Reader Request Week 2015 #10: Short Bits

And now, quick answers to non-writing-related questions:

Anguadelphine: “My question is how do scientists effectively communicate facts to the general public without being discounted by people who don’t have the knowledge or patience to distill scientific evidence (or just don’t want to because of ‘belief’). I would appreciate any thoughts on this because frankly, it baffles me how people can discount science (as imperfect it is, it is still better than ignorance) because of their ‘belief’ mostly based on things they read on the internet or in literal readings of holy documents.”

With regard to ‘belief’ I think it’s important to remember that ‘belief’ is not monolithic — for example there are some evangelical Christian sects that believe in the universe was literally created in six days, but the largest Christian sect of all, Catholicism, is totally down with both cosmology and evolution. It’s worth pointing that out, and pointing it out to “literal” believers.

The best thing to do, honestly, is to hook people young: Get them used to the idea of science as early as possible. So this is a thing that requires planning, alas. As for the rest of it, my own thought is that people are perfectly good with science until and unless it conflicts with a political agenda — see climate change. I don’t know what the fix is there, because humans are political animals before they are scientific animals.

Pixlaw: “As a fellow Ohioan, I’m curious about your take on our very own Governor John Kasich’s various feints towards a presidential run. Frankly, I don’t like him or his politics very much, but my son, a budding Republican (…shudder…) thinks he would be fabulous.”

Kasich is in fact kind of a best case scenario for a GOP candidate for president, for anyone who is not a member of the GOP’s base. But I don’t think he’s strident enough for the base at the moment, and he’s not exactly charismatic enough to charm anyone else. I don’t really see him getting that far in a presidential run.

Sam: “Bruce Jenner coming out as a transgender person (even though it appears many people have known for years) and his desire to have gender reassignment but still be exclusively sexually attracted to women, does that make him a lesbian? The confussion, for me, lays in the fact that his brain is female but his DNA is male even if he changes his male bits to female bits. Or is he a heterosexual male that just had a sex change?”

I don’t know that it makes Jenner any one particular thing, nor am I personally in a huge rush to shift Jenner into one category or another simply for my own mental convenience. At the end of the day Jenner should be who Jenner wants to be, and love who Jenner wants to love, and everything else is fiddly bits. When Jenner wants to clarify or categorize and announce that to the public, great. Until then, I’ll just wish Jenner happiness and not concern myself about it.

PacoQ: “Do you agree with current copyright term lengths? Your daughter and her children will probably own the copyright for probably much longer than you will. Does it seem fair to you that your works will not enter the public domain until 70 years after you pass away?”

I’m on record in several places noting that copyright lengths are too long, and suggest their term be 75 years, in terms of corporations, and 75 years or life of the creator plus 25 (whichever is longer) in terms of individual creators. I think it’s fine for my wife to continue to benefit from my work, and to a lesser extent my child. My grandchildren can go work for a living.

Kore: “If an arbitrary stranger saved your life, what would you do? In particular, how would you deal with that person? Likewise, if you saved someone else’s life, what, if anything, would you expect of them or of yourself?”

Second answer first: I wouldn’t expect anything from them. I don’t imagine I would be saving their life for any other reason than that life is worth saving. If someone saved my life, I would be grateful and would let them know I owed them a debt. What that debt would be in many ways would be down to the person who saved my life.

Skippy: “How do you balance justifiable outrage at social injustice without becoming bitter or letting it color everything and make everything sad and angry.”

I don’t think about social injustice twenty four hours a day, in large part because I don’t have to. So the fact I have the luxury of not having to means the balance is easy to find. Of course, it is worth meditating on that fact of my life and what it means.

Noblehunter: “What are your thoughts on bad actors in anarchic/unorganized social movements? From looters hi-jacking civil rights protests to gamergate (some people seem to actually believe it’s about ethics in video game journalism) and Puppies (likewise), the stated goals of the group are undermined or by those calling themselves members of the group while acting in counter-productive ways. Can these groups police themselves despite a lack of central authority? Do you have any suggestions for people who are genuinely concerned about ethics in videogame journalism or other populist causes?”

Well, I’d first note that in the cases of Gamergate and the Puppies, the “stated goals” of the group were tacked on as afterthoughts/justifications for the precipitating action (harassment of women — and of a specific woman — in the case of Gamergate, personal desire for a bauble in the case of the Puppies). That’s not an insignificant thing, and it’s not something the fig leaf of a “stated goal” is going to cover up. This is a different situation, obviously, than looters attaching themselves to a protest movement already underway.

If I were truly interested in ethics in video game journalism — which is a laudable goal — or in seeing more representation of the sort of SF/F subgenres I liked in awards — less concretely laudable, but sure, why not — or whatever, I would probably start fresh, far away from those already tainted movements.

Maltsoda: “Advice for a beginner learning the ukelele?”

Practice and have fun with it. That’s what I do.

Mitchell Hundred: “Superheroes: Inspirational force for good or fascistic power fantasy?”

Why is this an either/or?

Ariane: “What’s your take on NASA’s new kind of engine, called electromagnetic propulsion drive, which brings us nearer to the vision of warp drive?”

I’ve trained myself not to get too excited. I’ll save my excitement for after a successful test zooms a spaceship, to, say, Jupiter. Or Alpha Centauri!

Allison: “I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our growing tendency to store personal artifacts (photos, communications, and various writings) digitally. Specifically, I think about how historians rely on those kinds of artifacts to understand past cultures. The ephemeral nature of many aspects of digital culture makes me wonder what will be left to inform future historians of the daily lives of 21st century humans. Any thoughts on that?”

Here in the early parts of the 21st Century we are still generating an immense amount of physical personal artifacts. The vast majority of my photos are digital and yet I still print out the occasional physical copy. I very rarely give digital objects as gifts, but give physical objects all the time. There are still physical books and magazines and so on. Hell, vinyl has made a comeback. It seems very likely to me the issues for future archaeologists will not be lack of physical data, but trying to make sense of the immense amount of physical data we are leaving behind.

Christina Wodke: “Adventures in being an ally, including dumb mistakes, wins, and perhaps the seduction of mansplaining (I do it too and I’m not a man.) Guy friends of mine chicken out on being an ally sometime because they are afraid of being scolded. They might like to hear some of your experiences and realize it’s survivable.”

Well, I think the simplest thing to do is think of being an ally like you’re learning a skill, like a guitar or woodworking. You know you have an interest, but you lack experience, and as you work on it you’ll make mistakes and people with more expertise in the area will correct you and occasionally offer advice, which may work for you or may not. And over time you learn and you get better at it — but there will always be something new to learn. If you think about it that way, it becomes less ego-bruising to be called out, and when you are called out it becomes more productive. I think that’s a good way to picture it.

Dana: “You’ve heard of ‘speed dating’ where you spend 5 minutes with each of several potential partners trying to determine if you are compatible. How about ‘super speed dating’ where you’re allowed just three questions? What 3 questions would give you a sense of go/no-go?”

Ooooooh, I wouldn’t make any relationship decisions based on only three questions. But if I had to, I would ask three questions that required lengthy, complex answers and I would watch how the person answered them as much as paying attention to what the answer was. Because all of that would be just as important as the answer itself. No idea what those particular questions would be. I’d probably make them up at the time.

Neil W: “You live in Ohio. Ohio has a swallow-tail shaped flag. Do you have an opinion on the eccentricity of it, or any other thoughts on flag design or on flags in general? For example what would you like to see on a Scalzi flag?”

I’m not a huge fan of the Ohio flag, but at the same time I can’t muster any particularly negative feeling about either, so — meh? I don’t know what I would do to change it and I suspect that changing it wouldn’t be for the better, so it might as well stay as it is. With regard to a Scalzi flag, in fact, this is something I thought about a long time ago but unfortunately at the moment I can’t find the file for it. If I unearth it I’ll show it. It does include a phoenix.

Peripatetic Entrepreneur: “Money is a fiction. Opine.”

Uhhhh, yes, it is? But we all seem to agree to pretend it exists for our own purposes so I guess it’s okay?

Megpie71: “How do you feel about the sort of uncritical patriotism pushed by statements like ‘love it or leave it’? Do you think the best way to love one’s country, fandom, or whatever is to refrain from criticising it at all, or do you feel criticism has a useful function?”

I think uncritical patriotism is stupid in part because any patriotism I would feel is based on the idea that my nation is worth supporting, and that knowledge comes only from critical examination. So, yeah, if someone were to tell me to “love it or leave it,” I’d mark them down as not exactly a deep thinker. And yes, this also goes for other groups with which I feel some identity toward.

Mearsk: “Is your social media presence worth it? Jos Whedon quitting Twitter the other day because he was tired of the constant stream of ‘you suck,’ made me wonder if it is worth all the exposure to negativity and small-minded people. I know you’re very active on Twitter, but you frequently comment about ‘muting’ people, so that means you have to deal with it, so is the benefit worth the cost?”

I’m on social media because I enjoy it, and if I stop enjoying it then I’ll leave it. But I will note there are all sorts of ways to tailor one’s social media intake. So for example, if on Twitter I don’t want to see responses from random people, I don’t have to; likewise if I want to limit my conversations to only people who I like I can do that too. People can be negative (or not) all they like — but I don’t have to see it. In Whedon’s case, he left primarily because he found it a timesuck, which is a thing I can appreciate. That’d be a more likely reason for me to leave it than negativity, to be honest.

Cavyherd: “What I want to know is: Did you ever go through a period of being the Angry Young Man?”

Not really. I think the circumstances of my life could have given me ample reason to be angry, for various reasons, but I just… wasn’t. It’s not the direction my personality seems to default toward. I have been angry, but it’s situational, rather than a baseline emotion. And after a certain point in time — somewhere in college — my life started on the general upswing that continues to this day. It’s difficult for me to be angry because honestly what do I have to be angry about? My life’s kind of amazing, and I know it. I know this doesn’t stop other people, but it stops me. I don’t think you need to be angry to be passionate, or committed or whatever. Mostly, I’m happy. And when I think about it, grateful.

Thanks, everyone, for all your questions this week!