Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

Science and scientist: life and fiction

Popular science books are an established way to inform a layman about latest scientific discoveries and their applications. However, a lot of complex natural phenomena are still hard to grasp without being involved directly in the research.  Many facts are better understood when visualised. That’s why video tutorials, science museums and school excursions to research labs are so important to educate children about science.

But perhaps the best way to understand science is to get under scientist’s skin, to feel it on the emotional level.

Science fiction stories (books and films) give this advantage.

Characters in sci-fi stories are involved with science in some way. We are in their heads (or just observing them with narrator’s guidance), so we can understand how they generate, digest and transmit knowledge.

Suddenly, SCIENTISTS become PEOPLE we can relate to, understand what they do and why, what sacrifices they make and what rewards they receive.

Mad Scientist (via Wikimedia Commons)

Generations of kids keep becoming scientists inspired by sci-fi. However, we, scientists and writers, should not idealise the world of science. Romanticising science have made many students quite disillusioned when they started doing research and realised that instead of making a discovery every day, sometimes it takes years of hard work and endless failures to get the result.

I can speak for myself and tell you that before starting my research life I have never thought it is going to be so demanding and unpredictable, that it would involve a lot of routine and not so exciting activities. I have had my doubts about this career path, I still have some, yet despite many hardships I am glad I have chosen it. The joy of discovery, the excitement of generating hypotheses, the pleasure of having all day and night long scientific arguments,  diverse work activities (research, teaching, studying, management, publishing, conferences, etc.) – all of that I won’t give away for a better paid but far less interesting job.

You may have noticed that I have not mentioned SCIENCE COMMUNICATION TO PUBLIC in my list of work activities. It is because it is normally not there. When applying for research grants nowadays you have to say that the results of your work will be published, communicated at conferences and maybe even uploaded to a public web domain.

However, only a tiny fraction of scientists really share their research with the public. Like just a fraction of sound engineers hold workshops for aspiring musicians or only a few medical doctors blog about their work. Professionals are often too busy to do that.

But I think we should do more. Otherwise, the public would still think of us as anti-social evil geniuses doing some useless crazy things and maybe even wasting the tax-payers money.

Okay, some scientists like me are weird:  we love to use our spare time for creative writing. This is something, which we cannot stop ourselves from doing. From our creative hobbies we get inspired to do bolder research. But it is important to remember that apart from having fun we owe something to our readers. We should not portray scientific idylls but show real science and real us in a fictional world. Fiction is not just an entertainment; it is also a way of presenting life as it is, of informing the reader about important issues.

That’s how I started writing. I still remember myself as a child being dazzled by discoveries and inventions I learned from adults. Now it is time to tell my own stories.


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