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Genomics Forum · News

Forum's first Social Session a Sucess



Writer in Residence Ken MacLeod hosted a lively discussion exploring how science fiction has portrayed scientific work.


Ken MacLeod introduced the opening speakers and the subject: the portrayal of scientists in SF and science studies. Andrew Wilson drew on his long experience with Writers' Bloc to give a lively reading of relevant snippets from Frankenstein, The Island of Dr Moreau, Gregory Benford's Timescape and Paul McAuley's The Secret of Life. Steve Yearley outlined what science studies tries to do, why in the 1990s some scientists felt that it was an enemy within academia (hence the Science Wars), and why the issues it tackles - such as defining what exactly distinguishes science from non-science - have some importance in the wider world, including law (who counts as an expert witness?) and education. Emma Frow then brought the interaction of science and science studies into focus in her own work with a group of scientists working in the new field of synthetic biology. The view from the other end of the sociologists' microscope was given by Dr Chris French, who'd not just prepared a five-minute talk as requested but in true scientific spirit run a survey among his colleagues on the question.

Read Ken MacLeod's blog on the event

Stuart Kelly from the Scotland on Sunday was there and described it as a "fascinating debate": Except from his column on Sunday 18 Oct:

'The Browser' - Stuart Kelly

'C P Snow famously derided the "two cultures" mind-set that separates arts and sciences as two distinct and discreet spheres of activity, and though much has been done to dissolve this distinction, the chasm still remains. one of the most innovative attepts to bridge the divide has been the Writer in Residence scheme for the Edinburgh Genomics Forum, currently held by Ken MacLeod [and Pippa Goldschmidt - KMM]. Last Wednesday, they held a fascinating debate on the depiction of scientists in fiction, with speculative fiction writer Andrew J Wilson giving a whistle-stop tour of the various swivel-eyed, shock-haired, demented geniuses from Victor Frankenstein onwards. He was accompanied by three practicing scientists, Emma Frow, Steve Yearley and Chris French, who all spoke eloquently on the stereotypes of boffins (Dungeons and Dragons was mentioned, as well as the persistence of the "Eureka!" idea - most science is, unfortunately, pure slog). Afterwards, I was lucky enough to get a copy of this year's best contribution to the idea of Homecoming - a gorgeous pamphlet called "Alba Ad Astra", produced by the Writers' Bloc Group [and available from the Forum's other partner for the event, Transreal Fiction, who had kindly provided a bookstall - KMM], which details Scotland's forgotten (and fictitious) space programme.'