1. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Ethics of Speculation

    Discussion in 'Research' started by BrianIff, Jun 12, 2015.

    I have a premise about the real world in about 20-30 years. I'm wondering if there is discussion among literary or sci-fi writers about predicting how the future could reasonably be. The novel wouldn't be for entertainment or truly dystopian as it is a world grounded in the plausible. For example, as a hypothetical illustration, if I were to write about how the continued use of antibiotics in livestock reduces the potency for human medicine and this leads to a plague, how do writers and publishers treat the dilemma of being fair to the agricultural sector? How does one avoid pitfalls of being labelled sensationally alarmist?
     
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  2. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Why are you worried about ethics? It's not non-fiction or journalism, is it?
     
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  3. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    It sounds like you're trying to find the balance between speculation and what's plausible?

    But like that No-Named Slob up there said, it's fiction, so your story can be as sensational as you like without breaking ethics. It's only when you start putting in real formulas for creating stuff like bombs that it crosses the ethical boundaries.
     
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  4. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    If it's fiction based on present facts and plausible extrapolation, I don't see an ethical problem. That sort of thing can make people think about whether changes need to be made to reduce risks. Maybe changes are needed, maybe not, but it isn't unethical to ask the question.
     
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  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The answer is twofold.

    1) Just write a good story.
    2) Never mind if it's taken as alarmist. Someone somewhere is going to take your story as alarmist or as fraudulent whether you do or don't include, say, climate change in your future, just as an example. Go either way and there's going to be someone whose righteous indignation gland is going to squeeze down hard, flooding their system with politicizing juices, and, oh, but their raving will be epic and frothy! That's just how shit is today. You have to ignore it, and pray that the Reactionaries and the Radicals eventually kill one another off, else put away your writing and take up crochet. But if you take up crochet, you'd better be using 100% free-range wool, certified to come from non-gmo fed animals, raised by PETA vegans. You know.... just to be sure you don't get picketed by the Crochet Thought Police. ;)
     
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  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Being labeled "sensationally alarmist" sounds like a great marketing technique.

    I seem to recall a TV series - it might have been "Gossip Girl" - that had fake parental outrage as its ad campaign. Worked, too.
     
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  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    It's not an unreasonable concern. It depends on the deep pockets of the corporate section you piss off and whether they think your book will affect their bottom line.

    I highly recommend the book, The Brass Check, by Upton Sinclair. In it Sinclair describes how publishers rejected The Jungle, and some people in positions of publication power (like newspaper publishers) attacked him personally with fabricated scandal and innuendo because they objected to his socialist views.

    Publication History, The Jungle
    It wasn't shock that was the real reason, it was revelations about slaughterhouses that threatened the beef industry.

    But the book was very popular and as could be expected, the bottom line was more important to publishers than the beef industry influence. A good book is unlikely to be censored completely. They tend to leak out.


    I agree, though, 'ethical' would seem to be the wrong adjective choice there.
     
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  8. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    My concern is that, since it's intended to be portrayed as real, legitimate criticism might be mounted against it because it makes assumptions about a negative future. For example, if I were to say NATO was going to go to war somewhere to secure drinking water, I've made a statement about NATO whether it's fiction or not. So I'm wondering what is considered fair comment or what would get reception, for a piece that does make a logical prediction.
     
  9. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    As you long as you put in a valid reason for NATO's actions then it doesn't matter. It's just fiction. They do that kind of stuff all the time in movies.
     
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  10. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    I understand your point, but the movies that come to my mind are ones like Avatar. I can hardly think of a movie that is set in future that has reasonably foreseeable circumstances or isn't slathered in dystopian tones. If you know of any it might help me.
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Are you talking about pulling a War of the Worlds? Otherwise, I'm not sure what you're worrying about. But when I read "The novel wouldn't be for entertainment," and "it's intended to be portrayed as real", I get a bit confused.

    Are you writing a novel? Is it going to be published and promoted as a novel? If so, don't worry about it. Readers will understand that you're not psychic.

    If you're going to try to present your fiction as non-fiction, then, yeah, you might have a bit more reason to be concerned. Is that what you're suggesting?
     
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  12. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    I don't think it would better what the circumstances are. No one is going to say, 'That's absurd. NATO wouldn't do such a thing!' if there is a valid reason behind their actions. You might get a few of those 'realist whiners,' but you wouldn't be braking any ethical barriers for it.

    In terms of films, maybe something from Niell Blomkamp? I'm not really a big fan of his work, but they have realistic overtones at times. Though, I think they may be classed as dystopian.
     
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  13. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    One good movie that occured to me -- and it is a good movie -- that meets my criteria would be Her with Joaquin Pheonix, although the technology is exaggerated. But the theme of human replacement for relationships would be more prominant if I can relate the movie to my idea, such that I would be concerned how much people might take it as demonization of technology.
     
  14. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    At the end of the day, no one knows what the future will bring. If things continue the way they are, then we will probably end up with organisations like NATO occupying territory for water and other resources anyway.

    You shouldn't really worry about any of this stuff, but you should be mindful of some things, like including things in your story that people could actually use in real life to break the law or hurt others.
     
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  15. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Not wanting to be sci-fi at all, but the future would have to have elements that are imaginative. By "portrayed as real," I mean the absence of time travel, etc. Imagine scenarios that the CIA speculates about within the next ten years -- that kind of real. Since the work would take a serious tone and start from a literary premise, it wouldn't be about thrills or Blade Runner/RoboCop scenarios, so not entertaining in that sense.
     
  16. The Mad Regent
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    The Mad Regent Contributing Member

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    Ah, yeah. Possible scenarios. Still, that shouldn't effect anything unless it was really absurd. You're just speculating on what could happen and building a story around it. As I originally said, as long as it's in reason then you'd avoid criticism, and even if there was criticism, it'll probably just be from stubborn fuckers that can't appreciate a good story.

    :superagree:
     
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  17. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I don't think future speculating and getting it wrong is an ethics issue. You are basing it, from the sounds of things, on some current events, such as the impending water shortage that global warming is rapidly bringing down on us. And the move by many commercial enterprises to buy up water sources under the guise of developing the resource potential. In other words, if I pay to drill the well, I now own the water in the ground.
     
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  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That film is actually about human to human accountability. The AI in the story is just a prop to talk about a facet of the human condition; hence, there are so many issues with the actuality of AI being sold to the public like iPods at the local mall. It would never, ever happen, but that doesn't matter because that's not really what the film is about.
     
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  19. CGB
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    CGB Active Member

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    I don't have a general answer to this, but using your example of antibiotic-laced livestock feed, I would not feel bad in the slightest about writing a disaster scenario related to this practice.
     
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  20. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Suggestion: label it a "thought experiment" and go wild :D

    eg:

    http://io9.com/9-philosophical-thought-experiments-that-will-keep-you-1340952809
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_experiment
    http://listverse.com/2013/10/21/10-mind-boggling-thought-experiments/
     
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  21. Rockson
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    Probably one will always have some who'll be too critical not giving a writer permission to take them to a place which to them doesn't seem probable. Go ahead and write what you want. Most will go with the flow with the direction you're taking knowing that's what they've got to do when reading any fiction.
     
  22. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    In Continuum, there is reference to a certain chemical company, which has been labelled Sonmanto. They are alleged to be producing GM seed that will NOT produce fertile seed, only grow infertile seed that is good enough for food. That means the farmer can't save his seed and re-sow it, only go back to the chemical company to buy next year's seed.

    To read the full (true) story, go to the David Icke website.

    Moral, you can get away with a lot more than you might think...particularly if you DON'T call NATO by that name, but make up one that's only similar. If they sue you, they're calling attention to the fact that it WAS them you meant, and they DO do those things.
     
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  23. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah - I don't think being alarmist as a pitfall per se. That's kind of the role of science fiction at some level - taking things to their logical conclusion and extrapolating the results (or just taking things we have and blowing them up in weird ways to cause chaos). Michael Crichton built a whole career out of writing techno-thrillers on this premise (not to mention pretty much inventing the techno-thriller as a thing).

    Also, for what it's worth, my premise is 20 years in the future and my readers give me more flak for stuff that hasn't advanced far enough than for stuff that's advanced too far. Furturistic writing goes through this weird looking glass where, if you give people a future that's too close to the present (which in my case is my exact goal) it throws off their suspension of disbelief because most people believe "the future" is a world of flying cars and biotech implants. In my experience, nobody will question my massive underground apartment complexes (which I have in the story, but think are highly unlikely to happen) but everyone goes nuts when my main character gives out a paper business card (which are far more likely to still exist). So, you have fewer pitfalls from going to far than from staying too close, at least in terms of reader perception.
     
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  24. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    I seem to be quoting you a lot lately @Shadowfax : I swear that's not me watching your house - you're just very quotable.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_penis_rule is a variant of this idea (incidentally, made notorious by Michael Crichton, whose novel Next I was going to suggest as vaguely similar to what the OP proposes?).

    I think one of the reasons speculative fiction is so common is that speculation is all in the imagination, and free from ethical limitations (as long as it's clearly speculative/not by Dan Brown). Even if your work influences people, the ethics come into play later when they're making real-life decisions, and that's on them - if they've thought about the issues in advance, all the better. They'll still have made their own judgements about how plausible your scenario is, and whether any conclusions you imply are valid.

    I would even argue that speculation is a positive ethical tool because, if done effectively, it tricks people into considering important topics that may otherwise bore or frighten them (particularly if you make your work entertaining). I suspect that allegorical tales contribute to the early moral development of children in most cultures, and see no reason why that can't continue into later life.

    Bear in mind, this is coming from a Reactionary vegan Rebel who won't even wear free-range wool (although I agree that PETA are a bunch of duffers)... and now I'm off to investigate some illicit crochet thoughts.
     
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  25. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You don't even have to look at science fiction to see this kind of speculation about real organizations. Look at modern thrillers and see how many plots and questionable acts are being undertaken by NATO, or the UN, or the FBI, or the CIA, &c., in those novels. The only thing that really matters is making the story internally consistent so the reader will believe what is going on (or, more accurately, suspend disbelief).
     

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