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Aliens, Technology and Freedom: Science Fiction Consumption and Socio-Ethical Attitudes

As we enter the 21st century, we do well to consider the values implicit in science fiction, the principal arena of future speculation in popular culture. This study explored whether consumption of science fiction (SF) is correlated with distinctive socio-ethical views. SF tends to advocate the extension of value and rights to all forms of intelligence, regardless of physical form; enthusiasm for technology; and social and economic libertarianism. This suggests that consumers with these socio-ethical views would be attracted to the SF genre, and that amount of SF consumption would be correlated with adoption of these views.

Groups of respondents involved in medical ethical and environmental issues were surveyed in 1992 (N=278). SF consumption was found, at first-order correlation and controlling for covariates, to be associated with: greater support for extending rights to animal and machine intelligence; greater enthusiasm for technology, and rejection of limits to human endeavors; and greater social libertarianism. SF consumption was not associated with specific views on the cognitively and physically disabled; support for abortion rights; or economic libertarianism.

James Hughes Ph.D., the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, is a bioethicist and sociologist who serves as the Associate Provost for Institutional Research, Assessment and Planning for the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is author of Citizen Cyborg and is working on a second book tentatively titled Cyborg Buddha. From 1999-2011 he produced the syndicated weekly radio program, Changesurfer Radio. (Subscribe to the J. Hughes RSS feed)

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