by Octavia Cade
“The Backward Lens of Compromise” [in the current issue on sale now] is the third novelette I’ve sold to Asimov’s over the past couple of years, and they all hold to the same theme: scientists and science history. This one’s no different, and in some ways it’s even more political than the last, in which Soviet biochemist Lina Stern stood up to fascism.
This one’s about science education.
I’ve a PhD in science communication. How we talk about science matters. How we share it—who we share it with—matters more. Science shouldn’t be an elitist subject. It should be open to everyone, because a society that is literate in science is a society that understands objectivity and method, rationality, the idea of proof and logic. Science is a means of teaching critical thought that percolates through into other areas of our culture and society. We want a community that thinks, that is able to weigh evidence, that doesn’t swallow blindly every claim made before it.
How we talk about science matters. How we share it—who we share it with—matters more.
We don’t want whooping cough making a comeback because people are afraid that vaccines cause autism, for instance.
Public education is expensive. Whether it’s in your country or in mine, I’m willing to bet that education accounts for a great chunk of the national budget.
I’m also willing to bet it’s not enough.
Science education, particularly in schools, is a barometer of this. Science is a high-priced subject to teach. It’s not just the books—it’s the school labs, the chemicals they need, the equipment. If cuts need to be made, science is an easy target. And frequently it’s the kids from poorer communities, with less well-equipped schools that have fewer resources, that suffer the most from this.
Poor kids need science education too. They deserve the same level of attention and resources in their classrooms as their more affluent neighbours—and if they don’t get it, society as a whole suffers.
“The Backward Lens of Compromise” is a story about science education. There’s a magic observatory in there too, a shape-shifting telescope, potted histories of astronomers who had their own ways of seeing science, of passing it on. And it’s got kids who learn from them what science can do for them. Please take a look.