How To Tell Science From Pseudoscience

Throughout time, there has always been a struggle between science and pseudoscience. Even as we’ve learned more, done better, some have always insisted on ignoring those advances.

On the titular panel at Worldcon 2019, Dublin, Eugene Doherty, Sam Scheiner, Cristina Macia, and moderated by Stephen Nelson, discussed the daily fight against pseudoscience beliefs.

What Is Pseudoscience?

There are three main types of pseudoscience

  1. Things that cannot be tested or examined
    • i.e. “The world was created last night, with false memories and records to deceive us all”
  2. Things that have been proven false
    • i.e. The ptolemaic universe – the universe does not revolve around earth
  3. Conspiracy theories, which use the trappings of science without the techniques

Panelists Favorite/Least Favorite Examples of Pseudoscience

  1. Homeopathy – Based on a theory similar to vaccines, the less “medicine” you dilute in water, the more effective it will be. It used to be helpful… in that it kept the quacks away. But, diluted water isn’t treatment for cancer, pneumonia, or worse.
  2. Creationism – the belief that world was build in 7 literal days.
  3. Climate change is fake – has been proven false!
  4. The effectiveness of placebos – we’re not sure. But placebos may be a placebo themselves.
  5. With Ghost Hunters – the EMF (Electromagnetic field) meter is beeping – must be a ghost! Not… an indicator of a cell tower? Or, “I can’t think of anything natural that caused this, thus… GHOST!”

[Audience Question] Does Science Disprove Faith?

Faith is outside of science. By its very definition, it is supernatural.

[Audience Question] How Ethical is Homeopathy For Something Unavoidable – (i.e. childbirth, chronic illness, or something more terminal)

What if it gives them comfort? Or acts as a placebo?

It can be a slippery slope, but perhaps, not entirely unethical when offered as a complimentary treatment.

Why Are People Not Trusting Science?

  1. Science writers are good about caveats and double-checking results, to be certain that they are reporting good science. But… caveats and double-checking facts aren’t convincing! i.e. If you aren’t 100% sure, why should I believe you?
  2. With the death of traditional newspapers, laypeople are reporting on science and writing for clickbait.
  3. Scientists are often poor communicators with laypeople
  4. We often teach science by promoting facts (that might change based on later studies – think of diet and nutrition) rather than teaching critical thinking and the scientific process.
  5. Telling people they’re wrong doesn’t work. It makes them cling to their beliefs stronger.
  6. Some attack people/pseudoscience believers, rather than the pseudoscience itself
  7. Some pseudoscience believers have a lack of intellectual humility — and can’t believe anyone can teach them anything they don’t already know through experience or education or their own logic that ignores anything that doesn’t match their theory.
  8. People want simple, straightforward answers. Science doesn’t always have those.

Ways to Get The People To Rebuild Trust

  1. Target those who are open to learning
  2. Convince those AROUND the opinion leaders – politicians/ celebrities/ etc of your truth. So, they can hear it from someone they trust.
  3. Citizen projects! Get people involved and personally invested in the science.
  4. Make sure the objective of the science is known, not just the details
    • i.e. “Studying the Sex Lives of beetles” — is actually watching how to disrupt the breeding cycle of beetles that are destroying fields of potato crops.
  5. Prioritize teaching critical thinking and the scientific process over memorizing facts.
  6. Treat people with respect.

What are your (least) favorite examples of pseudoscience?

How do you think we can get people to stop believing in pseudoscience? Or can we?

Making the Asexual Textual

Some people are sexually attracted to the opposite gender, some are attracted to the same gender, while others are attracted to more than one gender, and yet others are only sexually attracted under specific circumstances?

But, not all people are sexually attracted to someone. Those people? Identify as asexual.

Especially in Western culture, so many of our stories — be they folktales of yore, current tv shows, books, or movies — center around the main character’s relationship. Even if it’s not the main plot point.

For asexual people, they’ve had to read-between-the-lines to look for characters that represent them.

Is this character asexual? Or did the story just not cover a period of their life where they were in a relationship.

Is that character sexual? Or are they in a consensual sex-free romantic relationship?

At the titular panel, at WorldCon 77, Wendy Metcalfe, Darcie Little Badger, Dr. Edmund Schleussel, and Jasmine Gower discussed ways to make the asexual textual, without making it feel forced.

3 Reasons Not Making the Asexual Textual is a Problem

  1. There is already a sparsity of asexual representation
  2. Readers will project on the asexual characters and make assumptions
  3. Many readers enjoy ‘shipping characters, and will mentally pair them up, or insist that there’s subtext
    • Shipping characters – Shipping is short for ‘relationship”, it’s when readers (and/or fanfic writers) decide they think two (or more characters) should be in a relationship.

      Fanfic – is fiction written by fans about the characters from tv/movies/books that they want to see. Unofficial spin-offs. Like Paradise Lost is Biblical fanfic.

      In fanfiction circles, “slash fiction” originated as stories pairing character A – slash – character B. A lot of the derivative stories have been traditionally homosexual pairings, but not always. And some of them, explicit erotica.

4 Approaches Making Asexual Characters Textual

  1. Avoid the terms, but make it obvious in the plot
  2. Make up terms in your story to represent asexual — or the reverse. Why not make a story where asexual is the default, and everything else must be defined?
  3. Slip in the term
    • Worries it will feel dated
  4. Have it as a small detail in a larger descriptive sentence

4 Overdone Asexual Tropes To Avoid

  1. Having them focus on how their asexuality makes them weird or different. Asexual people typically don’t dwell on their lack of sexuality during their normal day-to-day lives.
    • Morgan question: What about thinking about how sexuality makes everyone ELSE weird?
  2. Naivety – not understanding what sex is
  3. Being repulsed by sex
  4. Making the asexual character alien, or a robot, or inhumane in some way (very often Death itself).
  5. Non-heterosexual characters being used as code for a ‘bad person’

How Being Asexual Affects A Person’s Life

  1. No co-dependencies. Living alone is expensive and is easier with a profession.
  2. Seen as naive or “just haven’t met the right person”
  3. People trying to pair you up.
  4. Seen as ‘frigid’ or ‘sexually dysfunctional’

Asexual people are normal people. They’ve always been out there.

For those looking for asexual stories:

  • Anything from the LessThan3Press (recently defunct)
  • Lesbian Reviews
  • Ancillary Justice (Anne Leckie)
  • Star Maker (Olaf Stapledon)

I’m not asexual. Let me know if I got anything wrong. Let me know if you have any suggestions for others trying to include asexual characters in their worlds.

Thank you for reading.

Introduction to Hopepunk

In a grimdark world, filled with truth, lies, and politics many of us have been longing for a literary escape that can give us some hope. For this generation, Hopepunk is our solution.

At WorldCon 77 Dublin, Jo Walton, Lettie Prell, and the creator of the term, herself, Alexandra Rowland, on a panel moderated by the marvelous Sam Hawke discussed the true meaning of Hopepunk.

What Is Hopepunk?

After the term hit NPR and Vox, it started to shift from what was originally intended to something lighter and shinier.

Luckily for all of us, we had the coiner of the term there to set the record straight, aided by the creator of the SFWA bulletin, formally acknowledging the genre. (SFWA stands for Science fiction Writers of America)

  1. It’s the counter to grimdark
  2. Stories to support people
  3. The emphasis should be on the punk, with a core strength of hope
    • Punk in its need to “fight the man”
    • Hope in its goal that “we deserve a better world”
  4. It’s contemporary fantasy or near-future
  5. It’s characters don’t give up — they stand up, resist, and fight back
  6. It’s characters are ordinary people who care
  7. The characters don’t have to win, but they do have to make a difference, and offer hope for a better future.

Some might wonder why we need a term for this. Why we even need subgenres at all.

3 Reasons Why We Need Subgenres

  1. Naming something help defines it and the beliefs or story expectations that go with it
  2. Naming a genre lets people find other stories like it
  3. Plus. Marketing.

Writers That Invoke Hopepunk Philosophies

  1. Ruthanne Emyrs
  2. Marissa K. Lingen
  3. Ada Palmer
  4. Alexandra Rowland
  5. Lettie Prell (“Crossing LaSalle”)
  6. David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) – note: he writes plenty that isn’t hopepunk
  7. NK Jemisin (Broken Earth trilogy)
  8. Usman T. Malik (“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn”)
  9. William Alexander (“The House on the Moon”)
  10. Kim Stanley Robinson (40 Signs of Rain, New York 2140)
  11. Ursula Le Guin (“The Ones That Walk Away From Omelas”)

Why Hopepunk Now?

Hopepunk is a reaction to the current political, cultural, and physical environment. During times of prosperity and progress, grimdark reminds us to fight complacency. During times of stagnation and fear, Hopepunk is reminding us that we’re not powerless.

We were reminded of that quote:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

G.K. Chesterton

In Western culture, so often we consider literature more serious, more worthy when it is cynical, ironic, and distant.

Western culture finds the upbeat, shiny stories found in 1950’s sci-fi to be trite and naive. Then, extends that opinion to anything that isn’t full of cynicism. Which leads to interesting circumstances, like award winning novels failing to warrant academic acclaim.

We need to remember that human acts of kindness are common and real and normal.

Do you think Hopepunk is right for you? Ordinary people fighting back, and making a difference — even if they can’t win the day?

Do you know any stories you think would be a good fit for this genre?

P.S. After this post went up, I got a few questions on Hopepunk’s relationship to Solarpunk. Here’s what I came up with as the answer to:

What’s the difference between Hopepunk and Solarpunk?

I’m less familiar with Solarpunk, but according to google:

“Solarpunk is a genre of Speculative Fiction that focuses on craftsmanship, community, and technology powered by renewable energy, wrapped up in a coating of Art Nouveau blended with African and Asian aesthetics.”

So. I’m gonna say the difference lies in the emphasis of ‘punk’ — ie “Fighting against the man”, with less of a focus on renewable energy, and a less defined aesthetic.

They are clearly related genres and there could easily be overlap between the two.

WorldCon 77: Dublin

I survived WorldCon!

And, shocking likely no one, I didn’t even attend half of the 80 panels I’d lowered my list down to.

I met new friends (in queues or at WorldCon bid parties), ran into familiar faces, and got at least 5 hours sleep a night! (Not counting, of course, the ‘sleep’ I got on the red eye flying in).

My final tally? 19 panels, 2 9am yoga classes, 2 plays, 1 Philharmonic concert, 1 game show, and an aerial extravaganza.

26 items, 29 hours of programming, and over 80 pages of handwritten notes.

Despite the crowds, I only missed out on two hours of panels that I otherwise would have attended, and that was on Saturday.

Thursday, I managed to squeeze in Introduction to Hopepunk and Making the Asexual Textual.

Image may contain: Image of General Leia on a projector, with a conductor below, in front of a string orchestra.

Friday? That was my big day (by 1 amazing 3 hour concert). I made it up by 9am for Accessible Yoga.

Then filled my day with: How to Tell Science From Pseudoscience, Done To Death: The Art of Killing Characters, Booktube: The World of YouTube Book Discussions, YA Futures, ConEIRE (meta play/radio drama about running a con), What Writers Need to Know: The Brain and the Body, and WorldCon Philharmonic – Dublin.


Then! My weekend.

Saturday was Accessible Yoga, Building the SFF Community Online, P/Faerie Tale (play about Irish and Filipino faery likeness and differences), Editor’s Panel: Challenges and Anecdotes, In the Background: Class in YA Fiction, Authors and Social Media: Friends or Foe, Panel Show: ‘That Was Unexpected!’

But wait, there’s more! Sunday — I did NOT make it to yoga.

Morgan, with white button eyes and glasses, takes a selfie of her in a massive crowd/queue.

Instead, as a button-eyed doll, I headed off to Down the Rabbit Hole: The Appeal of Portal Fantasy, Social Media: Marketing Tips and Tricks, Portrayals of Mental Health in Genre, Getting and Staying Published, The Importance of Kindness, How To Read Aloud For Performance (which! it turns out I’d attended this same workshop at Helsinki! So, here are those notes), and Romantic Subplots. I ended up watching the Hugo’s live streamed from my laptop in the comfort of my hotel room.

Morgan's red flowered white skirt and socks resting on a bed, with her laptop on a desk at her feet, streaming the Hugos.

And Monday? WorldCon is a five day event! I hit Creative Couples (which was more of story time, than actual tips to share…), and finished out with Aduantas: To The Waters and The Wild (an aerial and acrobatic show).

A girl on a suspended hula hoop, a man in a hat, and a lady in a red robe at a large harp on stage.

Clearly, I had trouble saying no to things. I regret not making it to the auxiliary convention space — I missed the entire art show.

I regret missing so many panels that were double-booked.

But? I can say with all honesty, there were no panelists I wanted to avoid, and many that were entertaining beyond my expectations. (Which were high, obviously, or I wouldn’t have booked myself so heavily.)

For those of you who were worried, I DID actually see a bit of Ireland. On Monday, I skipped a couple panels to take the opportunity to have lunch at a real pub and see Trinity College’s Long Room and The Book of Kells. Plus, a lovely walk around St. Stephen’s green.

The book was inspiring. The hall itself?

After you pass an alcove of gated off rare books, the hall draws you in until you have to stop, just to take it all in. The first thing that greets you is the gracefully sweeping woodwork. Then, you notice the beautifully symmetrical nooks filled with rare books, each guarded by the bust of one of the western literary greats. Catching your breath, you step in and the scent of paper and dust and age permeates your lungs. Row by row, you see each shelf with its own private, mounted ladder and wonder: how many of these were printed and how many were hand-copied?

The hall is a holy place for those who worship Knowledge, and Her calling there is strong.

It was glorious.

Image may contain: 1 person, indoor

Then Tuesday? Was a very long bus tour, to Northern Ireland — with a bus tour by one who lived through The Troubles, a long walk along the Giant’s Causeway, and a daring crossing of the rope bridge at Carrick.

I took a lot of pictures and slept most of the way back to Dublin, before an early morning ferry.

I’ll be back again next week with more of your regularly scheduled writing tips and writerly musings.

Oh, and a rainbow signaled the end of the convention and the closing ceremonies.

Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water

Packing and Planning For WorldCon — In Dublin!

Today, I’m taking a break from sharing all my writing panel notes, to talk about the fact I’m about to hit ANOTHER convention. At this rate, I’ll never finish sharing my notes with you.

By the time you see this, I’ll be about to land in Dublin with my mom! I’ve never been to Dublin and she’s never been overseas. It’s going to be an adventure!

We’re off to WorldCon. Specifically, the 77th WorldCon, in Dublin. WorldCon is where the Hugos — the biggest awards in science-fiction and fantasy writing are awarded. George RR Martin famously hosts his ‘losers’ party, for those who have been nominated, but lose. (Although, at this point, I don’t think he’s allowed to attend his own party.)

If you’ve been following me for a while, you might remember my FIRST overseas trip, two years ago, was also to WorldCon — in Helsinki! (I’ve got a lot of notes up from that one, too!)

So, in standard Morgan format, I’ve been preparing for my trip!

After reading the initial panel list, I marked down about 111 panels that looked interesting. A few days later, the Grenadine App for the event came out, so I uploaded all the panels I’d marked, and everything else that looked interesting, and culled my list of panels down to… 177.

Clearly, I don’t understand the concept of limits. Besides, there are only 52 time slots, I couldn’t see them all if I wanted to.

But. This might be supposed to actually be a vacation. Not just a working convention. I’ve been reminded that I might want to… oh, I don’t know… SEE DUBLIN.

So, I’ve been culling and looking and thinking. And I’m trying to see more and do less.

Some of the panels I have on my list are because of the content, some are on because of the panelists! It’s a work in progress, but I’m down to looking at only 80 program items.

Wish me luck! And I promise, I’ll share.