Thursday, May 21, 2009

What Is And Isn't Hard Science On

A website ( SF Debris ) linked to Orbital Vector, but had a small write up under it saying, the science on the site should be 'taken with a grain of salt.'

Now, a site that's dedicated to snarky reviews of Star Trek episodes should hardly be calling out other sites for their scientific accuracy, but that statement was true enough. A lot of the stuff discussed on Orbital vector is soft science, and shouldn't be taken seriously as a scholarly resource. However, there is a lot of real science on the site was well. Still other technology discussed is almost pure fantasy with only a tangential connection to real world research

Distinguishing which is usually pretty simple: just look at a technology's tech level.

There's a reason why the Tech Level scale on the site is divided into broad ranges; its to distinguish what's hard science, soft science, and technobabble. Generally the higher on the Tech level scale you get from the baseline (Tech Level 10), the farther you get away from real science.

Tech Levels 0-10 are historical tech levels, representing all of history right up until today. All this is of course real science, and can be looked up in an encyclopedia or on websites like the excellent How Stuff Works.

Tech levels 11-15 are the 'Hard' science fiction levels. Everything addressed in this range is either already on drawing boards or is thought to be realistically doable sometime within the next 100 years. Anything on the main Orbital Vector site classified as Tech level 11 through 15 is based on real-life, hard science, and I try to remain a scientifically accurate as I can when presenting such innovations in articles.

Tech Levels 16-20 are the 'Soft' science fiction levels. Most of the technology here is still based on known scientific principles, only their effects are more fantastic and their workings are hand-waved away for drama's sake. Like the space operas and other soft scifi that inhabit this range, its 'sciency' without actually having to get into the nuts and bolts of how their fantastic machines work. For technologies in this range, I try to at least connect the innovation with real-life principles.

Tech levels 21-25 are the 'Technobabble' science fiction levels. The technology in this range pays only lip service to real-life science and pretty much does whatever the story its featured in needs it to do. Still, real science principles occasionally get mentioned, and I try to tie the technology here with real science wherever I can, though that's not always possible.

Tech Levels 25+ is pure fantasy labeled as science fiction. Again, where possible, i try to tie the few times such technology is addressed with real science but that's not always possible.

There are exceptions to the above, of course. FTL technologies and force fields, example, should belong in the "Technobabble" range, but are put into the "Soft" science range instead to coincide with their abundant use in space opera stories.

So do take anything written on the main site with a grain of salt--and research the topic yourself. It never hurts to learn something new.

1 comment:

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