and cultural dimensions of greenhouse
and ozone issues we need to analyse and critically evaluate the language of climate
change, especially among young people. Such studies, which can be undertaken
by young people themselves, include analyses of the myths, metaphors and analo-
gies that pervade the narratives and texts of popular media, curriculum and public
information materials, classroom texts and resources, and other cultural forms that
engage young people (such as science fiction, children's television programs and
so on). Particular attention should be given to evidence of changes in meaning
over time and the extent to which transformations of meanings reflect cultural
adaptations to climate change. Teachers and learners should reflect critically and
self-consciously on the language of climate change and the cultural meanings and
values that this language reveals. That is, both teachers and learners need to be
constructively critical of their own language usage and to be critical and creative
interpreters of popular media and other curriculum materials and cultural resources.
Teachers and learners should also undertake their own inquiries into such issues
so that they may themselves become active cultural critics rather than passive con-
sumers of cultural criticism.
The potential seriousness of the greenhouse effect may be better understood by
learners interacting with cultural forms which speak directly to human emotions
Exhibit 14: 'Arachnophobia'
The deadly spiders in Arachnophobia display two unusual
behaviours: a South American spider mates with North
American variants to produce fertile hybrid offspring and
the spiders display social behaviours (and social differen-
tiation). As the report by Graeme O'Neill (Age, 10 July 1991,
p. 5) suggests, these behaviours are not implausible.
Mating spiders
create genetic
tension in Canberra
Iclanca and technology reporter
by'the distinctive arrangements
of their chromosomes - the
On a trip to Canberra three
weeks ago, I opened my car door
and waS confronted by a large
buntsman spider nestled In the
door Jamb. It was' safely dis-
lodged to become the latest Vic-
torian emigre along the hunts-
man spider's own version of the
Silk Route between Melbourne
and Canberra.
Canberra spiders have nine of '----------------,
Geneticists at the Australian
National University suspect the
hitch-hlldng huntsmen spiders
may have been migrating up the
HlIme Highway since Common-.
wealth public servants trans-
ferred en masse from Melbonrne
to Canberra In the mid-1920s.
Dr David Rowell and Mr An-
thony Hancock, a PhD student at
tbe university's School of Life
Scientists, have found that .the
riverine woodlands of Canberra
are being colonised by apparent
bybrlds between a local race of
the huntsman spider Delena can-
cerides and a close Victorian rel-
Yesterday, they told a meeting
of the Australian Genetics Soci-
ety at Monash University that
the two races can be told apart
their chromosomes arranged in
an elaborate dafsy-chaln.
Dr Rowell said tbere are live
such races In Australia. occupy-
Ing adjacent regions In. an arc
from southern Queensland to
Western Australia. He believes
that in prehistoric times the an-
cestor of these races was widely
distributed in casuarina and aca-
cia woodlands.
When fire-resistant eucalypts
came to dominate Australia's
woodlands and forests, frequent
Intense bushflres may have frag-
mented the original Delena
range, producing isolated popu-
lations tbat, at the time Europe-
ans arrived, had gone some way
to becoming new species.
Now humans may be bringing
them back together. Spiders un-
wittingly carried between Mel-
bourne and Canberra are mating
with the locals, setting np genet-
ic tension that Dr Rowell and Mr
Hancock believe could hasten
the creation of new Delena spe-
An alternative explanation is
that a relict outlier of the Vic
torlan race may have lingered
on in the Goodradigbee River
Valley, on the other side of the
Canberra's Brindabella range,
and has been brought over the
range by wood collectors.
Delena Is unusual among spi-
ders in that It Is a social species.
Unsuspecting humans inay en
counter colonies numbering up
to 200 spiders beneath the bark
of dead acacias and casuarinas,
an experience calculated to of
fer an even greater thrill than
the discovery of a lone, large
huntsman Inside tbe cabin of
one's car while travelling at
speed along the Hume Highway.
Dr Rowell says that while
many hybrid animals are Infer-
tile, many of the hybrid spiders
are reproducing. The chromo-
somal rearrangements that oc-
cur when the two races come to-
gether may actually create
favorable new gene combina-
tions that suit the hybrids to new
as well as those which use 'scientific' styles of inscription, narrative and reasoning.
Recently, greenhouse-related issues have begun to infuse popular songs, novels,
poetry, theatre and other visual and performing arts. One notable example is The
Sea and Summer, a novel by the Melbourne-based author George Turner (1987),
which won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award (one of Britain's major literary awards
in SF) and a Commonwealth literary prize. Turner imagines the rise and eventual
collapse of a 'greenhouse culture' in Australia during the twenty-first century. In
the following excerpt, Alison Conway, writing in the year 2061, reminisces about
growing up in Melbourne during the 1980s:
When I was a little girl going to kindergarten we had the annual glories of the
sea and summer. We brats-at that age we are all brats with angel smiles
hiding the designs of demons - paddled from the beach at Elwood while the
sun showered down bright splinters on the blue-green bay.
Summer! Paradisal time of cold drinks and coloured salads, skimpy frocks
and games under the garden hose, days at the seaside with sunburn and
jellyfish, sand and seaweed and lush wavelets of cuddling water. Playtime
without end!
Yet every year there was an end called winter with lead-heavy clouds and
storms on the bay, long woollies and cold mornings, rain on window panes
and the fear that summer might not return.
Summer always returned. It was winter that faded imperceptibly from the
round of the planet's seasons while magical summer grew humid and
threatening and tropically wet. There were mild winters, then warmish
winters, then short winters that merged into extended autumns without any
real winter at all. Sleet and hail and frost became memories of 'the old days'
and their occasional freak appearances disturbed us, menacing the new order of
perpetual summer, perpetual holiday.
Lovely changes came to our gardens as plants were tricked by the falsehoods
of the weather and some grew to extraordinary sizes. Roses like sunflowers,
dandelions half a metre tall, pansies like velvet plates! It's the extra CO2
explained the neighbourhood know alls, it feeds some plants but it kills others.
Which others? We saw no others; they had died off and gone away. They
explained, too, that the CO
was a farming disaster, that the wheat belt was
shifting south and being crammed against the coast and the old wheat belt was
already a dust bowl, forcing whole populations to move and leave ghost towns
whispering in an empty countryside.
Didn't they know it would happen? Oh, yes, 'they' knew; back in the 1980s
'they' were warned; but 'they' were busy. 'They' had the nuclear threat and the
world population pressure and the world starvation problem and the terrorist
outbreaks and the strikes and the corruption in high places shaking hands with
crime in low places, and the endless business of simply trying to stay in
power-all to be attended to urgently. They weren't attended to; 'they' tried but
the troubles were too big, too well entrenched to be amenable to sense or
force - and the emerging troubles of the next decade had to be left until there
was time, until feasibility studies could be made, the problems seen in proper
context, the finance found ...
Suddenly the next decade was here, with urgent new disasters and no sign of
containment of the old. It couldn't all be blamed on the CO
but the
saturation level surely helped. Helped us on down to misery and want.
How wonderful it would be now to wake one morning to a near-zero
temperature and a wind of winter heralding the old world's return.
Instead we have the sea and summer. The sea is rising over the beaches of
the world; the coastal cities face death by drowning. Day by day the water
advances up the streets from the shores and rivers; our placid old Yarra was
long ago forced over its banks by the rising tides. The coast roads have
vanished and the lower floors of the tenements are uninhabitable.
The ageing woman has what the child desired - the sea and eternal summer.
(1978, pp. 19-20)
This passage elucidates dimensions of the greenhouse effect and its possible con-
sequences which tend to be ignored by textbook science. Here we not only find
the contemporary conventional wisdom of the effects of rising CO
and sea levels, but also some of the social and political effects and, above all, the
personal memories and meanings that might be transformed by the greenhouse effect.
As this passage builds toward its deeply moving conclusion ('the ageing woman
has what the child desired - the sea and eternal summer') it evokes a palpable sense
ofloss-'the annual glories of the sea and summer', which Alison Conway might,
in her youth, have expected to cherish in later years, have now been soured by
global warming. The denial of pleasure in memories of childhood is thus seen
to be a much more profound loss than the loss of amenity stressed by textbook
accounts of the greenhouse effect and its consequences (for examples of the use
of The Sea and Summer in curriculum materials see Greenall Gough & Gough
1989, pp. 17-18).
With few exceptions, popular media in greenhouse education programs are being
used only in rather restricted ways. For example, it would not be unusual for a
teacher to use, say, a song by Midnight Oil to motivate learning about the green-
house effect or to 'reinforce' information about climate change. But it would be
a rare science teacher who engaged learners in critical explorations of the song
as a cultural text in its own right and who sought to elucidate the significance
of the cultural meanings of the greenhouse effect for the production and appreci-
ation of the song as a popular media text.
To put this distinction crudely, the more common pedagogical approach to the
relationship between the greenhouse effect and a popular text that embodies
greenhouse-related meanings is to ask: what can this text help learners to under-
stand about the greenhouse effect? Less common, but possibly more rewarding,
approaches include asking questions such as the following: How do the cultural
meanings of the greenhouse effect inform this text? How does an improved under-
standing of the greenhouse effect help us to appreciate the text? What further
creative possibilities for the use of greenhouse-related meanings as a cultural resource
are suggested by responses to the previous questions? To 'read' the stories of the
greenhouse effect in such ways is to engage in the same kind of imaginative project
that Donna Haraway exemplifies for primatology (see Reading 3).
Human experiences of climate and weather are socially constructed. The use
of common climate-related words, phrases and figures of speech in everyday dis-
courses contributes to the construction of persistent cultural myths, such as shared
understandings about the meanings of 'bad' weather or a 'fine' day (these expres-
sions are more obviously laden with cultural values than are descriptive meteoro-
logical terms like 'hot' or 'windy'). One very persistent myth is that changes in
climate and weather occur independently of human action-hence the oft-repeated
jest that 'everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it'.
The publicity given to the greenhouse effect and other issues of climate change
may be altering the nature and status of this myth.
For example, among the first six episodes of the children's cartoon video series,
'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles', two had plots in which the villains deliberately
modified climatic conditions (see Beavis & Gough 1991). In one of these stories,
a 'weather satellite' produced violent storms (incidentally, this was achieved by
setting the satellite's control to 'total chaos', an expression which itself suggests
changes in cultural understandings of climate issues, since the concept of chaos
has been popularised relatively recently and previously was not used widely in
connection with weather). In another episode, energy was drawn from the sun
into solar cells so as to induce rapid and severe global cooling. Dialogue in both
episodes used variations on the conversational cliche quoted above. For example,
after the 'weather satellite' had been destroyed by one of the turtles, another said
to him, 'Hey, Leonardo! Everybody else talks about the weather, but you really
did something about it!'
Such examples suggest a need for teachers to explore with children the ways
in which their readings of popular media relate to their readings of curriculum
materials and other information about climate change-to explore ways in which
the language of climate change is entering the intertextuallives of learners. That
is, how do young people's readings of curricular and media texts dealing with
greenhouse-related issues influence their readings of other texts (and vice versa)?
Again, the purpose of exploring such issues with children is to draw learners' self-
critical attention to intertextual constructions that arise from their interpretations
of greenhouse information and popular media.
The myths and meanings that are embedded in everyday language are persis-
tent and resistant to change. We need to be able to identify and criticise culturally
dysfunctional myths and meanings, such as elements of our language that signify
climate and weather as 'acts of god' rather than as social constructions or phenomena
susceptible to human agency. If teachers and learners reflect critically on such
meanings they may be more disposed to participate constructively in the 'cultural
inventions' that may ameliorate their negative effects. We also need to be able to
identify language elements in which constructive meanings are immanent. For
example, a variety of popular discourses incorporate climate-related metaphors and
analogies: administrators speak of 'organisational climate', angry people 'storm'
out of rooms and pop songs have titles like 'Raining in My Heart'. The extent
to which, say, greenhouse-related meanings are being used metaphorically in popular
discourses may be an index of the 'cultural penetration' of greenhouse awareness.
Discourse analysis of popular media can be conducted by quite young learners
and has the potential to contribute culturally significant data concerning community
awareness and understanding of climate change issues.
Finally ...
A monograph such as this is inevitably selective. I would have liked to be able
to explore some other kinds and examples of popular media than those I have
referred to here, but we all have to stop somewhere. I could, for example, have
examined the exemplifications of science in soap operas, cosmologies in computer
games, technologies in toys, chaos in advertising and the politics of dancing. The
point is that representations of science and technology are pervasive in print, visual
and electronic popular media. As meaningful (that is, meaning full) cultural texts,
these media are at least as significant as science textbooks in providing learners
with resources for science and technology education-and I trust that I have com-
municated my conviction that they can be more significant. Students will make
many of the connections between science education and popular media for them-
selves, provided that they are given the material and moral support and incen-
tives to do so. A critical role for teachers in facilitating these connections is to
be exemplary learners: if you are able to demonstrate what you have learned from
Paul Simon and Blade Runner, students may be willing to demonstrate what they
learn from Michael Jackson and Pump up the Volume. Teachers do not necessarily
have to like young people's popular media (any more than children should be forced
to like adults' favourites), but they do need to be tolerant, open-minded and respon-
sive to the opportunities for significant learning that such media can provide.
However, there are treasures and pleasures in popular media which can be enjoyed
by children and adults alike-and many of them, especially in the field of SF, can
enrich science education. Laboratories in fiction await your learning experiments.
.. the last word should be given, not to Andy Warhol exactly, but to 'Andy
Warhol' - an android copy of the original (one of many, of course) as presented
in a Neil Gaiman script for the comic book Miracleman [the artwork for this
comic, by Mark Buckingham, is a sophisticated pastiche of Warhol's serial
lithography] ... 'Do you like this existence, Andy?' he is asked:
'Oh, sure. It's wonderful. I like being a machine.
'It's what I always wanted to be. You see, I used to carry a camera with me
wherever I went.
'Now my eyes are cameras, recording all they see.
'I don't need tape recorders any more- I am a tape recorder.
'This is heaven.
'And the comics. That's what I read when I was a child.
'Superman and Popeye and Nancy and Uncle Scrooge.
'And this is a comic book world.'
Scott Bukatman, 'Postcards from the posthuman solar system', 1991,
Annotated bibliography
Bleier, R. (1986), 'Lab coat: Robe of innocence or klansman's sheet?', in T. de
Lauretis (ed.), Feminist Studies/Critical Studies, Indiana University Press,
Bleier begins this article by characterising a well-known Nobel Prize winner
as 'a man of ebullient stupidity and callousness' (p. 55). She then provides sub-
stantial evidence and persuasive argument to demonstrate convincingly that this
is a defensible assertion and not a gratuitous insult.
Bleier notes that scientific theories about race and gender are usually put
forward 'not by cranks but by recognized and distinguished scientists ...
including Nobel Prize winners' (p. 57). She critically analyses recent scientific
research on brain asymmetry as a basis for reminding readers of
the 'implacable misogyny that characterizes science and some ofits most promi-
nent spokesmen';
the 'relative imperviousness of the natural sciences' to feminist, neo-Marxist
or other radical criticism; and
the enormity of the feminist task 'to reconstitute knowledge in the sciences'
Bleier's article is a particularly good example of the art of deconstructing the
fictions of science as a first step toward reconstructing them in socially just and
responsible ways.
Bowers, C. A. & Flinders, D.J. (1990), Responsive Teaching: An Ecological Approach
to Classroom Patterns of Language, Culture, and Thought, Teachers College Press,
New York.
Bowers and Flinders propose a model of teaching that views the classroom as
an ecology of language and cultural patterns. Their 'culturally responsive'
approach addresses directly the educational problems and issues raised by changes
in social dynamics, the natural sciences and other areas of knowledge and inquiry
that characterise the transition from the modern to the postmodern world.
Together with a companion volume by the same authors, Culturally Respon-
sive Teaching and Supervision: A Handbook for Staff Development (Teachers
College Press, New York, 1991), Responsive Teaching emphasises the import-
ance of teachers reflecting critically and creatively on how they present infor-
mation and ideas to learners as well as on what they present. Both books offer
theoretical justification and constructive practical guidelines for implementing
a culturally responsive approach to teaching and learning - an approach which
is consistent with many of the criticisms of science education and recommen-
dations for its improvement offered in this monograph.
Broderick, D. (1989), Frozen music: Transcoding literature, science and science
fiction. PhD thesis, Deakin University, Gee1ong, Vic.
'Frozen music' is an extended essay in the interdisciplinary analysis of relation-
ships between late-industrial/post-industrialliterary and scientific theories, with
particular reference to their manifestations in science fiction texts.
Broderick is an accomplished Australian SF author and critic who presently
reviews popular science books for the Weekend Australian. His doctoral thesis
is both entertaining and scholarly, although his (often tongue-in-cheek) delight
in resorting to arcane and esoteric sesquipedalian terminology (Le. obscure long
words) may irritate some readers. Among other things, Broderick shows how
SF, at its best, bridges the gulf between C. P. Snow's 'two cultures' (the humane
arts and the sciences) and he elucidates the distinctive narrative strategies used
in constructing scientific, literary and SF texts. He is particularly illuminating
in dealing with such explicitly post structural SF writers as Samuel Delany.
Charlesworth, M., Farrall, L., Stokes, T. & Turnbull, D. (1989), Life Among the
Scientists: An Anthropological Study of an Australian Scientific Community, Oxford
University Press, Melbourne.
Life Among the Scientists is an anthropological study of the community of research
scientists working at Australia's Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical
Science. These scientists are shown to comprise a distinctive subculture whose
myths and rites of passage are amenable to anthropological and sociological study.
The book clearly demonstrates how scientific research and its methods are
shaped by cultural variables, including social, political and economic pressures
and constraints, by the institute's milieu, and by the ethos of the international
community of medical researchers. The authors concentrate on how scientists
actually work in specific situations rather than on what scientists say they do
and what historians and philosophers of science theorise about what scientists
do. Life Among the Scientists is a significant contribution to the demystification
of science which deserves the attention of all science educators, particularly those
working in Australia.
Gough, N. (1987), 'Learning with environments: Towards an ecological paradigm
for education', in 1. Robottom (ed.), Environmental Education: Practice and Possi-
bility, ECT339/439 Environmental Education, Deakin University, Gee1ong, Vic.
Gough, N. (1989), 'From epistemology to ecopolitics: Renewing a paradigm for
curriculum', Journal of Curriculum Studies, vol. 21, no. 3, pp.225-41.
These articles contrast the epistemological foundations of education in Western
industrialised societies with an emerging ecological or ecopolitical worldview.
I suggest that a preference for an ecopolitical approach to curriculum work is
not so much 'new' as a renewal of scholarly traditions which have their origins
in an Aristotelean moral universe and which are currently manifested in deliber-
ative curriculum theorising. I argue that these traditions now can, and should,
be transcended in the light of recent studies of human perception, post-Newtonian
cosmology, contemporary forms of praxis (such as may be found in critical
feminist scholarship and some examples of environmental activism) and various
forms of practical action in schools and other educational settings. These articles
provide a substantial theoretical justification for some of this monograph's central
recommendations, especially those concerned with designing curricula which
focus on learners developing (in McLuhan's words) 'judgment and discrimi-
nation with ordinary social experience'.
Greenall Gough, A. & Gough, N. (1989), The Greenhouse Effect and Built Environ-
ment Education, Royal Australian Institute of Architects, Canberra.
This attempt to 'put our money where our mouths are' drew the following
appraisal from the compilers of Environmental Education Materials: A Guide
for Australian Schools (Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne, 1991, p.24):
A range of classroom strategies for examining the impact that the greenhouse
effect is likely to have on the built environment. In each of the dozen teaching
activities there is a strong future orientation and a commitment to cooperative
approaches to learning. Whilst the activities are not presented as a complete
unit of work, the authors have presented teachers with a range of flexible and
creative teaching ideas that could be incorporated into existing programs, or
serve as the basis of new programs on the greenhouse effect. Each activity
includes a piece of stimulus material and a number of ideas for examining the
issues raised. This is a comprehensive, flexible and innovative teaching
resource that provides a new angle on teaching about the greenhouse effect.
Several of the activities draw explicitly on SF resources, including two which
focus on passages from George Turner's novel, The Sea and Summer (see below).
Haraway, D. J. (1989), Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World
of Modern Science, Routledge, New York.
Haraway, D.]. (1991), Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature,
Routledge, New York.
In Primate Visions Donna Haraway develops a critical history of 'the primate
story' - the scientific understanding of apes, monkeys and humans, together
with its multicultural roots and branches, and its myths of origins, family, gender,
race and future evolutionary prospects for humans (and those who are 'almost
human'). Haraway traces the history of primatology from nineteenth-century
taxidermy, through twentieth-century laboratory and field studies, to the specula-
tive discourses of SF which intersect with the primate story. She pays particular
attention to the work and careers of contemporary women primatologists and
to the contested meanings of sex and gender arising from primate studies. The
final chapter of Primate Visions, which 'reads primatology as SF and vice versa,
is a signpost for the sort of imaginative work which should complement all
inquiry - and, therefore, learning-in science, and especially in such mythologised
sciences as primatology which serve to define and determine conceptions of what
it is to be human.
Simians, Cyborgs, and Women collects and revises a number of Haraway's essays
written between 1978 and 1989 on the gendered roots of science in Western
culture. She analyses stories of the creation of nature, organisms and cyborgs
and looks critically at constructions of self in the discourse of immunology. Of
special interest in the context of this monograph is 'A cyborg manifesto', in
which Haraway describes the relations between organism and machine as a
'border war' and develops a powerful (and appropriately ironic) argument 'for
pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construc-
tion'. Like Pnmate Visions, 'A cyborg manifesto' is a work of startling originality
and adds further weight to the argument mounted here concerning the com-
plementarity of 'scientific' scholarship, SF and science education.
Hayles, N. K. (1984), The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strat-
egies in the Twentieth Century, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Hayles, N. K. (1990), Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature
and Science, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Hayles, N. K. (ed.) (1991), Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and
Science, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
The Cosmic Web broke new ground in the study of the relations between literary
fiction and science. Hayles argued that the paradigm shift in twentieth-century
science - away from Newtonian and Cartesian objectivism toward field models-
pervaded many aspects of culture, including the writings of such authors as
Lawrence, Nabokov and Pynchon. Hayles made extensive connections between
scientific theories and literary fictions by analysing the meanings implied (or
repressed) in scientific metaphors.
Chaos Bound extends the argument and analysis of The Cosmic Web and posits
chaos, or dynamical systems theory, as a new 'cultural dominant' (paradigm)
replacing field models. In tracing the chaos paradigm through late twentieth-
century culture, Hayles develops a view of postmodernism which has consider-
able explanatory power. Her historical accounts of the development of chaos
theory are interwoven with clear descriptions and explanations of the relations
between contemporary science and literature. Several SF texts are included in
the literature Hayles reviews, including works by Stanislaw Lem. Of special
significance for science education is Hayles's conceptualisation of a post modern
worldview characterised by 'denaturings' of language, context, time and the
human-themes which have been explored extensively in SF.
Chaos and Order is an edited collection of thirteen essays by scholars whose
interests in science and literature are cognate with Hayles's. They examine how
changing ideas of order and disorder enable new interpretations of scientific
and literary texts, from Newton's Principia to Ruskin's autobiography, from
Victorian serial fiction to Borges's short stories. David Porush's essay is particu-
larly illuminating in regard to the epistemological implications of Ilya Prigogine's
theories concerning dissipative structures.
Hospital, J. T. (1988), Charades, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld.
The concepts of quantum physics are deeply embedded in the narrative struc-
ture and language of Hospital's novel, in which 24-year-old Charade embarks
on a globe-trotting odyssey in search of her origins. Charade's quest takes her
from the rainforests of Queensland to Boston, Toronto, London, Melbourne
and back to Brisbane. Along the way she encounters the physicist Koenig at
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and it is principally within the stories
which Charade and Koenig exchange that the novel's themes and ideas are
mediated by metaphors drawn from quantum theory. In the words of one
reviewer, 'Charades makes you look at the world around you differently, and
that is always exciting, even disturbing'.
Latour, B. (1983), 'Give me a laboratory and I will raise the world', in K. D. Knorr-
Cetina & M. Mulkay (ed.), Science Observed: Perspectives on the Social Study of
Science, Sage Publications, New York.
Latour, B. & Woolgar, S. (1979), Laboratory Lzfe: The Social Construction of Scientific
Facts, Sage, Beverly Hills, Calif.
These justly celebrated sociological studies of scientific activity demonstrate the
extent to which scientific practices are shaped by social, political and economic
factors. Latour's studies not only demystify science but also demonstrate how
scientific activities continue to be such powerful sources of authority in Western
industrialised societies. Latour shows that scientific laboratories are sites for
the production of meanings which frequently generate socially transformative
Latour shows that laboratories manufacture meanings which function as
cultural 'levers' to 'move' society in various ways. Their effectiveness in 'moving'
society is less well explained by conventional concepts of political and economic
power relationships (such as profit, designated authority, predictable evils or
goods) than by the novelty and ambiguity of the cultural meanings they produce
and their unpredictable consequences. Latour's studies should thus be of con-
siderable interest to science educators because the work that is undertaken in
scientific laboratories clearly influences the content and methods of school cur-
ricula in ways that go well beyond the content and methods of science subjects.
Love, R. (1989), The Total Devotion Machine and Other Stories, Women's Press,
Rosaleen Love's stories are not only entertaining and thought-provoking examples
offeminist SF but also embody critical perspectives on science in society. Love
teaches and conducts research in the history and philosophy of science at Mel-
bourne's Swinburne Institute of Technology and has written articles on popular
science for magazines like Australian Society. Like much feminist SF, Love's
stories are imbued with a mischievous sense of humor and many should be acces-
sible to young readers.
Mooney, T. (1982), Easy Travel to Other Planets, Jonathan Cape, London.
This haunting and lyrical novel perfectly demonstrates what Haraway calls the
'highly permeable' boundaries between SF and mainstream literature that have
come to characterise postmodern fiction. Mooney's novel eerily blends infor-
mation sickness, affairs with dolphins, an impending war in the Antarctic, the
throb of reggae and the lure of computer games. Though not itself a 'cyber-
punk' novel, Easy Travel to Other Planets is one of the key works that helped
to shape cyberpunk ideologies and aesthetics.
Moore, A., Gibbons, D. & Higgins, J. (1987), Watchmen, DC Comics, New York.
As noted in the text of this monograph, Watchmen is to graphic novels what
The Name of the Rose is to mainstream literary fiction. Moore draws heavily
on superhero and other comic motifs (such as pirate adventures) but utterly
transcends them in a gripping political adventure which demonstrates the subtlety
and narrative complexity of the graphic novel medium. One of the significant
narrative threads of Watchmen is science-fictional and explores a number of social,
psychological and political dimensions ofnuc1ear physics (explicitly) and chaos
Morrison, G., Truog, c., Hazlewood, D. & Grummett, T. (1991), Animal Man,
DC Comics, New York.
Another superhero revisionist graphic novel which blends the politics of animal
liberation, post modern physics and native American spirituality using the graphic
and narrative strategies that appear to be instantly accessible to those raised
on MTV and computer games. Adults may find it confusing.
Ormiston, G.L. & Sassower, R. (1989), Narrative Experiments: The Discursive Auth-
ority of Science and Technology, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Like Hayles and Haraway, Ormiston and Sassower argue that science, tech-
nology and the humanities develop in concert with one another and that tra-
ditional disciplinary boundaries are problematic and permeable.
Narrative Experiments begins with an etymological study of the origins of
our understanding of 'science' and 'technology' and then examines the roles of
fiction and other literary modes in constructing these concepts. For example,
the texts of Bacon, Galileo, Mary Shelley and Orwell are considered in terms
of the hopes and anxieties they evoke concerning science and technology. Other
chapters deal with the ambiguous status of science and technology in Enlight-
enment texts (e.g. of Hume, Kant and Rousseau) and evaluate various modes
of discursive authority in science and technology.
Parrinder, P. (1990), 'Scientists in science fiction: Enlightenment and after', in
R. Garnett & R.]. Ellis (eds), Science Fiction Roots and Branches: Contemporary
Critical Approaches, Macmillan, London.
In this essay Parrinder surveys the ways in which scientists have been represented
in science fiction from the late nineteenth century to the present. He examines
various changing ideologies that are attributed to science and scientists in the
fictions of this period with particular reference to the role of SF as a form of
propaganda - both for and against science. Among Parrinder's noteworthy con-
clusions is that 'one of the most striking features of the science fiction of the
last twenty years is that scientists are far less commonly represented in it than
they used to be'.
Robbins, T. (1990), Skinny Legs and All, Bantam Books, New York.
As noted in the text of this monograph, Skinny Legs and All is (among many
other things) an alternative history of Western civilisation. Rigorous field tests
and lexical analyses suggest that, unlike graphic novels, cyberpunk movies and
MTV, it is comprehensible to adults.
Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 18, no. 3, 1991.
This special issue of Science-Fiction Studies is devoted almost entirely to the
theme of SF and postmodernism. In addition to the essays by Bukatman,
Csicsery-Ronay and Porush that are cited here, there are many thought-provoking
articles which are relevant to the issues raised in this monograph. They include
essays by (and about) Jean Baudrillard and Katherine Hayles and discussions
of SF film criticism. Csicsery-Ronay's essay on Baudrillard and Haraway is
especially illuminating.
Turner, G. (1987), The Sea and Summer, Faber & Faber, London.
The Sea and Summer is a compelling novel set in drowning Melbourne during
the twenty-first century (the book's US title is The Drowning Towers). It is perhaps
the finest novel yet written about the possible social and cultural consequences
and correlates of the greenhouse effect. Turner's great strength as a novelist
is to not only present believable characters in realistic settings but also to portray
the backdrop of future global politics and economics in an equally convincing
Zimmerman, H., Reit, S. & Brenner, B. (eds) (1989), The Bank Street Book of
Science Fiction, Pocket Books, New York.
An invaluable teaching aid: a dozen 'classic' SF short stories are rendered in
comic book form. While none of the visual treatments approaches the sophisti-
cation of many recent graphic novels, these stories are enjoyable in themselves
and are rendered accessible to younger children by their comic book form. Among
the small treasures to be found in this volume is an amusing explanation for
William Blake's (1802) lines: 'May God us keep from single vision and Newton's
Adams, D. (1982), Life, the Universe and Everything, Pan Books, London.
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Carmody, I. (1987), Obernewtyn, Penguin, Ringwood, Vic.
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Reading 1
Science, science fiction, and a radical science education
E. E. Nunan & David Homer
E. E. Nunan & D. Homer, 'Science, science fiction, and a radical science education',
Science-Fiction Studies, vol. 8, part 3, 1981, pp.311-30.
We contend that there is a contradiction between the nature of science and
the work of the scientist in contemporary society, on the one hand, and what
is taught about them in school, on the other. To make this contradiction
apparent, we propose to survey current interpretations of the nature of the
scientific enterprise and then trace the evolution of science-teaching. Against
this background, we will sketch the possible educational role of "New Wave"
SF, in which the contradiction is clearly confronted. Our analysis will finally
lead to some reflections on the modalities and goals of a radical science
First, however, we should say something about our methodological and
philosophical assumptions. We intend to focus on the contradiction alluded
to above hy viewing scientific knowledge from an anthropological standpoint.
We will he following Young's suggestion I of looking at science in the context
of the three interrelated elements of social system, socialization, and helief
system. When those elements are congruent with the existing framework of
power and ideology, they serve to reinforce the status quo. In such terms,
scientific knowledge can be regarded as a belief system that presently func-
tions to preserve the social order of the system in which that knowledge is
This conceptual framework offers a new perspective on the debate
between those who espouse the traditional "internalist" view of science as a
totally self-regulated activity and their "externalist" opponents, who empha-
size outside forces as determining the rate, direction, and form of knowledge
production. That dehate has been something of a standoff between two more
or less equally inadequate interpretations. The concepts we are endorsing
provide a way out of the cui de sac of the "internalist"/"externalist" dichoto-
my. They supply the basis, chiefly, for transcending the internalist view by
calling attention to the special and restrictive sub-systems generated to han-
dle knowledge and its production, and also to the process of socialization into
any such sub-system as a course reserved for the initiate and involving full
acceptance of the current belief system of the specialist social group. This
drastic redefinition reorients internalist and externalist views alike toward the
contextual model of development exemplified in the cultural analyses of
Foreman and the sophisticated neo-Marxism of Young in his examination of
the historiographic and ideological underpinnings of the 19th-century contro-
versy over Man's place in Nature.
"Contextualism" seems to us the most satisfactory approach for under-
standing the relationships among knowledge, knowledge production, and
social forces. Drawing upon a variety of "disciplines"-history, anthropology, 311
psychology, political science, and so forth-the contextualist attempts to
locate scientific knowledge with reference to a sociology of knowledge and
the scientific enterprise as a whole with reference to the general cultural and
social concerns of which it is a manifestation, Only in this way can we begin
to get an undistorted picture of science as it is constituted and operates at a
given historical moment.
1. Today's science Is characterized by its industrialization. The industrializa-
tion of science, as Ravetz points out,' has resulted in a new L'rm of science.
Science is now a corporate rather than an individual activity- "organized
knowledge" in Sklair's sense of the phrase.' The image of the lone scientist
quietly carrying on his research in a university herbarium represents only a
small fraction of the reality of modern scientific practice. Science these days
is primarily an institutionalized pursuit; and to the extent that it has become
an institutionalized part of the social order, it has become socially important.
Sheldon, for one, notes the change in the conduct of science when he
remarks, in his introduction to Blissett's Politics in Science, that the
exchange between science and society has created a mutual dependency which
is nowhere more strikingly evident than in contemporary America. The survival
of 'Big Science.' with its large scale organization, costly installations. big budget.
and numerous personnel. depends upon political support. I n turn, American
society has looked mainly to science to assure military security and insure
uomestic tranquility.'
The institutionalization of science has led to the elite. f/la/wgement of a
research system, with the majority of scientists consigned to the role of a
srecial type of worker. In the US, for example, "it has been estimated that
so'me 200-300 key decision makers- primarily scientists- constitute the inner
elite out of a total scientific work forf.:e of some two million."b
As it is socially defined in the West, the scientific enterprise sides with the
dominant culture. The values inherent in the structure of that enterprise are
consistent with those necessary to the hierarchical division of labor charac-
teristic of capitalism. Institutionalized science has made expertise the pre-
serve, the privilege, the monopoly of those who are socially selected to hold
both knowledge and authority-which, according to Gorz,7 is a requisite for
maintaining a hierarchical order in production generally and in society at
large. Scientists themselves, whether or not they approve of the industrializa-
tion of science, encourage the public's ritual genuflection to science when-
ever their positions and privileged status are threatened. Such is the power of
scientism that politicians regularly identify science with the liberal tradition
and the values of a democratic state, and hence endorse its underlying values.
Educators Iikewise subscribe to the mystique of science by assigning it a
compulsory place in the curriculum.
2. To understand how science is taught in school and why it is taught the way
it is, it is necessary to appreciate the essential features of internalist scholar-
ship in the 1950s, from which present-day schoolscience derives its peculiar
interpretation of science. During that decade, historians of science took care
to avoid questions of social context, economic motivation, and political
priorities as factors helping to shape the natural sciences. As Toulmin says,
they drew a sharp line between the contellt of science and its context." The
orthodox approach prevalent in the US at the time was based upon three
central tenets; 312
(I) that careful scrutiny and "analysis of the arguments which emerge within
the scientific "context of justification" will reveal that, properly conducted,
natural science does indeed have a canon, method, or organon;
(2) that the central procedures of that method can be captured and expressed
in formal algorithms, relating the empirical observations of science to the
theoretical propositions in terms of which they are to be explained; and
(3) that the "rationality" of the natural sciences lies in conforming to the set
of formally valid procedures implicit in the previous tenet.
To he sure, isolated studies did question this orthodoxy: the Soviet historian
Hessen argued that the real roots of Newton's Theory of Universal Gravita-
tion in the Principia were to he found in the social and economic life of
loth-17th-century Europe; Manuel employed psychological analysis to trace
Newton's intellectual amhition in part to the effects of infantile desertion:
'and Merton linked capitalism and the Protestant ethic with the rise of science
and in 17th-century England." In the main, however, the internalist
orthodoxy was not seriously challenged.
The political implications of the internalist position did not go unrecog-
nized. Polanyi, in his 1962 article on "The Republic of Science," acknow-
ledged their connection with the ideology of the "free-market economy."
Linking free-market ideology to the ideal conditions for the production of
scientific knowledge, he points out "that the community of scientists is
organized in a way which resemhles certain features of a body politic and
works according to economic principles similar to those by which the pro-
duction of economic goods is regulated." He invokes the assumptions of the
free market to descrihe both the economic principles and the governance of
scientific activity. An invisible hand, "scientific authority," allows for the
highest possible co-ordination of individual scientific efforts, just as Adam
Smith hypostatized an '"invisihle hand" "to describe the achievement of
greatest joint material satisfaction when independent producers and consum-
ers are guided hy the prices and goods in a market."'"
Science, in Polanyi's view, is a se1f-co-ordinated system of independent
initiatives generating a unique professional social group which supervises a
professional code for the production of scientific knowledge. Such a commu-
nity of scientists exercises stringent control over:
(I) the selection of papers for puhlication:
(21 the conferring of scientific honors and research funds:
01 the publication of textbooks and popularizations of science:
(4) the teaching of science at the university and pre-university level; and
(5) the protection of the individual scientist in the pursuit of her or his own
Such controls were thought to insure the ethical neutrality of science against
external interference, which (as in the Lysenko affair) destroys the autonomy
of science and the '"quest of truth."
A number of subsequent studies have taken up Polanyi's idea that the
community of scientists is a body politic governed hy economic principles
similar to those which regulate the production of goods. Many of those
studies, however, take issue with Polanyi's political conception of '"economic
principles" and with his apparent endorsement of a free-market ideal for
science. They have also raised some emharrassing questions ahout the ethical
and ideological neutrality of science-a matter to which we shall return
presently. Yet science-teaching continues to perpetuate the internalist view in 313
blissful ignorance of this or any other controversy about the nature of science
that has followed in the wake of the Kuhn-Popper debate
and (perhaps
needless to say) without regard for any critical perspective on the socio-
economic determinants on the scientific enterprise that Polanyi (perhaps
despite himself) has called attention to.
Science-teaching remains the bastion for what might be called the
internalist myth of science. Were some extraterrestrial being to survey the
practices, texts, manuals, and overall content of school-science, it might
conclude that science educators embraced Robert Hooke's injunction to
scientists "to improve the knowledge of natural things" but not to meddle
with "divinity, metaphysiks. morals, politiks .... or logik."l.l Science educators
still imagine a rear-view mirror picture of science, a composite of 19th-
century gifted amateurism and 20th-century professionalism. I n contrast to
the reality of scientific work as an activity subject to the rules and organizing
principles of state or corporate capitalism, school-science offers the fantasy
of the independent scientist following his individual whim or interest and free
to gather data, theorize about it. and reach objective conclusions.
The values intrinsic to institutionalized science are never considered.
On the contrary, for schoolroom consumption science is presented as a
value-free activity leading to value-free knowledge and having a life of its
own, not to say a unique objectivity. In accordance with traditional internalist
assumptions, the scientific enterprise is regarded as being ethically neutral.
Napalm. neutron bombs. and similar boons to mankind are explained away so
as not to impair that neutrality: how can the weapon be hlamed for the
The privileged irresponsibility t h u ~ conferred on science and the scien-
ti,st is part of the myth of science. The myth. as Charlesworth outlines it.
holds that
scientific knowledge is central and paradigmatic. with the \alue of all other
forms of knowledge heing judged hy reference to scientific knowledge ~ rational-
ity itself ... being defined in terms of science): ... that science ... succeed ell
anJ supplanted both religion and philosophy. and that man's salvation depcnll,
upon science and that his whole fate is bound up with the progress of
science: ... that there is some kind of pre-established harmony hetween the
advance of science and human happiness."
Science textbooks implicitly and explicitly foster this myth. When dealing
with the technological application of science. they represent science as heing
industrially beneficial. without reference to the (military. colonial. and
profit-making) purposes of industry or to the nature of the societies which it
creates. Science teachers. by their choice of content and methodology. like-
wise communicate-oftentimes unwittingly-an ideological position. Adopting
internalist presumptions. they treat scientific change as illustrative of this
history of ideas about a concept and science itself as representing a concep-
tual game in a drama played out by the "great men" in the history of science.
Such spectacular intellectual performances. defining the advance of science
(and. by implication the furtherance of human well-being), command both
awe and admiration. Students are given to understand that science is an elite
study and that its purely theoretical concerns have a spin-off effect as tech-
nology. which brings improvements in living standards and the like. Scien-
tists, it is intimated. should therefore be accorded complete autonomy and
financial rewards as an clite group in society. By the way, students come to
accept the idea that science education constitutes part of the filtering-out 314
process by which candidates for the elite are selected.
The myth of science is presently under attack from many directions. Why,
then, should school-science be one of the last areas to register change'!
The simplest answer is that many science educators are unaware of the
contemporary state of science. Being for the most part unfamiliar with
industrialized science, they take their internalist conception of the enterprise
from the research practices in a university. It can be argued that their
antiquated notions have their uses from the point of view of scientific estab-
lishment. After all, the kind of science education they purvey acts to screen
prospective candidates for a university education in science (a prerequisite
for employment as a scientist). By exerting an influence on high school
programs, the university academic insures that this functional relationship
Mere ignorance, however, though it may account for the persistence of
the internalist view of the scientific enterprise, does not fully explain why
school-science is allowed to go on retailing the myth of science without
taking cognizance of its discrepancy with scientific reality. The truth is that
science in an industrialized society is a value-charged and ideologically-laden
activity. As S. and H. Rose point out, "science done within a particular social
order reflects the norms and ideology of that social order."1.1 Science in the
West accordingly embodies the norms and ideology generated by the indus-
trial base of capitalism. Yet school-science conveys the opposite impression:
it portrays science as a neutral study, free of the taint of ideological content.
Our point is that any such depiction is itself ideological. By mythicizing the
reality, school-science sees to it that science education confirms (or at least
does not contradict) the values institutionalized in an industrial, democratic,
capitalistic society. Indeed, Tobey suggests that science-and science
education - has been promoted to support the socia-political values of West-
ern technologized democracies as well as the professional interests of scien-
tists as a group.IO The case made in the US, for example, was that democracy
is the political version of the scientific method and that, correlatively, an
understanding of the scientific method could strengthen democracy (especially
in its industrialized and capitalistic form). Science, by this reasoning, became
a method in search of content; and as the method (or process) was thought of
as neutral, science itself was regarded as neutral. At the same time, science
was depicted as a pre-industrialized phenomenon (i.e., as the activity of the
individual armed with "scientific method"), and was hence identified with the
liberal tradition and free enterprise. Scientific values were thus viewed as
heing congruent with the power structure of this form of democracy.
A further clarification of the reciprocity between science education and
capitalism in the West can be arrived at by asking why one can speak of a
"scientist as a worker" but never "the worker as a scientist." The answer
Gorz offers is that
our society denies the label of "science' and of 'scientific' to those skills, crafts
and knowledge which are not integrated into the capitalist relations of produc-
tion, are of no value and use to capitalism, and therefore are not formally taught
within the institutional system of education. Our society ... calls "scientific' only
those notions and skills that are transmitted through a formal process of school-
ing and carry the sanction of a diploma conferred by an institution.
In other words, the system of education so defines scientific knowledge as to
preserve the existing social patterns established through capitalism. 315
As Bowles and Gintis and Green and Sharp have argued,IH post-war
educational reform in curriculum, pedagogical methods, and school architec-
ture has done little to change the social role of the school. The educational
system continues to inculcate values and attitudes conducive to a consumer
society with its exploitative social relationships and the class structure conse-
quent upon them. School-science plays an important part in that socializing
process, on the one hand encouraging illusions of the "free scientist" and the
privileged status of scientific work that seem to reconcile the contradiction
between free choice and clasS distinctions, and on the other socializing the
individual to accept her or his eventual place in the work force. This
conditioning process even extends to the language of science textbooks and
science-teaching, both of which rely heavily on scientific terminology and ex
post facto abstractions which bear no resemblance to language in its collo-
quial use and require the student to "know" things he or she has not really
The argument whose essential outline we have attempted to sketch, then,
amounts to this: that science education in the West takes the form that it has
to meet the needs of the social system .. It serves to identify the values of
democracy with those of capitalism, and while presenting science as an
asocial and apolitical pursuit, it perpetuates the notion of a scientific elite
and fosters individualism as opposed to social concern.
The school-science view of science as something unconnected with
prevailing socia-economic arrangements is necessary for capitalism in demo-
cratic societies. Conversely, to ask that the means of production that science
and technology generate be adapted to the social welfare of all rather than (0
exploitative purposes would be subversive of capitalism. By the same token,
it is difficult to consider science within a political and social context without
undermining its alleged "privileged irresponsibility" and exposing its (mutual)
dependence on the status quo. Indeed, any such undertaking almost inevitably
raises some embarrassing questions about the values of industrialized capital-
ism. For that reason. it should not be surprising that schools promulgate the
myth of science as a pre-industrial activity- that is, as if it bore no relation to
present socia-economic realities. Yet teachers ought to feel an obligation to
face up to the disparity: they ought to make their students aware that the
internalist conception of science is not at all congruent with most present-day
scientific practice.
3_ SF offers one avenue for approaching the contradiction between the
school-science myth and the reality of the scientific enterprise. We will
presently suggest some of the ways in which specific "traditional" and "New
Wave" SF texts might be employed for that purpose. First, however, we
might consider why it is that SF generally lends itself to such uses.
In recent years, SF has moved towards "final emancipation from ... its
domination by adolescent technological fetishism." As Parrinder emphasizes,"
the genre has always involved some degree of imaginative transcendence of
the existing social and "natural" order. One of the features of New Wave SF
is a consciousness of the effort and struggle necessary for achieving that kind
of detachment. It has moved SF towards the "soft" (social) sciences and
towards speculative extensions of theory rather than the technological "filling
in" of a theory. Even SF not properly belonging to the New Wave has come
to focus increasing attention on systems of values derived from the implica-
tions of scientific theories. The "parallel" or "alternative" worlds of modern
SF, with their self-consistent ground rules, offer themselves as analogues of 316
the social, political, and psychic processes of the present human situation.
The SF text depicts science and society as subject to an evolutionary
process; and knowledge about them takes the form of a series of different
possibilities for action rather than what the science textbook insinuates: a
fixed and immutable "given." Furthermore, many works of SF seriously
confront the contemporary state of science and provide a kind of contextual
analysis of scientific knowledge and the operations of scientists in respect to
the social, economic, and ideological circumstances of that scientific enter-
prise. New Wave SF in particular often does more than predict a future or
envision another world: at its most significant, it locates science within
specific value-systems, demonstrates the limitations of both, and examines
SF of this sort has a special educational relevance. It can be used as a
means for bridging the gap between real science and school-science. It can
serve to call attention to the value-emphases inherent in different types of
science and for placing science in a socio-cultural context. So employed, the
SF text can lead to an awareness of the assumptions hidden in school-science.
For such purposes, the SF text must be looked upon as a fiction
generated by extrapolating from scientific theory. The "textbook science"
behind that extrapolation is sometimes considerable (as in Hoyle's The Black
Cloud), and other times almost nugatory (as in Le Guin's The Dispossessedl.
But in either case, the extrapolation must be the central concern for
determining what the fiction has to tell us about the larger factors affecting
scientific theory and the paradigms they exemplify.
This does not mean that any and all literary considerations are to be
left out of account. On the contrary, we would propose that the first thing to
be looked at is the matter of human motives in the fiction in relation to the
plot and its outcome, the point of view of the narrator (if applicable I and of
the author, the author's social context, and so on. These findings, however,
should be integral to an analysis of the interconnections among the actors in
the fiction and of their perception of their relationship to science; and that
analysis, in turn, should contribute to an understanding of the relevance of
the science to the fiction and hence to theoretical science at large.
We do not mean to suggest that teachers should concentrate only on
the "textbook science" contained in the SF extrapolation. To do so would
amount to little more than presenting the school-science orthodoxy in a
slightly unorthodox way. Instead, we are advocating "social analysis" of SF.
The objective of the analysis is to reveal what a given SF text has to say
about how science affects individuals as social beings and about how scien-
tific knowledge results from human interactions in special social settings.
To illustrate what we have in mind, we have chosen five examples,
appropriate for various age groups and levels of intellectual maturity: Lem's
The lnvincible and So laris, Fisk's Trillions, The Black Cloud, and The
4.1 The In.;ncible (1967) is about an inter-stellar cruiser which lands on the
desert-planet Regis III to investigate a loss of contact with an earlier expedi-
tion to the planet by the Condor. They find its crew dead and the ship in a
state of total disarray. The Commander of the lmincible. Horparch, and his
lieutenant. Rohan. face the problem of resolving the various explanations for
the disaster put forward by the scientific experts aboard the cruiser.
The notion of inorganic evolution represents the scientific extrapola-
tion of The lnvincible; the essential assumptions concerning organic evolu- 317
tion are exposed through this extrapolation. The relationships between the
"building blocks" of matter and the concept of evolution provides a central
scientific focus for the work.
With organic evolution. change is dependent upon chance mutations of
the genetic unit (a single gene or functioning unit of more than one gene)
which affects an organism's survival value in a particular natural environ-
ment. Lem turns this form of evolution about and proposes inorganic evolu-
tion with building blocks of a much freer kind (unrestricted by the organic
Watson-Crick "zipper" effect) occurring in a non-natural environment.
Thus the scientific understanding of The ill vincible involves a familiar-
ity with orthodox explanations of organic evolution: and for the science
student the work sharpens the concepts "evolutionary unit"' and "natural
environment." This understanding is furthered by consideration of the inter-
nal consistency of the new science provided by the extrapolation. The relax-
ation of the assumption concerning "natural environment" results in a superi-
ority of a "lower" evolutionary form.
As the crew of the illl'illcible proceed with their investigations. they are
attacked by black clouds which consist of millions of tiny individual metallic
flakes (each one on its own harmless). These clouds destroy the intelligent
functioning of both humans and their robots. It is finally concluded that the
clouds are the end result of millions of years of inorganic evolution which
began with a robot technology introduced to the planet by an unknown
Horparch is confronted with an evolutionary product which follows
"the first principle of a homeostat. to outlast. to sun:ive under changing
conditions however difficult and hostile those conditions might be" ~ 6: 10 II. 2"
Faced with this dilemma various solutions are mooted. one of which is the
tblal annihilation of the clouds. for it is pointed out that (hey might leave the
planet to become a threat to interstellar travel. Ultimately. two fa<:tors
dominate Horparch's behavior. both involving a need for certainty. First.
does the behavior of the clouds represent a collective intelligence. or merely
a collective instinct'! His persuasion that the latter is the <:ase governs his finul
decisions about what he must do before he leaves.
Away from the ship five men have been lost. and although it is hardly
possible they can be alive. Horparch must be certain. The other crew mem-
bers would otherwise be in doubt. He knows that unless the men who
undertake such journeys are absolutely sure that a ship will never anandon
them on an alien planet. "spaceflight would not be possible" (10: 1541. This
unwritten morality. closely akin to the loyalty of patriotism. is. like the
contemplated action based on the hypothesis about inorganic evolution. a
means of mystifiying the process of colonizing space.
Finally Rohan is morally blackmailed into a search for the lost men. He
has already entertained serious doubts about the actions of Horparch. the
other scientists. and man's very motive for the exploration and colonization
of space. He worries. in particular. about the use of technology in "destruc-
tion at all costs" to make the universe "safe" (see ':1:145-47). His vision is of an
active. evolving Universe. in which evolution is an essentially neutral process.
a view which has much in common with that of the liberal conservationist.
What Rohan fails to see. however. is that as the expenditure of capital anu
technology is necessary for space exploration. exploitation is "inevitable"; for
Man assigns value to the "neutral" universe according to how his activities
are hindered or facilitated. The universe is no more value-free than Afri<:a
was to the l':lth-century explorer or the Atlantic to Columbus. 318
In the end, Rohan returns to the Inl'incih/e with the knowledge that the
men are dead, and with his vision further confirmed. Against this, however,
we can see that the cruiser can now leave with Horparch's "unwritten code"
satisfied, through Rohan's action. In terms of the overall end of the exploita-
tion of space, the expedition is a success. Horparch has the information he
came for, and has lost a small amount of face, some men, and a quantity of
replaceable hardware. The expedition, in terms of the overall scheme, is a
Sllccess; Horparch as an individual is not to blame: indeed, blame doesn't
enter at all.
The special circumstances examined in The Invincible can be used for
considering "normal' evolution of homogeneous organisms that inhabit the
same planet. Science in the fiction emerges as a tool of colonialism, in whose
service scientists are exploitable and expendable. Curiously enough, even
sllch a radical extrapolation as represented hy the theory of inorganic evolu-
tion neither changes the thrust of space exploration nor challenges the
overall pattern of scientists' activity. They are portrayed as a tough-minded,
competitive group who see their role, under Horparch, as the production of
solutions. using standard procedures, whatever the circumstances.
4.2 Soluri.f (1961) is a novel largely about the kind of scientific culture and
related ideology which man creates. It is set on a station suspended above the
rlanet Solaris, the surface of which is an "ocean" consisting of a colloidal
suhstance capahle of assuming various semi-permanent shapes. some of which,
"mimoids." are more or less copies of ohjects common on Earth or on the
scientific space station. The planet has so long neen the subject of study by
scientists that a whole branch of science. Solaristics, has developed. Much of
the novel concerns the history of Solaristics and its major figures, controversies,
and theories. The actual nature of the planet is a matter of debate, and the
manned station is the main source of empirical data for Solaristic studies.
The scientific extrapolation central to So/uris is based on the notion of
coding. The Visitors (referred to as "Phi" creatures or "polytheres"J are
projections materializing from the brains of the occupants of the space
station. The origin of the materializations lies in the most durahle imprints of
memory, those which are especially well-defined, but of which no single
imprint can he completely isolated. Any attempt to understand the motiva-
tion of the occurrences is hlocked hy the anthropomorphism of the "owners."
In Freudian terms, the Ocean has made concrete the forces of the id; and the
"hlocking'"' is analogous to the postulated Freudian mechanisms which oper-
ate he tween the id and the ego.
I nformation-processing theory asserts that the brain has an infinite
capacity for storing events and thought: however, because of our limited
retrieval capabilities, we are ahle to tap only minute amounts of raw or
cross-fertilized "information." Theories ahout the physiology of memory are
still in their infancy. Lem bases the extrapolation in Solaris around the
RNA-protein model. This model considers that "memory" can be accounted
for hy the fact that specific molecules may store information. Evidence for
this theory is that there is an abundance of RNA in hrain cells, and one
variant of the RNA-protein model associates specific experiences with quali
tative changes in RNA molecules.
Just as we are ahle to "read" genetic information through analysis of
DNA structures located on chromosomes, the Ocean has been able to tap the
psychic processes through "reading" the physio-chemical processes which
alter the structures of cerebrosides. Ultimately. our physiological explanation 319
of learning and memory will probably involve some combination of neurons.
glia. RNA. and proteins by which coded information is stored and retrieveu.
The Ocean is able to interpret such stored traces and materializes the
"psychic tumours" of each of the scientists on the station.
Solan's demonstrates two limitations of the scientific culture. its anth
ropocentricism and institutionalization. Both are shown to result in a crippling
mysticism. On arrival Kelvin remembers "that thrill of wonder which had so
often gripped me. and which I had felt as a schoolboy on learning of the
existence of Solaris for the first time" (2:25).21 The novel traces his descent
into a mysticism of despair. which parallels the disintegration of his confi
dence in "orthodox" scientific explanation. His problem is compounded by
the futile relationship he develops with the "reincarnated" Rheya. in which
his emotion overrides his scientific "rationality" and thus demonstrates the
latter's flimsiness. It is only her voluntary "suicide" which frees him again to
consider the problem of Solaris.
As he reads into the history of Solaristics. Kelvin becomes increasingly
convinced of the limitations of institutionalized science to explain phenomena.
Lem's choice of Kelvin as narrator allows the reader an acute sense of this
bitter disillusionment. Science emerges as ultimately self-defeating: as a field
once vital with originality and adventurous theorizing degenerates to mere
data-gathering. new theories are produced only by those branded as cranks
hy the scientific establishment. In Kuhnian terms. Solaristics requires a new
paradigm: and ironically it is Gibarian. the most cautious but optimistic
proponent of contact with the Ocean. who had come closest to providing it.
But if Kelvin can see all this for himself. it is Snow who has to point out
to him its cause- the compelling geocentricism of science. As he says. "We
don't want to conquer the cosmos. we simply want to extend the boundaries
o!r Earth to the frontiers of the cosmos" (6:72). It is Snow. too. who points out
that these limitations render Solaristics unequal to the task it has set itself.
and who rejects equally the mystic and deistic alternatives which Kelvin
wants to substitute for his scientific training. Finally. when the others decide
to leave the station. Kelvin elects to stay. "in the faith that the time of cruel
miracles was not past"-the miracles of contact with the Ocean and the
"return" of Rheya-while knowing that one must "be resigned to being a
clock that measures the passage of time. and whose mechanism generates
despair and love as soon as its maker sets it going" (14:204).
Solaris demonstrates the limitations of science as both a methodology
and a faith and suggests the origin of these limitations. It is. in a sense. a
despairing novel, for it posits inadequate alternatives. It shows scientists
faced with phenomena which stretch their knowledge to its limits-and
neyond, It depicts Solaristics as an elaborate attempt to construct a reality
(or realities) which. however. cannot account for their human experience.
The book might also afford the opportunity to examine the distinction
between established and "illegitimate" science (or occultism; Lord Kelvin.
after all. was an early proponent of experiments in ESP). Kelvin's tragedy,
ultimately. is not his loss of faith in his scientific training. but his inability to
see in himself a solution to the problem of Solaris. He has too long relied on
terrestrial. societal props.
4.3 Trillions (1971), according to its blurb, is SF "for readers of ten and
over." Set in a US town, its main characters are a highly inventive boy, Scott.
and a retired astronaut known as Icarus. "Trillions" begin to arrive on Earth 320
quite suddenly one day. Somewhat like the metallic particles in The Invinci-
hie. they are tiny indestructable crystalline objects, resembling multifaceted
gems. Their shape enables them to mesh together, and they soon prove
themselves capable of building huge but apparently meaningless structures.
Scott compares their mass-instinct with that of bees and the collective con-
sciousness of the hive.
What makes Trillions appear sinister is that they build imitatively.
though there is no evidence that they intend harm. All over the world they
are perceived as a threat by the political-military authorities. In America.
General Hartman is in command of their destruction; and it is not long
hefore he begins to contemplate the use of nuclear weapons against their
Since Trillions is written for young readers, it is not surprising to find a
greater emphasis upon descriptive and observational aspects of text-book
science. However, it is an extrapolation loosely based around the notion of
ecological balance which forms the essential conceptual science of the work.
Trillions are ecological organizations which can work to establish conditions
for ecological balance by providing "themselves as the punching bag for all
our fighting instincts" (p. 95).22 Mankind, by contrast, makes the achievement
or that balance throughout the planet an impossibility. National aggressiveness
works against the degree of cooperation which would be necessary to serve
the cause of ecological stability. Once the sublimated forms of aggressive
hehavior are directed towards Trillions, however, the possibility of the human
species' unified action emerges.
By representing the Trillions as ecological the fiction
introduces the background "text-book" science. It establishes a working
vocabulary of discriminations (e.g., forming vs. mimicking vs. imitating,
ecologically purposeful behavior vs. instinctual reactionary intelligence, indi-
vidual vs. social intelligence) which are pinned to observations drawn from
the natural history of such animals as bees, parrots, dead-head moths, chame-
leons, fishes. and insects. The novel deals with scientific discovery in both its
creative and its puzzle-solving phases. Like the celebrated case of Friedrich
August von Kekule. Scott arrives at his fundamental insight in the mind's
"twilight period" when "the screen of his brain" is active and awaiting the
familiar falling-asleep processes of the brain to take over. Just as Kekule's
dream of snakes, in which one "had seized hold of its own tail and the form
whirled mockingly before my eyes," resulted in providing the clue to the
cyclic structure of the benzene molecule,"lJ Scott's "meaningless" rhymes
prompt the "eureka" response.
From his discovery that Trillions are responsive to musical pitch, Scott
extends control over the "learning process," first by stimulus-response condi-
tioning and later by "aiming his mind" until Trillions could "hear" his mind as
well as they could hear the note of the xylophone (p. 53). Scott gradually
ascertains their ecological concern by teaching them how to communicate
with him, first by taking advantage of their ability to imitate shapes and
having them form letters of the alphabet, and eventually by a kind of
telepathy. Their home planet, he learns, has been destroyed; but they can
save the Earth from nuclear ecological disaster if mankind will hate them, for
this will unite nations in the face of a common threat.
In time that is what happens. The nations of the world, under the
command of General Hartman, launch a concerted nuclear assault on the
Trillions, but the result is holocaust and not the destruction of the Trillions.
The General, whose whole strategy has been couched in politico-military 321
terminology, amplified and slanted by the media, now finds his words turned
against him. Set on a course, he cannot deviate; and following the failure of
his first plan, he prepares to implement one even more terrifying. The novel
sets out to show the limitations of a united global effort which is based solely
on the monomaniac application of military-scientific knowledge. Scott, who
has acquired considerable powers of telepathic communication with the
Trillions, now uses them against Hartman, but finally has to send them away
for the safety of the world.
In that we are in the end returned to the status quo, the book is
pessimistic. However, in its course it also raises a number of interesting
issues, particularly as it opposes Scott, a child, working outside the structure
of the scientific establishment and successfully influencing events, with the
ineffectiveness of the highly sophisticated scientific worker, Icarus. Icarus
stands as an example of obsolescence as well as disillusionment; his usefulness
to science and the military ceases just as he is realizing his futility. Though
ideologically muddled, the book does demonstrate the ineffectiveness of
liberal conservationism in the face of corporate capitalism and its scientific
technological resources.
While it is clear that pre-adolescent readers will not feel the full socio-
political impact of the work, Trillions nevertheless provides an interesting
and effective introduction to the notion of ecological balance. It also introduces
basic questions about the nature of language and communication and, like
So laris, about psychic phenomena. Most importantly, though, ecological sci
ence is placed in its political perspective as an example of scientific knowl
edge which is pushed aside because its application on a national or global
scale is inimical to the interests of capital, which is represented in Trillions in
fits military aspect.
4.4 Wben Fred Hoyle says in tbe Preface to The Black Cloud that "there is
very little here that could not conceivably happen," he is referring not only to
the text-book science of the fiction, but also to the social milieu with which it
deals. Set only a little in the future (1965-75; the book was published in 1957)
it "establishes" its authenticity mainly through narrational techniques,
pretending to be an account found, years after the events portrayed, in the
private papers of one of the protagonists. The world in which Hoyle's charac-
ters move is a faithful copy of one familiar to him: the English socio-political
Establishment-the Ox bridge circle of eminent scientists-and the reciprocally
dependent and exploitative relationship which exists between the "two cul-
tures." The science, too, is "realistic," representing the contemporary state of
accepted paradigm knowledge in cosmology and computer science. Socially
and scientifically it is the world of c.P. Snow's "Strangers and Brothers"
The main object of The Black Cloud is to explore the notion of social
responsibility in science and government. It chief character, Kingsley, is an
eccentric and brilliant astrophysicist, a Cambridge Professor who is regarded
by the political establishment, which funds his work, as something of a
renegade. Kingsley has no patience with politicians, and entertains the elitist
notion that world peace and mankind's safety rest with the international
"brotherhood" of science. His colleagues are largely men - Americans,
Russians, Australians, Swedes-who share his interests (physics and music).
The first part of The Black Cloud deals with the discovery of the Clouu
and of its implications. On the one hand, the focus here is on the scientific
theorizing about the nature and speed of approach to the Solar System of this 322
vast cloud of gas; and on the other, attention is given to the political
maneuvering which goes on as the world governments prepare to face the
consequences of the Cloud's arrival.
Hoyle's central scientific extrapolation concerns the physical and "psy-
chological" nature of the Black Cloud. In the Preface, he refers to the Cloud
as a "black hole in the sky," and thus invokes what in 1957 (if not still) would
have been regarded as the speculative theory of "black holes." (The "text-
hook"' science of "black holes" has since been developed by Penrose's 119651
significant paper on Gravitational. Collapse and Space-Time
Secondly, Hoyle builds into the properties of "black holes" the notion that
the Cloud represents a source of intelligence. Since the transmissions them-
selves cannot be primary causes of ionic fluctuations at the periphery of the
Cloud (the energy to produce such ionization is insufficient), the Cloud itself
must be a source of power, capable of reacting (and communicating). The
next extrapolation is thus concerned with what differentiates the animate
from the inanimate. This distinction forms a major topic in lower secondary
science and is typically handled by the application of a classification scheme
applied in an algorithmic fashion. Hoyle's book might therefore generate
discussion ahout the assumptions implicit in such a scheme.
The text-book science which permeates The Black Cloud is more
ohvious than it is in our other examples of SF. Hoyle is so punctilious about
having his science accurate that he even provides footnotes which give
approximate calculations in regard to specific prohlems. The predictions
(hypotheses) offered as the Cloud approaches range in concern from atmo-
spheric heating and cooling and biological properties of plants and animals to
Newton's laws of celestial mechanics. .
The Cloud arrives in the Solar System and stays there, blocking the
Sun's light. While the Earth undergoes massive ecological disasters caused hy
drastic cyclic weather changes, the scientists snug at Nortonstowe continue
wit h their experiments and listen to Beethoven. Yet the Cloud has its
psycho-political impact. First the scientists become more and more self-
responsible, to the alarm of the politicians. Secondly, they gain power because
they have the only radio equipment in the world capable of universal recep-
tion and transmission. Finally, they determine the nature of the Black Cloud
as an immensely ancient entity that constitutes a vast intelligence. Their
equipment and knowledge enable them to establish contact with it, and a
two-way transfer of information begins. They ask it a numher of questions
ahout the origins of the universe and the nature of God. These prompt it to
reveal that it is leaving precisely because it has "heard" of an event occurring
relatively nearhy which will throw light on such problems. It is going to
investigate, hut before it goes equipment is set up to allow it to transmit some
of its fundamental knowledge to individuals in its own language.
Kingsley, in proposing his animate explanation of the Cloud, imagines
himself to be free of the psychological block of "earth centered ness:' How-
ever, it is patently obvious that this "earth centeredness" still inhibits his
thinking inasmuch as his scientific explanations are still steeped in the laws
applicahle to Earth. (Kingsley readily assumes that such scientific laws apply
to the universe at large.) Thus we find explanations of the genesis, evolution,
internal functioning and neurological control of the Cloud in terms of parallel
functions of "beasts." Biological evolution is seen as taking place
within the Cloud; and its genesis is perceived in terms of propitious circum-
stances (suggestive of explanations of the origins of Earth's biological materi-
all. its internal ordering in terms of magnetism, and its neurological control in 323
terms of our laws of electromagnetic transmission.
Ultimately, it is this "earth-centeredness" that destroys Kingsley. The
radical nature of the knowledge transmitted to him causes a drastic reorgani-
zation of his brain's neurological patterning and thereby causes his death.
With Kingsley a dead scapegoat and the Cloud gone, life in all respects
returns to normal. Neither politicians nor scientists emerge with much credit.
but Hoyle's notion of the scientist as heroic victim remains. This obscures
from view the fact that his scientist-saviors demonstrably fail largely because
they choose to operate outside either a national or global society to which
they are responsible. Politically naIve in all senses of the word. they have
regressed into a kind of liberal anarchism, a privileged political position
suited to the frontiers of Establishment Science but of little use to social
betterment. Whatever they have achieved, it is not an independence of
action; they remain workers." useful and powerful only as long as particular
circumstances last.
As the most orthodox work of SF discussed here. The Black Cloud at
first seems of most use educationally in terms of the text-book science it
contains. This is clearly set out in footnotes, diagrams. and detailed conversa-
tions containing scientific reasoning. These are the means Hoyle employs to
create an impression of authenticity. Yet, while the novel contains material
on physics. biology. mathematics and so on, its value to radical-science
leaching lies more in its serving to reveal the limits of existing paradigms and
the limited effectiveness of scientists' actions.
However. there remains a problem here. Solaris. too. faces these issues
more or less as a matter of intent. Kelvin. and S n o ~ as well. preselll
Solaristics-that is. are aware of it-as theory and methodology to he
questioned in the light of the events of the novel which their science cannot
eXplain. At least they realize the need for new. "unorthodox'" solutions.
Hoyle's scientists do not. Some of them. like Marlowe, may have qualms
about some of their actions. but none of them questions his own scientific
intuition-which is not to say that they do not want to learn from the Cloud.
Our final impression is that what the narrator. Dr McNiel. says of his genera
tion also has aptness for the book as a whole: it is "uncertain. not quite
knowing where it I is I going" (p. 249).
4.5 If So/aris investigates the culture of science and the role of individual
scientists in it. The Dispossessed (1974) sets out to examine the role of the
major scientist within society. By alternating perspectives from Urras to
Anarres. Le Guin is able to compare the scientist's role in two different social
systems. Her account of the inventiveness of the Annaresti in eking out an
existence on their world. through the application of technology in a socialist
economy, puts ecology and biology-as well as geography-in a new perspec
Hundreds of years before The Dispossessed opens. Anarres was settled
by a dissident anarchist group from Urras. who were led by Odo. the creator
of their fundamental ideology and writer of the works according to whose
principles the new society was (and is) arranged. Annares was sealed off from
Urras by "The Terms of the Closure of the Settlement of Anarres" which
allowed only radio contact and trade. but no migration. Both societies know
of the existence of other worlds beyond their solar system. Hainish and
Terran. which have established embassies on Urras. Again. both societies are
aware of the states of Hainish and Terran knowledge, particularly in physics.
The novel traces the career of the brilliant Anarresti physicist Shevek. 324
who hecomes the first person from his world to be I\'!rmitted to visit Urras.
From youth, his inventiveness and humanity have led him to both brilliant
achievement and periods of (voluntary) exile, for despite the principles set
out hy ado, Anarres is a political world, and political considerations operate
within its scientific community as they do in society at large. Shevek has
suffered plagiarism and lack of acceptance on the one hand, and political
denigration on the other, since ideologically he holds firmly to Odonic
principles, which he sees as being eroded. Le Guin has surprising skill in
creating "other worlds" with totally consistent social, physical, and semantic
systems. Here she shows one which is accepted by the average member of
society as generally happy and self-regulating, but which is yet open to
manipulation and political intrigue.
Shevek's journey to Urras is not popular, but he sees it as essential to
"shake up things, to stir up, to break some habits, to make people ask
questions. To behave like anarchists!" (13:317).26 But as well as this socio-
political role, his journey has a scientific aim. He wants a change of scene
and colleagues so that he can go ahead with his physics. In particular, he
seeks a milieu in which his work is recognized-and Urrasti society has
awarded his achievement its highest accolades. The novel's scientific extrapo-
lation in describing this work is of fundamental importance.
The extrapolation in The Dispossessed centers around relativistic field
theory (and implies, by the way, that present orthodox or "text-book" physics
has become a backwater). Shevek is working on a special branch of temporal
physics which is directed towards a general field theory of time. To him a
true chronosophy must provide a field theory in which the relationships
between the linear and circular aspects or processes of time can be under-
stood. He explains the relationship between the linear (sequential) and circu-
lar (simultaneistl ideas by a "foolish little picture": "you are throwing a rock
at a tree, and if you are a Simultanist the rock has already hit the tree, and if
you are a Sequentist it never can" (7:190).
Shevek has been given a book translated from Terran containing the
results of a symposium on the theories of Relativity, the physics of which
seems outdated and cumbersome. Yet he found the work of Ainsetain
(Einstein), the originator of the theory, strangely stimulating. He experienced
a sympathy with Ainsetain's quest for a unifying field theory, for after all, it
was also his aim.
Ainsetain had explained the force of gravity as a function of the
geometry of space-time and had then sought to extend the synthesis to include
electromagnetic forces; but he had not succeeded. His quest was not furthered
by quantum scientists, as indeterminacy (which old Ainsetain had refused to
accept) led them into a different form of physics. Yet Ainsetain's original
intuition had been sound-indeed, Cetian physics equipped with theories of
infinite velocity and complex cause had generated a unified field theory.
Le Guin, through Shevek, provides an accurate description of relativistic
For Ainsetain, too, had been after a unifying field theory. Having explained the
force of gravity as a function of the geometry of space-time, he sought to extend
the synthesis to include electromagnetic forces. He had not succeeded. Even
during his lifetime, and for many decades after his death, the physicists of his
own world had turned away from his effort and its failure, pursuing the magnifi-
cent incoherences of quantum theory with its high technological yields. (9:232)
Just as Einstein noted that "after long probing I believe that I have now found 325
the most natural form for this generalization I unified theory I. but I have not
yet been able to find out whether this generalized law can stand up against
the facts of experience,"27 so Shevek seizes upon the notion that a General
Temporal Theory does not rest upon the unprovability of the hypothesis of a
real co-existence of simultaneity and sequency. He is convinced that scien-
tific theories are different from mathematical systems, which may be internally
consistent and yet not represent or correspond to any form of reality. The
book thus provides brilliant insights in the area of relativity theory.
The Urrasti, of course, are interested in Shevek's work for other than
theoretical reasons. It will, after all, become the basis for a technology
making possible instantaneous communication over interstellar distances. That
is. it has use in the commercial, military, and political sense. Shevek finds
that Urrasti academic life is intensely political and competitive. and is initially
puzzled by the beauty and elegance of his surroundings. Gradually he becomes
aware that he is seeing only part of the picture; and through a series of
contacts. he discovers the exploited classes of Urrastian society. and in time
gets involved in a recognizably socialist uprising against established authority.
A different set of cirumstances now conspire against his work. and the novel
clearly shows the extent to which scientific experimentation and theorizing
are the products not just of the established base of scientific knowledge. but
of social and personal constraints as well.
He eventually completes his work in a short period of intense effort:
and even as he produces it. it is stolen by fellow scientists. His part in the
uprising is explained away. (His eminence as an intergalactic scientist pro-
tects him in a situation which parallels that of the Rusliian dissident Andrei
Sakharov.) Yet he returns home optimistic. secure in the knowledge that the
events surrounding his visit to Urras have done much to set Anarres back to
bdonian ways. Realizing that his major period of scientific creativity is
almost certainly behind him, he looks forward to a life devoted more fully to
social and domestic concerns within a setting which he is convinced is a
preferable alternative to that on Urras.
Unlike Hoyle's Kingsley, Shevek is aware that society and science are
inseparable. and that social change cannot be affected by people possessed of
scientific knowledge and repute who merely want to act "from the outside,"
By juxtaposing accounts of Shevek's life on Anarres and on Urras, Le Guin
clearly exhibits scientific work to be integral to socio-historical evolution, and
the technology dependent on science to be subject to the same socio-
historical forces. Methodology emerges as a social process. a product not
only of knowledge but also of ideology and social constraints.
The Dispossessed is probably the aptest instance for demonstrating the
nature of a scientist's activities. We have in Shevek a person who is aware of
how familial. social. sexual. and scientific constraints impinge upon his work
both in science and in society. His "social mobility" allows the novel to
explore alternative situations in which a scientist can work. Shevek is no
laboratory-cloistered recluse: though he does need periods when he works
alone. he also needs time to participate in society at large. By narrating the
novel from his point of view, Le Guin keeps the reader aware that what
Shevek does as a scientist is affected by a number of different but interrelated
factors in his social and individual existence(s).
5. A science education which attempts to face the contradiction that we have
drawn attention to would be radical in the sense that its values would oppose 326
the present status quo. SF, in drawing attention to the value systems created
within parallel worlds, provides one vehicle for the analysis of science in
social contexts; and hecause of the educational f1exihility of the "vehicle:' it
provides a valuahle starting point for clarifying the values of teacher and
student alike.
However. to achieve a radical science education. much more than an
analysis of SF's "scientific" content and social commentary is required. A
radical science education considers the context of science. and its content
includes not only text-book science and extrapolations from current scientific
theory hut also the particular science of a particular society.
Science cannot proper(I' he studied as an apolitical or asocial entity. It
is shaped hy social factors and responds to social change; and its discoveries
find expression in social and political terms. Analysis of the symhiotic rela-
tionship that ohtains hetween science and society is the raison detre of a
radical science education.
The aim of such an education is not principally to educate in science hut
to educate ahoul science in a particular socielY. Behind this undertaking is
the helief that. as knowledge production in science is a result of social action.
scientific knowledge (Jjke other forms of knowledge) cannot he idealized or
extracted from its social context. A radical science education is essentially a
study of relationships. first of man to his environment. and secondly of man
to a self whose conception science and technology is continually altering.
We have already suggested how SF might further the educational analy-
sis of the symhiotic connection hetween science and society. Initially. such an
analysis might he appended to a conventional science course. perhaps taught
hy the science teacher. This might prove to he a rirst slep in the direction of
interdisciplinary and integrated approaches involving significant changes in
curriculum: in course structure. teaching methods. and stance toward in-
structional material.
There are two ohstacles in the way of the kind of petl'lgogical changes
we are advocating. The first is instructors' attitudes. The teacher would need
to have a commitment to the notion of a radical science education. Her or his
values would have to he consistent with those altaching to a social view of
science. A teacher who holds strong socio-political convictions supporting
the elitist view of science could hardly he expected to emhrace the notion of
radical science with enthusiasm. And even those teachers who are sympa-
thetic to such ideals may find it difficult to reorient themselves method-
ologically. Arter all. the methods and patterns of teaching communicate
values as much as the explicit course content does; and to espouse one set
of values through the curriculum and another set through the methods and
procedures of classroom communication involves a contradiction that stu-
dents readily perceive - and are confused hy.
Secondly. there is the prohlem of imitatahle models. Examples of con-
tent treated in the style of a radical science education are few and far
hetween. Furthermore. it is quite unlikely that a curriculum giving explicit
recognition to values opposed to the present political and social status quo
would gain wide support. Progress toward curricular reforms conducive to
radical science education is therefore likely to he slow.
Our own convictions on these matters have heen inspired hy recent
efforts to reintegrate the sociology of science into the sociology of knowledge
and thus raise questions ahout the possihle "social factors" which interact
with the conlenl of scientific knowledge. Those attempts. as Klima notes.
were in turn stimulated hy Kuhn's The SlruclUre of'Scientific Rel'olulions. 327
whose central hypothesis, that
'normal' science is governed, not by a timeless, ahistorical and generally appli-
cable canon of methodological rules leading to cumulative growth, but rather by
specific traditions or 'paradigms' which tightly and with relative arbitrariness
circumscribe the range of legitimate problems and methods of problem-solving.
has opened the search for social factors conditional for the selection and
acceptance of such 'paradigms: The result is to re-open (at least for non-
Marxist sociologists), the problematic of the 'social roots' of scientific thought.
We have taken the view that part of the answer to the problematic connec-
tion between science and society is provided by studies which contend that
the form of scientific knowledge production has changed in ways which
reflect industrialization, bureaucratization, and the political needs of capital-
ism. Here we would agree with the suggestion of Johnston and Robbins that
"external forces are not only responsible for I this form of] social division of
labour but have had a direct influence on the differentiation through cogni-
tive specialisation." The type of occupational control in science affects the
type of knowledge produced, the structure of science as a whole, and the
structure of the individual specialties.
"Until very recently," B. Dixon
writes, "anyone who asked the question 'what is science for'!' could simply be
categorized as foolish, provocative or ignorant. ".10 Science curricula will be
faced with the very same question. Is research and development in science
(mostly government funded) directed to providing a better life in terms of
health, housing, and transportation'! Or are such vast sums directed toward
the development of "more sophisticated weapons anq counterinsurgency
technology (to protect corporate interests abroad) and towards automation,
information-handling technology, and technologically-induced obsolescence
(to maintain the viability of the economic system at home)'''!-''
On a practical level, the content of a radical science education should
be structured so as to enable mastery of the technological world. Wherever
science and technology affect daily life, students would have the information
necessary to understand and cope with them. This means that the chemistry
of making cement, the nutrition of bodily health, the physics of the refrigera-
tor, the biology of pregnancy, and so forth should constitute part of a
student's education. On a more philosophical level it means that the question
of "what is science forT' permeates the study of science. The discussion of
the topic of energy (conservation, transformation. application, and sources)
cannot be separated from analysis of electrical power demands. pollution. oil
and uranium, radio-active waste, and political control of the means of distri-
bution. The study of cell biology and genetics should not avoid talking about
genetic manipulation, sickle-cell anemia. ethnic weapons, and health-care
delivery systems. The physics of transistors and electronic systems cannot be
divorced from the automated battlefield or long-range surveillance systems.
A radical science education, we repeat. attempts to educate in and
about science in a particular society. An education in science retains much of
the "hard" science of present science texts; indeed, this fundamental elemenl
of "hard science" is central to the kind of education we are proposing. Whal
needs to be stressed is that an education in science should be carried out
conjointly with an education about science in a particular society. The
emphases should be on both the "social responsibility" of science and the
social roots of scientific thought as the latter interacts with its political.
economic, and cultural determinants. Only in that way can the contradiction
between science-teaching and the realities of science be disposed of. 328
I. R.M. Young. "Science is Social Relations." Radical Science loumal. 4
2. See. for example. R. Johnston. "Contextual Knowledge: A Model for the
Overthrow of the Internal/External Dichotomy in Science." AU.Itralian and Nell'
7ealand lournal of SocioloR.l'. 12 (197h):l93- 20.1: R. M. Young. "The Historiographic
and Ideological Contexts of the Nineteenth Century Dehate on Man's Place in Nature."
in M. Teich and R.M. Young. eds .. Challf!,inf!, Persl'ectile.l in the HistOf:\, of Sci('nc('
ILondon. 19731. PI'. 344-4.111; and P. Foreman, "Weimar Culture. Causality and Quan-
tum Theory 19111-1927," Hi.Horical Studies in the Physical . .1 (19711:2-22.'1. See
also. B. Barnes. Scientific K IIow/edf!,e and Sociolof!,ical Thenr\' (London. 19741.
.I. J.R. Ravetz, Scientific Knowledf!.e and It.l Sncial (Middlesex. 19711.
4. L. Sklair. Orf!,allized Knol\'ledf!,e (Suffolk. 197.11-
'i. M. Blissett. Politics in Science /Boston. 1972). p. ix.
h. Hilary and Steven Rose. "The Incorporation of Science." in Tlw I'o/ilical
/:l'{)lIomr 0/ Science. ed. H. & S. Rose (London. 197hl. p . .II.
7. A. Gorz. "On the Class Character of Science and Scientists." in The I'olilical
l.('(I//()ml ()/ Science (see note hI. p. h2.
X. S. Toulmin. "From Form to Function: Philosophy and History of Science in
Ihe 19.'10\ and Now:' Daedalus. 1M 11477): 14.'\-h2.
lJ. R. Hessen. "The Social and Economic Roots of Newton's Prillcipia:' in N.
Ilukharin 1'1 al .. Science al the Crossrnads: Paren From Ihe Second IlIlel'llllliolllll
ollhe Hislor\' 01 Science and Technologl' l'n/lLondon. 19.111. PI'. 1.'11-229:
1". Manuel. 1'0 1'1 rail o/Isaac Nell/on ICamhridge. 14hll): R.K. Merton. "Science. Teeh
and S()ciety in Seventeenlh Century England." OSIRIS. 4 114.11\):414-'I0'l-sum-
marized in G. Basalla. The Rise 01 A/odel'l1 Science: Inl"l'I1al or Frlel'l/al FuC/on:'
ILexington. MA: 14hHI.
10. M. Polanyi. The Logic ofl.iherty (Chicago, 14'111, p. hh.
II. M. Polanyi. "The Repunlic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theon ...
. l1illl'rl'O. I (1%2):.'14-7.1.
12. For further discussion see E.E. Nunan. "History and Philosophy of Science
and Science Teaching: A Revisit," Australian Science Teachen loumal . . 12 114771:0."'-71.
See also P. Feyerahend. Against Method (London. 197.'1): D. Phillips, "Paradigms and
Ineommensurahility." Theon' and Society. 2 (1975):J7-hl: B. Barnes. op. cil. Inote 21:
M. Foucault. The Archaeologl' of Knoll'ledge (London. 1474): and T. Caunihan.
"Fpistemology of Science: Feyeranend and Lecourt:' Fconomr alld Sociell. S
1.1. Quoted in S.F. Mason. A IIi.HOIY olfhe Sciellces INY. 14h21. p. 2S4.
14. M. Charlesworth. "The Myth of Science:' Nation Reliell'. 20 Jan.1 Feh.
1'I7H. p. II.
I:;. S. Rose and H. Rose. "The Radicalisation of Science:' in The 1'0 iiI iCllI
Fl")//()ml' o{ Science. p. 2.
10. R.D. Toney. The Amt'rican Ideologl' o( National Sen'ices I Pittshurgh. 14711.
r. xiii.
17. A. Gorz. "Of the Class Character of Science and Scientists." in The P{)lilical
'-('ollomr of .)ci.-nce. p. hI.
11\. S. Bowles and H. Gintis. Schooling in Cal'ilaiisl America 1 London. 147hl:
and R. Sharp and A. Green. Education and Social Control (London. 147'11.
19. P. Parrinder. "The Black Wave: Science and Social Consciousness in Mod-
ern Science Fiction." Radical Science lournal . .'1 114771:.17-01.
20. This and suhsequent citations from Lem's hook refer to The IlIl'illeihle,
,rans. Wendayne Ackerman (London: Sidgwick & Jackson. 197.'\1.
21. This and suhsequent citations from Lem's hook refer to Solaris. (rans.
Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox (London: Faher & Faher, 1971 I.
22. This and sunsequent citations from Fisk's hook refer to Trillions (London:
Penguin. 147.11-
2.1. See. A. Koestler, The Act of' Creation (London, 19MI. p. Jill. 329
24. This and subsequent citations from Hoyle's book refer to The Black Cloud
(London: Heinemann, 1957).
25. See D.A. Sciama, "The Limits of Space and Time: Exploding Black Holes
and the Origin of the Universe." Daedalus. 106 (1977):33-40.
26. This and subsequent citations from Le Guin's book refer to The Dispossessed
(London: Panther. 1975).
27. A. Einstein. Relativity; The Special and General Theory. 15th ed. (London:
Methuen, 1952), p. 156.
28. R. Klima, "Scientific Knowledge and Social Control in Science; the Appli
cation of a Cognitive Theory of Behaviour to the Study of Scientific Behaviour," in R.
Whitley, ed., Social Processes of Scientific Development (London, 1974).
29. See R. Johnston and D. Robbins. "The Development of Specialties in
Industrialized Science," The Sociological Review, 25 (1977):87-109.
30. B. Dixon. What is Science For? (Suffolk, UK. 1976), p. II.
31. "Science Teaching: Towards an Alternative" (symposiuml. Science for the
People. 4 (Sept. 1972):9. 330
Reading 2
An accidental astronaut: Learning with science fiction
Noel Gough
N. Gough, 'An accidental astronaut: Learning with science fiction', in G. Willis &
W. H. Schubert (eds), Reflections from the Heart of Educational Understanding
Curriculum and Teaching through the Arts, State University of New York Press,
Albany, NY, 1991, pp.312-20.
Many of my favorite stories are known popularly as "science
fiction" (SO,l and some of them have also become very sig-
nificant in my work as a teacher educator and curriculum
scholar. The value I place on certain sf stories, and my fondness
for the genre as a whole, has resulted from a succession of
fortunate accidents, each of which has predisposed me to take
advantage of the next .
. Childhood Dreams
One of the more plausible stories of modern biological science
suggests that our inherited characteristics and the circumstan-
ces of our conception result from many chance occurrences. If
that is so, then chance has it that I was born a boy in England
in 1944 and that I have a brother six years older than me. A result
of the latter accident is that my brother's reading preferences were
an early influence on my own tastes. Thus, at the age of six I was
not only following the adventures of Rupert Bear (and other
favorites of my agemates) but also sampling books and comics
preferred by older readers. Among these was the boys' weekly
paper Eagle with its lead comic strip, "Dan Dare: Pilot of the
Future." Dan Dare's colorful exploits were the stuff of many a
boy's dreams in the drabness and depression of postwar Britain.
He took the values of our heroic Royal Air Force into space and,
more importantly, his adventures were set in a future from which
science and technology had eliminated many of the most
demoralising aspects of our existence. When I embarked with
Dan Dare's Interplanetary Space Fleet to venture to Venus and
beyond I escaped from the food shortages and rations, the cold
and damp houses (coal was rationed too), and the runny noses
and congested lungs that were endemic to England's soggy,
smoggy atmosphere. 312
My brother and I were lucky to be acquainted with Dan Dare,
because in 1951, only a year after his comic strip debut. our
family emigrated to Australia, where Eagle was not widely dis-
tributed. This brief acquaintanceship was enough to whet my
brother's appetite for sf. which grew steadily in the ensuing years.
My own literary tastes were more diverse. but my brother's
collection of sf formed a large proportion of our shared library and
the Grand Masters of the genre-Isaac Asimov. Ray Bradbury,
Arthur C. Clarke. and Robert Heinlein-soon became familiar
names. However. my knowledge of their work and of sf in general
remained superficial for many years. Indeed. between 1950 and
1967 I read nothing which appreciably altered the impressions of
sf that I had formed on my flights of fantasy with Dan Dare. The
. oilly value I attributed to sf beyond that of escapist entertainment
was its celebration of the virtues of science per se.
During my high school years I began to reject quite conscious-
ly the Christian theology of my parents and to put my faith in
science. By the time I had completed my undergraduate degree
in biology I was confident that the meaning of life resided in
neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory. Had I been asked to do so. I
could have defended assiduously the scientific optimism of my
Dan Dare daydreams. But I had no reason to articulate such a
defence, and I certainly did not recognise the complementartties
between my faith in science and my childhood dreams.
Childhood's End
One day in 1967, when browsing in the Education library at the
University of Melbourne, I came across a small collection ofnovels
on educational themes - The Prime oj Miss Jean Brodie, Black-
board JWlgle, To Sir With Love and the like. Among them was
Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953). I had read and
enjoyed several of Clarke's short stories in the anthologies of sf
that I occasionally had borrowed from my brother, and I thus
recognised the incongruity of his novel in this collection.
Childhood's End is not about schooling, and I suspect that it came
to be in the Education library by accident, perhaps on the
strength of its title alone. Whatever the reason for its presence,
my curiosity was aroused and I took a chance on reading
Childhood's End. It is no exaggeration to say that doing so
changed my life. 313
Childhood's End begins just as humans are about to take their
first steps into space. The space race and the anns race are halted
by the arnval of extraordinarily powerful alien beings who become
known as the MOverlords". At first the Overlords are a mysterious
presence, and they hide their physical form from humans for fifty
years (it turns out that they resemble medieval conceptions of
Satan). During that time they take benevolent control of the world
and eliminate ignorance, poverty, disease. crime. and the fear of
war. But the children of this new golden age are strange. They
begin to dream of floating among distant suns and wandering on
alien planets and. eventually. all they seem to do is dream. The
Overlords reveal that their purpose on earth can be likened to
Mmidwives attending a difficult birth ... their duty being to super-
vise and protect the children through a metamorphosis which will
"bring something new and wonderful into the world." Eventually
the children are all that remain of humankind and. in the book's
powerful metaphysical climax. they dematerialise-along with
the earth itself-to become what their dreams prefigured: the
children are at one with an omnipresent cosmic MOvermind." The
Overlords observe this fmal stage of human evolution with a
deeply ambiguous sense of loss: for all of their technological
sophistication. they are incapable of joining the Overmind. As one
of their number says: MYes. we are the midwives. But we ourselves
are barren" (Clarke 1953, 153).
I recall being fascinated and oddly eXhilarated by my first
reading of Childhood's End. I was surprised by the apparent'
paradox that a story about the end of the world could seem so
hopeful, but I felt myself empathising with Clarke's aspirations
for what humankind might become. I was also surprised that a
story founded on the mystical concept of human transcendence
could remain within the bounds of scientific plausibility and,
moreover. be told using such stereotypical props of sf as extrater-
restrial beings and spaceships and other wonderful machines.
I have revisited Childhood's End many times since that first
reading, and its literary flaws have become more apparent.
Human characterisation is minimal and the dialogue is often
stilted, but I am still moved by the predicament of the Overlords
and share Clarke's sense of wonder as he imaginatively docu-
ments the marvels of the universe and dramatises his beliefs in
the possibility of human transcendence. Clarke Is at his best
when his mind's eye is on the big picture, as it is in his depiction 314
of the last moments of the earth's existence (as seen by the
departing Overlords):
In. a soundless concussion of light. Earth's core gave up its
hoarded energies. For a little wWle the gravitational waves
crossed and re-crossed the Solar System, disturbing ever so
slightly the orbits of the planets. Then the Sun's remaining
children pursued their ancient paths once more, as corks
fioating on a placid lake ride out the tiny ripples set in motion
by a falling stone. (Clarke 1953, 188-189)
It is not just the metaphoric reference to water that reminds me
of the climactic lines of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (K then
all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled
five thousand years ago"). Clarke's lines may lack Melville'S
fluidity and economy, but both writers know how to put
humankind into perspective-against vistas of such magnitude
and magnificence that events like the sinking of the Pequod and
the dematertallsation of the earth appear as infiniteSimal fluctua-
tions in vast sweeps of time and space. However. through their
respective central characters. each wrtter also demonstrates that
such events are by no means trivial. Thus, the sombre tone of the
concluding passages of ChUdhood.'s End does not invite us to
mourn for the earth but reflects the tragic meaning of its destruc-
tion for the Overlord Karellen:
There was nothing left of Earth. They had leeched away the last
atoms of its substance. It had nourished them. through the
fierce moments of their inconceivable metamorphOSiS. as the
food stored in a grain of wheat feeds the infant plant while it
climbs towards the Sun ...
Six thousand million kilometers beyond the orbit of Pluto.
Karellen sat before a suddenly darkened screen. The record was
complete. the mission ended: he was homeward bound for the
world he had left so long ago. The weight of centuries was upon
him. and a sadness that no logic could dispel ...
For all their achievements. thought Karellen. for all their
mastery of the physical universe, his people were no better than
a tribe that had passed its whole existence upon some fiat and
dusty plain. Far off were the mountains. where power and
beauty dwelt, where the thunder sported above the glaciers and
the air was dear and keen. There the sun still walked. trans-
figuring the peaks with glory. when all the land below was 315
wrapped in darkness. And they could only watch and wonder:
they could never scale those heights. (Clarke 1953, 189)
Childhood's End altered my conception of what science fiction
could be and stimulated my curiosity about the place of scientific
rationality in the human imagination. J began to read more widely
in the literature of science-not only sf but other stories of
scientific inquiry and the history and philosophy of science that
lay claim to being "nonfiction". I also began to use sf in the courses
I taught in teacher education, particularly studies in teaching
biology and science. After Childhood's End my cosmological
explorations were no longer accidental, though it took yet another
chance occurrence to forge the links that now bind my affection
for sf with my work in curriculum studies.
A Child in Time
In search of further revelatory experiences I returned to my
brother's collection of classic and contemporary sf. At first I was
disappointed by the scarcity of such revelations in the stories told
by the most popular sf authors. Fortunately, some of Arthur C.
Clarke's best work appeared ill the years that Immediately fol-
lowed my fIrst reading of Childhood's End. The 1968 movie 2001:
A Space Odyssey (for which Clarke coauthored the screenplay
with director Stanley Kubrick), the short story "A Meeting \,,;th
Medusa" (1971), the novel Rendezvous with Rama (1973) were
every bit as awe-inspiring as ChUdhood's End. and each in some
ways surpassed it. Thus sensitised, I could hardly fail to notice
that one of Clarke's nonflction books. Pro.fi1es oJthe Future (1973).
was listed in 1975 as a suggested text for an elective course.
"Educating for the Future". within the teacher education program
I was then coordinating. The course was about to lapse because
the staff member who was responsible for it had suddenly
reSigned. Shortly thereafter. I took the opportunity to teach and
to further develop this course, now known as "Futures in Edu-
cation". and it has remained an important focus for my work to
this day.
Since Childhood 'sEnd I have encountered the works of several
sf authors whose artistry with the written word totally eclipses
Clarke's. Of these, Ursula Le Gum has done most to nurture the
germ of personal consciousness that was planted by Clarke, the
realisation that Imaginative journeys into vast reaches of time and 316
space can be much more than escapist fantasies. We can return
from such journeys genuinely moved. Le Guin provides a useful
analogy in her novel. Always Coming Home (1985. 10-11): a girl
is on a journey from which she makes a short detour to Visit her
family in a nearby town. She recalls. WI had been to Madidinou
many times. of course, but this time the town looked altogether
different. since I was on a journey beyond it". The best sf has a
similar effect: it makes the present-and particularly the moral
choices and Judgments that we perceive within it-look Mal_
together different." This appUes as much to the stories we tell in
curriculum study as to any other aspect of our lives.
Le Guin sets novels like The Left Hand oJDarlmess (1969) and
The Dispossessed (1974) in the far future, in carefully con-
structed fictional universes. In each of these stories Le Guin
creates unfamiliar yet magnificently realised environme.nts Which
are integral to the interplays among her characters (who mayor
may not be human but who are always characters and not mere
ciphers). The haunting clarity of Le Guin's prose allows simple
visual images and motifs - a shadow on snow, the play of sunlight
in a courtyard-to be woven almost imperceptibly into complex
metaphors which resonate with the actions and existence of her
subjects. The wholeness of Le Guin's vision of alien worlds invites
us to accept them as familiar and subtly alters our perceptions
of oU1iselves and our own times and places. I certainly believe that
I returned from Gethen, the wintry setting of The Left Hand oj
Darkness, and from Le Guin's vividly personalised account of a
solitary human envoy's interactions with its androgynous in-
habitants, \vith a more sensitive and enlightened view of the
politics of human sexuality and gender.
An added attraction of Le Guin's sf is that It has also been a
source of questions for my own cuniculum inquiries. For ex-
ample, in Always Coming Home, she tells stories of the Kesh, a
people who wmight be going to have lived a long, long time from
now in Northern California" and whose stories are written as
translations of wtheir voices speaking for themselves." One brief
stoty is told by the grandchild of a man called Fairweather. We
are told that during Fairweather's adolescence Whe learned ar-
boriculture with his mother's brother, a scholar of the Planting
Lodge ... and with orchard trees of all kinds." Fairweather lived
in a'time and place when Mnone of the Valley pears was very good.
all were subject to cankers, and most needed inigation to bear 317
well." He asked people in the north for help in obtaining different
varieties and, by crossbreeding northern seedlJngs with a pear
tree he found growing wild above the oak forests, "he came upon
a strong, small, and drought-hardy tree with excellent fruit ... 1llis
is the brown pear grown in most orchards and gardens, and
people call it the Fairweather pear." There is much more to this
deceptively simple story, which occupies less than two pages of
a long novel, than can be examined here. But one of the story's
chief delights is Le Guin's postscript to it:
... he learned arboriculture with his mother's brother . .. and.
with orchard trees oj all kinds.
We would be more likely to say that he leamedftom his uncle
about orchard trees;- but this would not-be a fair translation of
the repeated suffix oud. with, together with. To leam with an
uncle and trees implies that leaming is not a transfer of some-
thing by someone to someone. but is a relationship. Moreover,
the relationship is considered to be recIprocal. Such a point of
view seems-at hopeless oddS- with the distinction of subject and
object considered essential to Science. Yet it appears that
[Fairweather'sl genetic experiments or manipulations were tech-
nically skillful, and that he was not ignorant of the theodes
involved, and it is certain that he achieved precisely what he set
out to achieve. And the resulting strain of tree was given his
name: a type case, in our vocabulaIY, of Man's control over
Nature. This phrase. however, could not be translated into Kesh.
which had no word meaning Nature except she, being: and
anyhow the Kesh saw the Fairweather pear as the result of a
collaboration between a man and some pear trees. The dif-
ference of attitude is interesting and the absence of capital
letters perhaps not entirely trivial. [I.e Guin 1985,274-275)
The difference in attitude is indeed interesting: moreover, it is the
dYJerence between the Kesh view of learning and our own that
gives the story a critical edge. Fairweather's story. and Le Guin's
translation of it, questions the taken-for-grantedness of existing
conceptions of curriculwn and learning, and It matters little
whether the Kesh exist "in fact" or that they are a speculative
fiction of Le Guin's imagination. The facts of the story's existence
and of our critical responses to It are more than enough to provide
questions for curriculum inquiry. As Le Guin says in a preface to
Always Coming Home: 318
The difficulty of translation from a language that doesn't yet
exist is considerable. but there's no need to exaggerate it. The
past. after all. can be quite as obscure as the future, The ancient
Chinese book called Tao teh ching has been translated into
English dozens of times. and indeed the Chinese have to keep
retranslating it Into Chinese at every cycle of Cathay, but no
translation can give us the book that Lao Tze (who may not have
existed) wrote. All we have is the Tao teh ching that Is here. now.
And so wlth translations from a literature of the (or a) future,
The fact that it hasn't yet been written. the mere absence of a
text to translate. doesn't make all that much difference, What
was and what may be lie. like children whose faces we cannot
see, in the arms of silence. All we ever have is here. now. (Le
Guin 1985, xi)
Le Guin thus reminds us that the value of a narrative excursion
to other times has little to do with its status as historical or
scientific 'fact' or speculative fiction, What matters is the wisdom
and virtue that may grow in us as we respond critically and
creatively to such stories here and now. in the present within
which our pasts and fu tures are enfolded.
The essence of what I have learned from the stories of Arthur
C. Clarke. Ursula Le Guin. and other writers of sf is that I am a
child in time. They have helped me to understand that I am at
the centre of my own hIstory and have helped me to locate this
his,tory somewhere-and somewhen-radically indetennincite in
any conception I might have of the evolving universe. The stories
of science-astronomy. geology. ecology. and evolutionary biol-
ogy-opened mymlnd to vast perspectives of space and time past.
but in those stories I seemed to be situated at the edge of reality.
or uncomfortably perched on the tip of time's arrow. with a narrow
and restricted view. The stories of science fiction have helped me
to realise the vast imaginative perspectives of space and time
future. It Is a humbling experience to sense oneself as a child in
time-as a small. wondertng. growing. and purposeful speck of
consciousness-indeterminately and ambIguously located (but
not lost) within an infinite tlmescape. And here. now. it feels like
a good and useful metaphor for what I hope I am being and
becoming as I tell my own stories of curriculum. teaching. and
learning with my own children. colleagues. and colearners. 319
1. Most connoisseurs. critics. and creators of science fiction prefer
the abbre\iation Msr. to Msci-fi. An advantage of Msr is that it can also
be taken W denote -speculative fiction
(an all-embracing term which
includes any stories set in the future. regardless of whether or not they
are furnished with the scientific or technological hardware of conven-
tional science fiction) and/or science fantasy' (stories which are osten-
sibly set in the future but which are characterised by magic and fantasy
of the faery sort). .
Clarke. A. C. 1953. Childhood's end. New York: Ballantine. (Page refer-
ences are to the 1956 edition published by Pan Books. London.)
- - -. 1971. A Meeting with Medusa. In The windJrom the SWl. London:
Victor Gollancz.
- - -. 1973. Rendezoous with Rama. London: Victor Gollancz.
- -- ------
-:.... -....:.. -r973. Profiles oTthe-FUture-:-re0.sed edition. London: Victor
Gollancz. -
Le GUin. Ursula 1969. The Left Hand oj DarJmess. New York: Ace.
- - -. 1974. The Dispossessed. New York: Harper and Row.
- - -. 1985. Always Coming Home. New York: Harper and Row. (Page
references are to the 1986 edition published by Victor Gollancz.
London.) 320
Reading 3
Reprise: Science fiction, fictions of science, and primatology
Donna Haraway
D. J. Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern
Science, Routledge, New York, 1989, pp.368-82, 430-1. (References not included)
Reading Primatology as Science Fiction: The
Second Foundation and Stanford's Second Primate
Project, 1983-1984
However, because the genetic interests of individuals are not identical (unless they
are clones), conflicts of interest perpetually endanger the survival of cooperative
relationships. (Smuts, Cheney, Seyfarth, Wrangham, and Struhsaker 1987: 297)
, , unless they are clones": Surely, this is an innocent parenthetical excep-
tion, nothing but a punctuated precaution for hominid zoologists pro-
fessionally alert (Q the array of modes of reproduction and replication
in the living world, where clones appear naturally in many species, for example,
among the colonial insects. Even in the stodgy, conservative primate order, itself a
kind of right-wing reaction to the publicly visible, widespread, and baroque practices
among fungi and invertebrates, identical twins and kinky replicative habits occur,
if infrequently and generally only in tropical forests. Or in laboratories. Laboratories
are the material and mythic space of modem science, and the naturalistic field is
one of the laboratories of modern primatology. Indeed, the field has been primate
science's privileged semiotic center.
The primate field, naturalistic and textual, has been a site for elaborating and
contesting the bio-politics of difference and identity for members of industrial and
post-industrial cultures. Cloning is simultaneously a literal natural and a cultural 368
technology, a science fiction staple, and a mythic figure for the repetition of the
same, for a stable identity and a safe route through time seemingly outside human
reach. Evolutionary biology's bottom line on difference is succinctly stated in the
quotation opening this conclusion: in the end, non-identity is antagonistic; it always
threatens "the survival of cooperative relationships."ln the end, only the sign of
the Same, of the replication of the one identical to itself, seems to promise peace.
Can patriarchal monotheistic cultures ever allow another primal slory?
Using Isaac Asimov's imagination of the Second Found4titm to set the stage, I would
like to begin the conclusion to Primau Visions with a return to its recurring themes
of repetition, identity, cooperation, whole, difference, change, conflict, fragment,
reproduction, sex, and mind. Running through the weave of these themes has been
the thread of preoccupation with biological and political questions of survival,
catastrophe, and extinction. Explicit in the opening quotation above, questions of
difference are questions about survival, for both fragments and wholes. Prima to logy
has been a rich cultural fabric for exploring these matters. "Teddy Bear Patriarchy,"
"The Bio-politics of a Multicultural Field," "Mothering as a Scientist for National
Geographic," "Remodeling the Human Way of Life," and "The Politics of Being
Female" have all turned repeatedly on narratives of the bio-politics of difference
and identity in large dramas of twentieth-century history, reaching from pre-World
War II African colonialism through post-nuclear and post-colonial struggles over
race and gender. Questions about the nature of war, technology, power, and com-
munity echo through the primate literature. Given meaning through readings of
the bodies and lives of our primate kin, who were semiotically placed in allochronic
time and allotopic space, reinvented origins have been figures for reinvented possi-
ble futures. Primatology is a First World survival literature in the conditions of
twentieth-century global history.
In Asimov's Second Foundation (1964 [1953]), the Seldon Plan for speeding up
the return of collective advanced galactic civilization has reached a critical point.
Foreseeing the decay of the present Empire, before his death Harry Seldon invented
the science capable of predicting social patterns from human interactions in vast
masses, a discourse he called Psychohistory. Seldon predicted and manipulated one
gametic fragment for the new order and planted the second essential germ cell in
the interstices of the fragmenting old Empire. Located "at opposite ends of the
galaxy," the first fragment represented science and technology, and the other
nurtured advanced mental powers. But the galaxy'S shape makes the meaning of
their relative location hopelessly ambiguous; the two foundations might be in the
same place, yet unknown to each other. They might be mirror-image clones, more
than haploid fragments. They turn out to relate as center and periphery, nucleus
and margin. The Second Foundation finally controlled the meanings and fate of
the First Foundation. These spatial ambiguities about the relation of fragments that
might be clones, gametes, or parts of the same cell can be metaphors in narratives
of the relations of variant explanatory frameworks in scientific repetition, fertiliza-
tion, or succession. In the Second Foundation, a sterile mutant, the Mule, appears by
chance in the story. He is the unique event that the Psycho historians could not have
predicted, and this mutation threatens to undermine the Seldon Plan. The Mule
has tremendous mental powers for controlling others' minds, and he puts his power
to work conquering the First Foundation and searching for the Second Foundation
to add it to his upstart and monstrous empire based on violence and conquest. 369
Ultimately, the psychohistorians of the Second Foundation overcome the Mule's
power, restoring the hegemony of their mental talents needed to k.nit together a
cooperative new civilization.
Asimov's story provides a loose-fitting but still suggestive way to read the Center
for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences' second Primate Project in 1983-
84, in comparison and contrast with its twin, complement, and predecessor, the first
Primate Project in 1962-63. Both projects took place at the prestigious Center
located near Stanford University; the Center may be imagined to be a kind of real-
time Institute for Psychohistory, where accounts of the foundations of social and
cognitive life are regularly reinvented by selected cultural authorities. Throughout
Primate Visions, science fiction has provided one of the lenses for reading primatolog-
ical texts. Mixing, juxtaposing, and reversing reading conventions appropriate to
each genre can yield fruitful ways of understanding the production of origin narra-
tives in a society that privileges science and technology in its constructions of what
may count as nature and for regulating the traffic between what it divides as nature
and culture.
The field-defining, synthetic books produced from each project's year of study,
writing, and seminars are maps to changing explanatory frameworks for under-
standing the relations of pans to wholes and sameness to difference in post-war
primatology, as well as for understanding network.s of competition, cooperation,
and professional reproduction among primatologists. These books, Primate Beltav-
ior: Field Studies of Monheys and Apes (DeVore 1965a) and Primate Societies (Smuts et
al 1987), mark critical reinventions of what may count scientifically as primate
society. On one level, the second Primate Project was a deliberate repetition of the
first, the next generation, a reproduction, a kind of duplicated cultural genetic
region, with mutations coding for a novel but affiliated end product, whose substitu-
tions and homologies can be identified, and whose function remains the recognition
of difference between self and non-self, human and animal. The second primate
year also dramatized the marginalization of the major paradigms and the social
networks of the first project. The second project was simultaneously a nucleus
directing translations of the primate story, a germinal fragment of a whole, a highly
mutated clone, and the successor. Primate Societies is located at the opposite end of
the galaxy of post-war primate field studies from Primate Behavior. But the opposition
is based on an identity and repetition. The texts occupy the same field; they are in
the same place. And for each, what counts as the core and motor of primate
social life is at stake. The dynamics of cooperation and competition are endlessly
elaborated in a repeating but differentiated prima to logical survival literature.
Both primate years at the Palo Alto Center and the resulting books owed many of
their conditions of existence to the same powerful paternal figure in the biomedically
oriented behavioral sciences, especially the endocrinological and neurosciences and
experimental psychiatry, David Hamburg. Hamburg and Sherwood Washburn at
the University of California at Berkeley collaborated to organize the first primate
project. Washburn's favored former student, Irven DeVore, played a large role in
planning the project year; and he edited the resulting volume, which synthesized
and exhibited the dominant frameworks for most United States primate field an-
thropology for many years. At the time of the Primate Project in 1 9 6 2 ~ 3 , Hamburg
was the head of the Psychiatry Department at Stanford University'S School of
Medicine, where he was responsible for the department's redirection to a much 370
more experimental approach. Washburn was then entering the high plateau of the
success that his "plan" would achieve for bringing together primate field studies,
functional comparative anatomy, and studies of fossils. Stress was the multivalent
concept for bringing together body, mind, evolution, and health in the Washburn-
Hamburg vision. "Stress" was a widespread, complex element of post-Hiroshima
American Cold War discourse on the relation of human beings to their technological
products and animal inheritance. Stress was about cultural perceptions of the traffic
between nature and human society and about the connections between body and
mind. Stress was part of a discourse about the prospects of survival for nuclear
humanity that also faced deep ecological crisis. The terms of possible human com-
munity were at the heart of this post-World War II, universalizing, evolutionary
narrative about the origins and biology of conflict and cooperation. The solution
was the concept of the "social group" as the principal primate adaptation and
the "sharing way of life" as its progressive hominid variant. Difference, signified
especially by race in a period of decolonization and civil rights struggles, was con-
tained by functionalism and liberalism within an ideology privileging a science-
based cultural and political order, reaffirmed in Hamburg's 1983 inaugural lecture
as president of the Carnegie Corporation. From the global and local social struggles
of the 19605 through the reactionary Reagan years, Hamburg kept the faith that
the sharing way of life would be recuperated through international science.
Twenty years after the first primate project, Hamburg, then president of the
National Institute of Medicine, invited Barbara Smuts, his former graduate student
at Stanford, who was also affiliated with Irven DeVore and his student network
at Harvard, to organize the second primate year. [Figure 16.1] Smuts' webs of
connections to people from Gombe, Stanford, Harvard, Cambridge (England), and
Figure 16.1 Barbara Smuts with a group of baboons at Gilgil. Barbara Smutsl Anthro- 371
photo. Published with permission.
several other sites where primatologists evolved or immigrated made her the ideal
person to undertake the task. As in the first year, the core of the project was a small
group resident at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. They
utilized their professional networks to solicit papers broadly. Primate Societies had
forty-six contributors, about equal to the total number of primatologists who had
done field studies by the mid-I960s. I Twenty contributors to Primate Societies were
women, including one of the two Japanese participants (Hiraiwa-Hasegawa Mariko).
Substantial gender equality in authority and authorship, relative ethnic homogene-
ity, and extensive collective interactions pervade the text of Primate Societies.
Of the
thirty-one people who came together to produce Primate Behavior, four were women
(Frances Reynolds; Jane Goodall, who contributed a paper but was not present;
Jane Lancaster; and Phyllis Jay). The center of gravity of the first project was
Berkeley; the second project was enmeshed in an inter-institutional and inter-site
web exemplified by Smuts's many connections. Prominently missing in 1982-83 was
anyone from the Washburn network, or indeed from the recent or present primate
people at the University of California at Berkeley.
The co-editors who spent the year
together-Smuts, Cheney, Seyfarth, Wrangham, and Struhsaker-were multiply
linked through Robert Hinde at Cambridge, Gombe before 1975, Marler's associates
at the Rockefeller University, Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Michigan.
The University of California at Davis and the University of Chicago were other
well-represented centers of primate work in the volume.
At opposite ends of Darwinism's galaxy, primatology's Second Foundation oper-
ated with different enabling explanatory constraints for understanding primate
social life compared to the first Primate Project. But like the First Foundation, the
links of concepts of mind, body, and community were embedded in a larger dis-
course on the nature and meaning of difference and on the prospects for primate
survival, including implicitly human survival, in the late twentieth century. One of
the dialects or codes for that persisting larger social discourse was evolutionary
theory, especially contests for the mantle of Darwin. There was one key contrast in
this context between the books from the two primate years that bears directly on
the bio-politics of difference in the First and Second Primate Foundations. The
contrast centers around the treatment of difference, variation, parts, fragments,
and wholes. Ironically, the focus on cooperation, complementary differentiation of
parts in a social whole, and the social group as the primate order's defining adapta-
tion produced a universalizing and essentializing discourse that finally sharpened
narratives of antagonistic difference and preoccupations with dominance and com-
petition. Equally ironically, the commitment in Primate Societies to individual selec-
tion,4 inclusive fitness doctrines, socioecological analysis, strategic modeling, and
similar explanatory resources, ordered in the last instance around the principle of
antagonistic rather than complementary difference, produced opposite effects. The
evolutionary arguments demanded extensive attention to several factors: situational
specificity; extraordinary flexibility at all levels of analysis; alertness to myriad forms
of coalition, reciprocity, and cooperation; emphasis on animals' social intelligence
and generally rich mental and emotional capacities; major interest in previously
relatively invisible kinds of individuals, like the aged or juvenile females; and a
sense of the politics of conservation more tempered by awareness of the power-
differentiated historical positions and non-harmonious interests of all the those with
stakes, human and animal.
In addition, the foregrounded anthropological, rather than zoological, referent of
Primau Behavior had a paradoxical effect of narrowing the sense of possible continu-
ities between human and animal, while constraining vision of the specificity and
multiplicities in the animals' ways of life. As paradoxical, the greater zoological and
ecological emphasis of Primate Societies seems to permit a richer map of connections
between human and animal and a more diverse tool kit of available narratives for
the animals. There are many reasons for these contrasts between the two books that
are not linked to the explanatory strategies and variant developments of Darwinism,
not least the accumulated data from twenty more years of field and laboratory
studies, more than a decade of highly visible contestation over biological versions of
sex and gender in primate studies, and painfully sharpened conservation dilemmas.
However, at root Primate Societies displays a methodological and explanatory
commitment to specificity and non-reductive difference that exceeds its bottom-line
equation of non-identity ("unless they are clones") with antagonistic opposition. In
evolutionary discourse, and indeed much more broadly, reproductive bio-politics
are the paradigmatic, iconic condensation of the whole set of narratives about same
and different, self and other, one and many. The bio-politics of Primate Societies are
about situational specificity; intrinsic explanatory and generic heterogeneity; and
the construction, as natural-technical objects of knowledge, of multiple centers of
agency and power in always permeable and conditional social wholes. The world of
Primate Societies is capable of producing surprises, unexpected and promising ways
of narrating the meanings of difference and sameness. Ruled by an orthodox
reductionism to antagonistic difference and methodological individualism "in the
last instance," the discourse of Primate Societies repeatedly privileges multiplicity,
difference ordered by an exuberant array of possibilities, and above all, specificity.
The textual richness of Primau Societies-and of the primate and prima to logical
practices that enable the text-is vastly in excess of the its explicit law. Here is the
interesting aspect of the Second Primate Foundation from the point of view of
Primate Visions.
In this sense, I read Primau Societies as an exemplar of a widespread groping in
1980s western bio-political and other cultural discourse for ways to narrate differ-
ence that are as deeply enmeshed in feminism, anti-colonialism, and searches for
non-antagonistic and non-organicist forms of individual and collective life, as by
the hyper-real worlds of late capitalism, nea-imperialism, and the technocratic
actualization of masculinist nuclear fantasies. The persistent binarism between an-
tagonistic versus complementary or organicist ("cooperative") difference. coded in
primate evolutionary biology in terms of the opposition between group selectionism
or genidindividual selection, is what is cracking apart in these hydra-headed. medu-
soid gropings in the Primate Order.
Let me illustrate this way of reading this recent, well-authorized textbook in
primate studies by briefly characterizing fragments of the writing of its first editor.
Barbara Smuts. In her book based on her thesis research on baboons at Gil gil ,
Kenya, Sex and Friendship in Baboons. Smuts (1985) adopted many of the same writing
strategies as those analyzed above in the section on Jeanne Altmann. "The Time-
Energy Budgets of Dual Career Mothering." The generic heterogeneity in the
abrupt juxtapositions of quantitative and highly allegorical and narrative accounts,
as well as in the iconography of the photographs. tables, and figures, constantly
forced the reader to shift reading conventions. [Figure 16.2] The text's different 373
FiKure 16.2 Baboon friends. Barbara SmutslAnthrophoto. Published with permission.
Smuts narrates, "Such physical intimacy is rare among most male-female pairs, but com-
mon among Friends" (1985: 60). In a non-narrative mode, Smuts makes a similar point
through measures like the "comparison of the number of Friend dyads in which %AI -
%L,- was greater than the same index for Non-Friend males versus the number in which
the reverse was true. Sign test: x = 33, Z = 3.96, N = 40, P > .001" (1985: 77). (AI is
approaches by the female; L,- is leaves by the female.) Neither the photographic image,
the narrative prose, nor the statistical statement constitutes a "value-free," intrinsically
"objective," non-language-mediated "fact." All three together structure a miniature scien-
tific discursive field.
generic moves did not resolve into a single story. Smuts foregrounded the word
"friendship" because she needed its polyvalent connotative loading to represent the
animals as she scientifically experienced/constructed them as objects of knowledge.
Her account of reproductive politics in the baboons de-centered sex and centered
social intelligence and, above all, the agency of the animals. Her principal implicit
ideological object of interest was heterosexual friendship. She used all these ele-
ments to suggest a story for the transition from animal to human that depended
not on the division of labor and economic exchange, but on social, communicative
In Primate Societies, Smuts (1987a, 1987b) deepened her thematic commitment
to multi-contextuality, biological anti-essentialism, multi-species perspectivity, and
constant renegotiation of the bio-politics of difference as they are written into
primate bodies. In "Sexual Competition and Mate Choice;" she highlighted variabil-
ity, complexity, and flexibility, while demoting and contextualizing the explanatory
status of dominance. Her systematic attention to female choice led to an extended
treatment of the complexities of the bases for female mate selections, for which 374
individuals and histories, in principle not exhaustively knowable to an observer,
counted for a great deal. "Gender, Aggression, and Influence" extended the same
thematics. From one point of view, Smuts simply erred in using the word "gender"
in her title instead of "sex." Without explicit discussion of the many debates about
the culturally specific and contested meanings of sex and gender, she glided within
the essay from the term "behavioral sex differences" to "gender." She did not take
account of a large body of critical theory that maintains that gender is not about
differences, but is about a relationship of power. The concept of sex differences,
behavioral or otherwise, reduces an analytic about power to a positivist discourse
about roles, properties, or other pre-existent observable!.
But from another point of view, Smuts's "mistake" was the result of her destabiliza-
tion of essentialism, and it may be productive within the terrain of feminist decons-
tructions of gender. By the time she was through reconstructing biological sex
difference, there was no more given biological resource waiting for cultural reforma-
tion and appropriation into gender. The entire essay may be read as an argument
against biological essentialism in relation to sex. In particular, Smuts makes the
concept of "inherent" sex differences impossible to use in discussing differential
reproductive strategies within the narratives usually called sociobiological. "Sex"
became in Smuts's text a signifier for a dynamic, context-dependent (thus obviously
constrained, sensitive to inequalities, and not utopian) array of possibilities. Overall,
Smuts's text worked to shift attention away from intrinsic properties of individuals
and toward constitutive social interactions and contexts with complex dimensions in
time and space. The destabilization of intrinsic difference had especially intriguing
effects in a narrative explicitly ruled by the premises of methodological individual-
ism in evolutionary theory broadly and in sociobiology particularly. For all their
constant strategic thinking, the "individuals" in Smuts's paradoxical text do not pass
muster as good methodological individualists. Their boundaries are too permeable
and webbed with others'. Internally and externally, these individuals are continu-
ously reconstituted in intersecting, partially incongruous, unfinishable patterns.
When biology is practiced as a radically situational discourse and animals are experi-
enced/constructed as active, non-unitary subjects in complex relation to each other
and to writers and observers, the gaps between discourses on nature and culture
seem very narrow indeed.
In the Second Foundation's concluding chapter on the "Future of Primate Re-
search," the rough analogy to Seldon's Psycho historians and the problem of the
dangerous mutant mental power of the Mule seems unavoidable (Cheney et aI1987).
The relation of cognitive science and complex social behavior was the primatologists'
penultimate topic, just before the concluding essay on conservation and primate
survival. The topics and their order-mind and survival-are unsurprising in a
discourse that constantly appealed to models of strategic reasoning, originary asym-
metries, and evolutionary stable strategies at the heart of evolutionary biology. In
evolutionary theory staying in the game is fundamentally a question of reproductive
politics. Reproductive politics and communications technologies lie very near each
other in this discourse. They are both aspects of strategic reasoning in relation to
survival, and they are both emblematic of the breakdown of the hermetically sealed
individual. Strategic reasoning is social intelligence; both are part of the technology
of communication that has been progressively constructed as a central object of
knowledge in twentieth-century life, human, and physical sciences. 375
In the relation between cognitive science and complex social behavior. communi-
cation is the luminous object of attention. And communication is where machine,
animal, and human boundaries broke down dramatically in post-World War II
popular and scientific discourses. Linguistics. machine communications sciences,
social theory. neurobiology, and semiology all inter-digitate and sometimes conflate
in contemporary cognitive sciences. Cheney, Seyfarth. Smuts, and Wrangham make
the pregnant continuities. communicative commerce, and reproductive politics
among animal, human, and machine explicit in their characterization of a research
strategy for joining evolution, development, complex social behavior, and cognitive
One research strategy, pursued in a variety of forms, has been to investigate
"almost minds," such as the minds of children or the "minds" of computer
programs, to see what makes them different and what would be needed to
elevate them to fully human status. As the chapters in this volume illustrate,
nonhuman primates provide an extraordinary diversity of "almost minds" that,
in their social interactions with one another, promise to provide unique insights
into the study of intelligence .... In their natural habitats, however, primates
are uniquely poised to reveal how, in the first instance, some minds gained an
advantage over others. (Cheney et al 1987: 494).
In the first instance, in the beginning, there was difference, and so began the
struggle of some minds to gain an advantage over others. This is a fragment of
strategic narrative, oedipal narrative, and modern technological narrative, where
survival-possible futures--is at stake in a techno-fetal world of 'almost minds . .o Do
"almost minds" have "half-lives"?
Children, AI computer programs, and nonhuman primates: all here embody
"almost minds." Who or what has "fully human status"? As if the answer were self-
evident, the adult human scientists who wrote "Future of Primate Research" did
not ask that question. And yet, primatology has persistently been about just what
"fully human status" will be allowed to mean. The authors quietly embodied the
maturations of the "almost minds" that they signaled: adult to child, human to
nonhuman primate, scientist to machine artificial intelligence. What is the end, or
telos. of this discourse on approximation, reproduction, and communication, in
which the boundaries among and within machines. animals. and humans are exceed-
ingly permeable? Where will this evolutionary, developmental, and historical com-
municative commerce take us in the techno-bio-politics of difference?
To address this question, we must move from reading primatology as science
fiction to the next logical step-reading science fiction as primatology. Let me turn
to Octavia Butler's novel, Daum. the first in her trilogy on Xenogenesis (1987, 1988),
as if it were a report from the primate field in the allotopic space of earth after a
nuclear holocaust. Let us look at Daum as the first chapter for the text that might
issue from the next primate year, the Third Foundation for the third planet from
the sun at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
Reading Science Fiction as Primatology:
Xenogenesis and Feminism
Lilith: "It won't be a daughter. It will be a thing-not human. It's inside me, and
it isn't human," 376
Ooloi: "The differences will be hidden umil metamorphosis."
"I had gone back to school." [Lilith] said. "I was majoring in amhropology." She
laughed bitterly. "I suppose I could think of this as fieldwork-but how the hell do
1 get out of the field?"
(Butler 1987: 262-3,91)
Throughout Primate Visions, I have read both popular and technical discourses
on monkeys and apes "out of context" (Strathern 1987). My hope has been that the
always oblique and sometimes perverse focusing would facilitate revisionings of
fundamental, persistent western narratives about difference. especially racial and
sexual difference; about reproduction, especially in terms of the multiplicities of
generators and offspring; and about survival, especially survival imagined in the
boundary conditions of both the origins and ends of history, as told within western
traditions of that complex genre. Primate Visioru is replete with representations of
representations, deliberately mixing genres and contexts to play with scientific
and popular accounts in ways that their "original" authors would rarely authorize
(Rabinow 1986: 250). But Primate Visions is not innocent of the intent to have effects
on the authorized primate texts in both mass cultural and scientific productions, in
order to shift reading and writing practices in this fascinating and important cultural
field of meanings for industrial and post-industrial people.
Primate Visioru does not work by prohibiting origin slories, or biological explana-
tions of what some would insist must be exclusively cultural matters, or any other
of the enabling devices among primate discourses' apparatuses of bodily production.
I am not interested in policing the boundaries between nature and culture--quite
the opposite, I am edified by the traffic. Indeed, I have always preferred the
prospect of pregnancy with the embryo of another species; and I read this "gender"-
transgressing desire in primatology's text, from the Teddy Bear Patriarchs' labor
to be the father of the game, through Primate Societies' developmental-evolutionary
narrative fragment about a heterogeneous sibling group of "almost minds." Gender
is kind, syntax, relation, genre; gender is not the transubstantiation of biological
sexual difference. The argument in Primate Visioru works by telling and retelling
stories in the attempt to shift the webs of intertextuality and to facilitate perhaps
new possibilities for the meanings of difference, reproduction, and survival for
specifically located members of the primate order-on both sides of the bie-political
and cultural divide between human and animal.
Tucked in the margins and endnotes of "Teddy Bear Patriarchy" was a little white
girl in Brightest Africa in the early 1920s. Little Alice Hastings Bradley was brought
there by Carl Akeley, the father of the game, on his scientific hunt for gorilla, in
the hope that her golden-haired presence would transform the ethic of hunting
into the ethic of conservation and survival, as "man" and his surrogates, sucked into
decadence, stood at the brink of extinction. The gorilla taken during that "last"
hunt turned into the Giant of Karisimbi, potent and alone in his reproduction of
the true image of man. After death, that gorilla became a clone of the father of the
game, whose own life ended at the scene of his dreams. Duplicitous, the little girl
turned into James Tiptree, Jr., and Racoona Sheldon, a man and a mother, the
female author who could not be read as a woman and who wrote science fiction
stories that interrogated the conditions of communication and reproduction of self
and other in alien and home worlds. But Tiptree's gender, species, and genre 377
transfigurations were only beginning to germinate in the child placed in the world
still authored by the father of the game and the law of the father.'
But in a post-colonial world of the politics of being female, the earlier margins of
possibility can become the main story. Not in the margins of the opening chapter,
but at the culmination of Primate Visions, Octavia Butler's speculative/science fiction
is preoccupied with forced reproduction, unequal power, the ownership of self by
another, the siblingship of humans with aliens, and the failure of siblingship within
species. Butler's is a fiction predicated on the natural status of adoption and the
unnatural violence of kin. Like Tiptree-and like modern primatologists-Butler
explores the interdigitations of human,machine, nonhuman animal or alien, and
their mutants in relation to the intimacies of bodily exchange and mental communi-
cation. She interrogates kind, genre, and gender in a post-nuclear, post-slavery
survival literature. Her fiction, especially in Xenogenesis, is about the monstrous
fear and hope that the child will not, after all, be like the parent. There is never
just one parent. Monsters share more than the word's root with the verb "to demon-
strate"; monsters signify. Butler's fiction is about resistance to the imperative to
recreate the sacred image of the same (Butler 1978). Butler is like "Doris Lessing,
Marge Piercy, Joanna Russ, Ursula LeGuin, Maragret Atwood, and Christa Wolf,
[for whom] reinscribing the narrative of catastrophe engages them in the invention
of an alternate fictional world in which the other (gender, race, species) is no longer
subordinated to the same" (Brewer 1987: 46).
But unlike Lessing, Piercy, Russ, LeGuin, Atwood, Wolf, or Tiptree, Butler's uses
of the conventions of science fiction to fashion speculative pasts and futures for the
species seem deeply informed by Afro-American perspectives with strong tones
of womanism or feminism.
Butler's gender, kind, and genre germinations and
transgressions begin with two protean, parental figures: the body-changing Doro,
originally from the ancient Kush people of East Africa, who, after being clothed in
many bodies, belongs to no people, including humanity as a whole; and the Wild
Seed woman, Anywanyu, taken by Doro to colonial New England from West Africa
during the slave trade. The story begins not with the white girl child brought into
Africa, but with the black woman taken out, who seeds the diaspora that stands as
a figure of the history and possible future of a very polymorphous species (Butler
1977, 1980). This is survival fiction more than salvation history. Catastrophe, sur-
vival, and metamorphosis are Butler's constant themes. From the perspective of an
ontology based on mutation, metamorphosis, and diaspora, restoring an original
sacred image can be a bad joke. Origins are precisely that to which Butler's people
do not have access. But patterns are another matter.
At the end of Dawn, Butler has Lilith-whose name recalls her original unfaithful
double, the repudiated wife of Adam-pregnant with the child of five progenitors,
who come from two species, at least three genders, two sexes, and an indeterminate
number of races. Adam's rib would be poor starting material to mold this new
mother of humanity or her offspring. Preoccupied with marked bodies, Butler
writes not of Cain or Ham, but of Lilith, the woman of color wrrose confrontations
with the terms of selfhood, survival, and reproduction in the face of repeated
ultimate catastrophe presage an ironic salvation history, with a salutary twist on the
promise of a woman who will crush the head of the serpent. Butler's salvation
history is Qot utopian, but remains deeply furrowed by the contradictions and
questions of power within all communication. Butler's fiction is about miscegenation, 378
not reproduction of the One. Butler's communities are assembled out of the geno-
cides of history. not rooted in the fantasies of natural roots and recoverable origins.
Hers is survival fiction. Most of the action of Daum takes place on the Oankali
ship. itself a living part of their embodied culture of "exchange." The image of
deracinated fragments of humanity packed into the body ofthe aliens' ship inescap-
ably evokes the reader's memories of the terrible middle passage of the Atlantic
slave trade that brought Lilith's ancestors to a "New World," where a "gene trade"
was also enforced. Implicated in these histories. Butler's narrative has the possibil-
ity-indeed. the necessity-of figuring something other than the Second Coming
of the sacred image. Some other order of difference must be possible in Xenogenesis
that could never be born in the Oedipal family narrative.
In the story, Lilith is a young American black woman rescued with a motley
assortment of remnants of humanity from an earth in the grip of nuclear war.
Like all the surviving humans, Lilith has lost everything. Her son and her second
generation, Nigerian-American husband had died in an accident before the war.
She had gone back to school, vaguely thinking she might become an anthropologist.
But nuclear catastrophe, even more radically and comprehensively than the slave
trade and history'S other great genocides, ripped all rational and natural connections
with past and future from her and everyone else. Except for intermittent periods
of questioning. the human remnant is kept in suspended animation for 250 years
by the Oankali, the alien species that originally believed humanity was intent Of'l
committing suicide and so would be far too dangerous to try to save. Without human
sensory organs, the Oankali are primatoid Medusa figures. their heads and bodies
covered with multi-talented tentacles like a terran marine invertebrate's. These
humanoid serpent people speak to the woman and urge her to touch them in an
intimacy that would lead humanity to a monstrous metamorphosis. Multiply
stripped, Lilith fights for survival, agency. and choice on the shifting boundaries
that shape the possibility of meaning.
The Oankali do not rescue human beings only to return them unchanged to a
restored earth. Their own origins lost to them through an infinitely long series of
mergings and exchanges reaching deep into time and space, the Oankali are gene
traders. Their essence is embodied commerce, conversation, communication-with
a vengeance. Their nature is always to be midwife to themselves as other. Their
bodies themselves are genetic technologies, driven to exchange. replication, danger-
ous intimacy across the boundaries of self and other. and the power of images.
Not unlike us. But unlike us, the hydra-headed Oankali do not build non-living
technologies to mediate their self-formations and reformations. Rather. they are
complexly webbed into a universe of living machines, all of which are partners in
their apparatus of bodily production. including the ship on which the action of
Dawn takes place. The resting humans sleep in tamed carnivorous plant-like pods.
while the Oankali do what they can to heal the ruined earth. Much is lost forever.
but the fragile layer of life able to sustain other life is restored. making earth ready
for recolonization by large animals. The Oankali are intensely interested in humans
as potential exchange partners partly because humans are built from such beautiful
and dangerous genetic structures. The Oankali believe humans to be fatally. but
reparably. flawed by their genetic nature as simultaneously intelligent and hierarchi-
cal. Instead, the aliens live in the post modern geometries of vast webs and networks,
in which the nodal points of individuals are still intensely important. These webs 379
are hardly innocent of power and violence; hierarchy is not power's only shape-
for aliens, primates, or humans.
The Oankali make "prints" of all their refugees, and they can print out replicas
of the humans from these mental-organic-technical images. The replicas allow a
great deal of gene trading. The Oankali are also fascinated with Lilith's "talent" for
cancer, which killed several of her relatives, but which in Oankali "hands" would
become a technology for regeneration and metamorphoses. But the Oankali want
more from humanity; they want a full trade, which will require the intimacies of
sexual mingling and embodied pregnancy in a shared colonial venture in, of all
places, the Amazon valley. Human individuality will be challenged by more than
the Oankali communication technology that translates other beings into themselves
as signs, images, and memories. Pregnancy raises the tricky question of consent,
property in the self, and the humans' love of themselves as the sacred image, -the
sign of the same. The Oankali intend to return to earth as trading partners with
humanity'S remnants. In difference is the irretrievable loss of the illusion of the
Lilith is chosen to train and lead the first party of awakened humans. She will be
a kind of midwife/mother for these radically atomized peoples' emergence from
their cocoons. Their task will be to form a community. But first Lilith is paired in
an Oankali family with the just pre-metamorphic youngster, Nikanj, an ooloi. She
is to learn from Nikanj, who alters her mind and body subtly so that she can live
more freely among the Oankali; and she is to protect it during its metamorphosis,
from which they both emerge deeply bonded to each other. Endowed with a second
pair of arms, an adult ooloi is the third gender of the Oankali, a neuter being who
uses its special appendages to mediate and engineer the gene trading of the species
and of, each family. Each child among the Oankali has a male and female parent,
usually sister and brother to each other, and an ooloi from another group, race, or
moitie. One translation in Oankali languages for ooloi is "treasured strangers." The
ooloi will be the mediators among the four other parents of the planned cross-species
children. Heterosexuality remains unquestioned, if more complexly mediated. The
different social subjects, the different genders that could emerge from another
embodiment of resistance to compulsory heterosexual reproductive politics, do not
inhabit this Daum. In this critical sense, Daum fails in its promise to tell another story,
about another birth, a xenogenesis. Too much of the sacred image of the same is
left intact.
Even so, the treasured strangers give intense pleasure across the boundaries of
group, sex, gender, and species. It is a fatal pleasure that marks Lilith for the other
awakened humans, even though she has not yet consented to a pregnancy. Faced
with her bodily and mental alterations and her bonding with Nikanj, the other
humans do not trust that she is still human, whether or not she bears a human-alien
child. Neither does Lilith. Worrying that she is aJudas-goat, she undertakes to train
the humans with the intention that they will survive and run as soon as they return
to earth, keeping their humanity as people before them kept theirs. In the training
period, each female human pairs with a male human, and then each pair, willing
or not, is adopted by an adult ooloi. Lilith loses her Chinese-American lover, Joseph,
who is murdered by the suspicious and enraged humans. At the end, the first group
of humans, estranged from their ooloi and hoping to escape, leave for earth.
Whether they can be fertile without their ooloi is doubtful. Perhaps it is not only 380
the individual of a sexually reproducing species who always has more than one
parent; the species too might require multiple mediation of its reproductive bio-
politics. Lilith finds she must remain behind to train another group, her return to
earth indefinitely deferred. Nikanj has made her pregnant by Joseph's sperm and
the genes of its own mates. [Figure 16.3) Lilith has not consented, and the first book
of Xenogenesis leaves her with the ooloi's uncomprehending comfort that "the
differences will be hidden until metamorphosis."Lilith remains unreconciled: "But
they won't be human. That's what matters. You can't understand, but that is what
matters." The treasured stranger responds, "The child inside you matters" (Butler
1987: 263). Butler does not resolve this dilemma.
In the narrative of Primate Visions, the terms for gestating the germ of future
worlds constitute a defining dilemma of reproductive politics. The contending
shapes of sameness and difference in any possible future are at stake in the primate
Figure 16.3 Jacket illustration for the second no\'e!, Adulthood Riles (1988) in Octavia
Butler's Xenogenesis series. Copyright Wayne Barlowe. Published with permission. Mediat-
ing the contact of egg and sperm, this medusoid, alien-human, poly-racial hybrid figure of
uncertain gender represents one of Lilith's children born from her unfree "exchange" with
the Oankali, the alien species introduced in the first book of the series, Dawn. Barlowe's
polyvalent illustration contrasts sharply with that by another artist for the cover of Dawn,
in which the Afro-American woman. Lilith, was pictured as an ivory white brunene mediat-
ing the awakening of an ivory white blond woman aboard the Oankali ship. Illustrating the
workings of the unmarked category, "white," Dawn's cover art has allowed several readers
whom I know to read the book without noticing either the textual cues indicating that Lilith
is black or the multi-racialism pervading Xenogenesis. 381
order's unfinished narrative of traffic across the specific cultural and political bound-
aries that separate and link animal, human. and machine in a contemporary global
world where survival is at stake. Finally, this contested world is the primate field,
where, with or without our consent, we are located. "She laughed bitterly. 'I suppose
I could think of this as fieldwork-but how the hell do I get out of the field?' " 382
The fifty or so field primatologists active by 1965 came from about IO nations. Those on fellowship
at the Center were DeVore, K.RL. Hall. Phyllis Jay (who also had a role in the planning), Hiroki
Mizuhara, Vernon Reynolds. and George Schaller. The stable study group also contain"d Hamburg,
Washburn. and Frances Reynolds. During the project y"ar, a conference was held at th" Center.
involving about 18 additional ?"ople. Also. Peter Marler, William Mason, Adriaan Kortlandt, and
J.P. Scott came for short ?"riods. Washburn and Hamburg wrote the synthesizing ?"nultimate
chapter on "Implications of Primate Research," in which the social group as the principal primate
adaptation was the organizing concept. This pi"ce set the logic of future field studies. while Schaller
wrote the concluding guide to field procedures. The recommended norm was to conduct a prelimi-
nary ecological survey, to follow by a detailed, non-interventionist observation of the social life of
a selected group; producing a "s?"cies repertoire" based on quantitative data, including a good
population census; and then to conduct intensive studies into some particular aspect of behavior.
using experimental as well as observational methods. United States scientists far outnumbered
others. With some exceptions. the organizing idea of the project was the characterization of s?"cies-
specific ways of social life in ecological context. Differences in social behavior within species in
various habitats were accommodated by explanations like referring them to differential effeclS on
a common behavioral plan of crowding and stress (DeVore 1965a; Jay 1965a).
2 In Primau Societies, fifteen chapters had only men authors; twelve had only women authors; thirteen
were written jointly by both available genders. Six of the chapters were authored by married couples;
one was jointly authored by women colleagues and five by men colleagues.
3 One former Washburn student from Chicago, Warren Kinzey. then at the City University of New
York, was present at the Center in 1983-84; but neither Kinzey nor DeVore's students indicate 430
continuity with the 1960s and early 1970s Washburn-affiliated approaches. By contrast. two former
students of Peter Marler at Berkeley in the 1960s in zoology, Thomas Struhsaker and John Eisen-
berg, were important to the later project, with its strong emphasis on socioecology, behavioral
ecology, and conservation. Several past or present Marler associates (six) from the Rockefeller
University. induding two of the editors (Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth), were authors in the
1987 volume. At least six authors had histories at G o m ~ , and nine were linked through Cambridge
University. Studies of New World primate s?"cies were much in evidence, in sharp contrast to the
essays in Primate Behavior. A kind of symbolic paternal figure whose Cambridge students were really
the center of the action in the 1982-83 year, Robert Hinde played a role in the volume similar to
Washburn's in the 1965 book.
4 Genic selection plays little role; the individual organism remains the practical unit of selection
throughout the books' many narratives.
5 For example, Mittermeier and Cheney (1987: 489) emphasize that the "lesser developed countries"
already commit a greater percentage of their resource. to conservation than richer countries, which
benefit most from those resources, in the short run, in strengthening their national scientific and
medical establishments and advancing the professional careers of their citizens.
6 Surviving the holocaust means surviving not only the Oedipal narrative, but. ultimately, "the
symbolic drive toward atomisation, a cultural Symbolic unconscious whose drives are harnessed in
the service of conflict, inequality, alienation. and violence .... Moreover, the narrative of difference
in feminist writing requires that we reflect on our [whose?] global self-destructive adherence to the
Oedipal narrative of rivalry and conflict that not only denies woman a place in its economy but also,
according to the same dictates, programs the Symbolic order's drive to extinction as well. Surviving
fictions engages nothing less than our imaginative capacity of surviving the nuclear symbolic in its
narrative dimensions." (Brewer 1987: 48,50)
Lurking just underneath the discussion of difference throughout this book has been feminist
theory's relations to psychoanalytic theory, especially Lacanian versions. It is too late to force this
potent monster up from the depths, breaking the surface tension of my discussions of difference,
to join the monkeys and apes in the upper stories of the primate text. Let the beast continue to
inhabit the fluid regions that threaten to flood the primal scenes where "almost minds" communicate,
7 Born 1915, died 1987, Dr. Alice Hastings Bradley Sheldon's generic literary personae were James
Tiptree,Jr. (1973,1975, 1978a, 1978b, 1981, 1985) and Racoona Sheldon (1985). Alice-named
by mother, father, husband, the publishing industry, and a scientific academic credential-wrote
constantly about alien conversations. The revelation of Tiptree's ':true" gender, her identification
as "Alice" in 1977 after the death of her mother, was said to have caused a crushing depression
(W4!hington Post, 19 May 1987, AI, 14). Her literary disguise was uncovered by an investigative fan,
Jeffrey D. Smith. Sheldon and her husband helped in the founding of the C.I.A. after World War
II. She then did photo-intelligence work, compiling dossiers on people, until the mid-1960 . When
she left the C.I.A., she used its techniques to establish a whole new identity. "I was somebody else"
(Aldiss 1986: 365--6). The persona of James Tiptree, Jr., was not her first exploration of the modes
of construction and deconstruction of identities; "Alice" was truly a twentieth century Milton's
daughter. Neither Tiptree nor Octavia Butler could ever start writing from the beginning.
8 For introductions to Butler, see Crossley (1988); Mixon (1979); Salvaggio (1986); Williams (1986); 431
Zaki (1988).
Abouttheauthor ______________________________________ _
Noel Gough is a senior lecturer in the School of Admin-
istration and Curriculum Studies at Deakin University,
Rusden Campus, Victoria, Australia, where he teaches
and conducts research in curriculum studies, environ-
mental education and futures study. He has published
widely in these fields and has also pursued these
interests during visiting appointments at universities in
Canada and the UK. Prior to becoming a teacher
educator in 1972, he taught biology, science and media
studies in Victorian secondary schools. He is the editor
(Australasia) of the Journal of Curriculum Studies,
convenor of the Futures Study Network of the Australian
Curriculum Studies Association and director of the
Deakin University Narrative Inquiry in Teacher Education
project. These professional activities leave him far too
little time for reading SF books, watching SF movies and
listening to pop music.
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ECSBIO Educational issues in science and rechnology
Laboratories in fiction: Science education and popular media
ISBN 0 7300 1605 6
Cat . no. ECS81OM03