Gaia 2001

SF & science oddities, gossip, exotica and whimsy

Cybersex can lead to sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis according to a couple of papers in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) at the end of August, 2000, vol 284 pages 443-6 and 447-9. They find a clear link between looking for sexual partners via the internet and various sexually transmitted diseases. You have been warned.

Star Trek fans may be disappointed in the recent (Autumn 2000) book A Tribble's Guide to Space (from Princeton University Press at 15.95 paperback). The book has little connection with Star Trek other than to refer occasionally to the series en passant but is a both a history of humanity's attempts to get into space and the underpinning physics and biology. It is actually quite well written, but it is the author's name that causes the confusion: one Alan Tribble.

UK science celebrated Valentine's day 2001 at Westminster (the home of the UK Parliament) with a heart-shaped Valentine's cake to celebrate the launch of a charter for science, and a 'Have a heart' campaign to encourage Members of Parliament to initiate a public debate on transplantation policy. The latter was organised by the British Medical Association on behalf of the UK medical community, while the former was organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Biology, Institute of Physics and Save British Science together with a number of other bodies. The Charter encourages the scientific community to engage more with Parliamentarians and for MPs to regularly discuss science and technological issues (it can be viewed on the 'responses' page on the Institute of Biology site Both events went off extremely well, though Gaia found the post-launch cold buffet a bit of a scrum. And what did the press make of it all? Well ,despite coverage by UK scientific publications and the Parliamentarians own science journal, the national newspapers largely ignored it. The reported instead the news that the building's toilet system broke down necessitating MPs and Lords having to leave the premises in order to relieve themselves... And so the preference UK reporters give to science is, if nothing else, consistent: consistently low crap in fact.

Ray gun blasting space junk to be tested. Concatenation reported on the problem of earth orbit space junk impacting on craft way back in its first (then hard copy) edition, back in 1987, and was among the first to do so outside of the industry (well the Concat team has its connections). Since then the problem has been reported in many popular science magazines and, over the past one and a half decades, it has got much worse. Now NASA propose to test a 'laser boom' on the space shuttle in 2003. Large pieces of junk above 10cm can be seen and tracked from the ground and so may be avoided, but small junk, even flecks of paint, can cause a problem. A washer-sized piece of junk could, at the high velocities of orbit, smash through a space craft depressurising it and indeed potentially killing any astronaut in its path. The laser boom will, if successful, hopefully overcome this problem for the international space station: current estimates are that it the chances of it being significantly damaged over a 10-year period are 1 in 10.

A BSc degree course in Science and Science Fiction from Glamorgan University's (UK) School of Applied Science survived its first year having attracted some 50 full time students and more than 200 associate students doing just one or more of the course modules. Apparently the course nurtures pluralist minds... While Concatenation applauds the examination of the science fact and fiction interface (for all sorts of reasons including stimulating a public appreciation of science), Gaia wonders whether this is going a little too far. It is well known that University SF Society memberships are invariably dominated by (typically well over three-quarters) those studying for science degrees. So such SF and science discussions already take place in student bars. Do we really need this degree course, or are the course organisers jumping on a popular band wagon? For what sort of jobs will such a course prepare its graduates? Could not Liverpool University's Science Fiction Foundation fulfil such an academic role (perhaps in a more appropriate way)? Gaia is not convinced that these questions have been answered; however others on the Concat team are more enthusiastic.

One of the most eclectic series of hard SF short stories comes to an end. A weekly series of 1,000-word hard SF short stories finished its year-long run in the weekly science journal Nature.. Scientists, as represented by their own profession's outlets (namely academic journals, magazines and learned society magazines) barely acknowledge SF, save as a curiosity for the way it (mis)represents science. Some years ago, in the early 1990s, New Scientist magazine used to semi-regularly run reviews of SF books and films. Indeed one of the Concatenation team managed to get a plug for the 1990 UK Eastercon into New Scientist's 'Ariadne' column two days before the event, and despite the short notice about a dozen local walk-in registrations arose from that brief mention. Around that time we were also informed by a source close to New Scientist that not a single letter of praise or complaint had been sent regarding the magazine's SF coverage. Which is quite strange considering, as we have previously revealed, official surveys have shown that about a quarter of UK graduate physicists were originally turned on to their subject due to a prior interest in SF. Could it be that (some) scientists do not their interest in SF publicised lest it undermines their work's image? Consequently, hats off to Nature for running a short story in each of its weekly editions throughout 2000. The series is called 'Futures', should you wish to rush to your nearest academic library to see what you have missed. In the main the stories are hard SF. Some are decidedly below average, but equally some are, in Gaia's opinion, brilliant. One of her favourites is The Abdication of Pope Mary III... or Galileo's revenge... by Robert Sawyer and published on 6th July 2000 in vol 406 on p23.

The science journal Nature was cited for its SF at the 2001 European SF Society business meeting at this year's Eurocon, in Capidava, Romania. As reported above, Nature had published a weekly series of mini SF stories throughout 2000 in celebration of the millennium. Each looked at what the forthcoming millennium might offer and were largely hard SF. The Eurocon business meeting proposed Nature for the Eurocon Award. Given the level of agreement, Nature would have won it but for the lack of national representation at the subsequent ratifying meeting (four European countries or more must be represented). However Nature's editor was notified of the ESFS business meeting's endorsement and a reply of thanks received revealling that Nature staff member Henry Gee was the person to whom credit for the series should go. Nice one Henry...

Gaia will return in 2002...

[Previous Gaia column: 1997 edition | Top: Concatenation]

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