Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Is Disdain for Science Fiction and Fantasy Rooted in Jealousy?



I was recently reading a pretty good post on Bryan Alexander's blog; Why do people still disdain science fiction and fantasy? In it, he points to five possible reasons for disdain (or outright hatred) of science fiction, fantasy, and horror; Elitism of taste, Criticism of quality, The charge of escapism, Perceived gender exclusivity, and Market segmentation. While he's right on all the points he makes, I think there's another issue at play here that was missed.

Science and The Humanities; Different Cultures

In a talk from April 10, 2010, in Los Angeles in which Ian McEwan was speaking with David Kipen, McEwan makes a poignant observation. He indicates that scientists (and by extension mathematicians) know the humanities very well, yet those in the humanities are largely ignorant of math and science. In the talk, he mentions that many math and science majors tend to take literature courses in their free time, whereas humanities majors never venture into the science classroom unless they do so kicking and screaming. There may be a bit of paraphrasing on my part there, but I think the sentiment remains.
There's seems to be a vast expanse separating science and the humanities; it's a one-way expanse, though. We know their stuff, but they don't know ours.

Is Disdain For Science-Fiction Rooted In Jealousy?

Science-Fiction and Fantasy are associated, rightly or wrongly, with nerd culture. We all know that math and science are also associated with nerd culture. So I offer a hypothesis; the literary types who display such a gathered of a Science-Fiction and Fantasy do so because of their underlying disdain for, and jealousy of, math and science.
It's easier to write off speculative fiction as "worthless" and the product of a bunch of unenlightened nerds than it is to learn some of our stuff. In a way, this is Alexander's Elitism of taste with the cause identified.
"They know our stuff, but we don't know their stuff."

It's A One Way Street

All the mathematicians and scientists I know have a solid understanding of literature, art, music, and history. Mathematicians and scientists are often seen defending the humanities from would-be cuts implemented by politicians who have about as much grasp of the importance of the humanities as they do for the importance of theoretical physics.
We can see this defense of the humanities in publications like Scientific American. Under Policy & Ethics this month (i.e. October 2016), the editors published an article STEM Education Is Vital--but Not at the Expense of the Humanities
What do you think? Is the disdain many enlightened and literary individuals hold towards Science-Fiction and Fantasy rooted in jealousy because some people "aren't good at math?"