Put the Sci in your Fi — Kill the Character, Cure the Disease…Or Don’t

Why I love this author’s writing and mind – she questions, learns about the topic, and explains in a scientifically accurate manner. Her stories and blogs bear a greater semblance to scientific reality. And that in my opinion enhances the story. And these blog posts help everyone who wants to write sci-fi. Sherlock Holmes told John Watson – you see, but do not observe. This author is the antithesis of that statement, and everyone must follow her writing adventures!

Rachel M Brick

Hello everyone, and welcome to another installment of Put the Sci in your Fi! I’m sure any sci-fi enthusiast has come across this trope, whether it’s in video games or books or TV show/movies, and that is: If you have a disease, plus an immune (usually human) character, that person will be sacrificed by the end to provide a cure and save the rest of humanity from the dastardly plague.

As a writer and reader, of course I understand why this approach is often taken. It’s dramatic, it creates tension and an ethical dilemma, and if a beloved character is sacrificed for “the greater good,” it pulls the reader’s heartstrings. But the scientist in me always whines that this isn’t scientifically sound, that it’s a huge waste of a valuable and limited resource, that there are other, more creative (and perhaps less obvious) ways where you can save the character and

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Put the Sci in your Fi — Getting Personal: The Realities of Life in STEM

Hows life for a typical scientist in the STEM field, especially in the life sciences? Read the experiences of a real scientist who did her PhD in the stem (pun intended) cell field.

Rachel M Brick

Hello everyone, welcome to another entry of “Put the Sci in your Fi”!

For this month’s post, instead of talking about superpowered animals or lab equipment, I thought I’d talk about the people who do the work with that equipment—the scientists. Recently, I came across this question on Quora: “What are the harsh realities about getting a PhD?”

water help This might be a little on the nose. It’s also an actual picture from my actual lab, so…

And the more I thought about it, the more I felt it might make a good “Put the Sci in your Fi” post. Not because it offers information on lesser known scientific research or gives an inside view to how a lab is typically set up, but because perhaps it can help an author create a more authentic fictional character dealing with the every day grind in the STEM field (that’s science, technology…

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Put the Sci in your Fi – Real Life Superpowers—The Naked Mole Rat

Check out the amazing ‘superpowers’ of the naked mole role. Was a very informative read for me!

Rachel M Brick

NMoleRat72-2 The Naked Mole Rat – image courtesy of Alex Ferri Land

Hi everyone, welcome to another “Put the Sci in your Fi” post! Today, we’ll be continuing the discussion of real life superpowers with the naked mole rat.

If you’re new to this line of posts, the previous topic discussed the tardigrade and what superpowers it had that could be useful to the sci-fi world. But, what on earth is so great about the naked mole rat? It looks like a sausage with giant buck teeth, after all. It lives strictly underground in East Africa, and can’t even go outside without being baked to death in the desert sun. Where does its superpower come in?

Well, a little digging reveals that the naked mole rat might just be the tardigrades of the rodent world—they boast a cornucopia of survival mechanisms, including pain resistance, aging resistance, hypoxia resistance, and cancer resistance. 

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Put the Sci in your Fi – #4 – Real Life Superpowers—Tardigrades: Just Add Water

Read this amazing post about the superpowers of tardigrades, or water bears!

Rachel M Brick

Science fiction and superhero stories are filled with people who have extraordinary abilities. People who can heal, who can walk through walls, survive vacuums, see perfectly in the dark. It’s quite a glamorous affair, especially when the characters jump off the page and onto the silver screen.

There are real animals on Earth, though, that do possess superpower-like qualities, many of which are specialized traits that have evolved as survival mechanisms. This post will delve into just one such creature: the tardigrade.

Tardigrade-Clear Hello! My name is Tardigrade! (Image courtesy of Alex Ferri Land)

The tardigrade is a microscopic aquatic invertebrate with four pairs of stubby legs. First discovered in 1773 by German zoologist Goeze, over 900 species have since been discovered around the world, and it seems only recently have researchers begun to decipher the molecular mechanisms that allow for this “extremophile” to survive the harshest of environments.

Now…

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Put the Sci in your Fi – #3 – Beakers, Bunsen Burners and Budget Cuts (Part 2)

Rachel M Brick

Welcome to another post of “Put the Sci in your Fi!” Today we’ll be continuing with the previous discussion on how to make science more affordable for your science fiction character if they aren’t swimming in money. As much as we would all love to get those million dollar grants or inherit truckloads of $100 bills from our parents, it simply may not be realistic for everyone’s sci-fi characters to be abundantly wealthy.

Given the high costs of science, doing research may present financial challenges to your character—but some corners can be cut, and this post aims to continue showing you just what actual scientists have done with every day items.

Duct tape

Starting off simple, this is probably an obvious, but often overlooked, item. It’s used for: Everything. Sincerely, anything and everything that might need to be fixed or kept together. Holding tubes in place, keeping lids on desiccators…

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Put the Sci in your Fi – #2 – Beakers, Bunsen Burners and Budget Cuts (Part 1)

Read this blog from an amazingly talented and imaginative scientist about how scientists use some day-to-day wares and instruments in a life science laboratory.

Rachel M Brick

First of all, thank you to fellow sci-fi writer K.S. Watts for the title!

And now, on to post no. 2 for putting the ‘sci’ in your ‘fi’, part 1 of the mini-series, Beakers, Bunsen Burners and Budget Cuts!

If you’ve watched any sci-fi movie, you’re probably familiar with the following setting:

Super dark, blue-lit labs… (Image credit: jimmyjimjim)

Full of high-tech equipment… (Image credit: neisbeis)

Why do labs always look like this? Because it’s edgy. It’s dramatic. It’s exciting and photogenic.

It’s also incredibly expensive. And who can blame the author for wanting to set up a billion-dollar lab? Expensive, flashy toys are always exciting, not to mention they are apparently extremely effective at getting the job done. Vaccines can be discovered and mass-produced within a week, amiright?

But what if your character is not a trust fund baby with rich parents, and they want to set…

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Put the Sci in your Fi – #1 – Button, button, who’s got the button?

Amazing post about…would a genetically engineered baby grown outside a womb have a belly button?

Rachel M Brick

Hey guys! In keeping with one of my New Year’s resolutions, I’m starting up a new section on my blog: Put the Sci in your Fi.

My hope and intent with this blog thread is to create a fun, informal resource for non-scientists who want to write Sci-Fi novels. Those of you who are already well immersed in SF writing will know that you must do your homework, and sometimes there’s a great deal of homework to be done. But sometimes, it’s hard to know what to look for when you’re unfamiliar with the field, especially if you’re looking for something specific.

giphy Always researching…

During the course of writing SF, I’ve been asked a good number of questions that I did my best to explain. There is a certain level of creativity that we can inject into our works, of course. Otherwise, we might as well just write textbooks, and…

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Beliefs vs Facts

As a human and not a machine (unfortunately), I have numerous beliefs. But I have tried hard over the last 10-12 years to differentiate between beliefs and facts. I believe in God, but I don’t consider existence of God/s to be an objective fact. In this issue, atheists and agnostics have a better rational argument than I have. Just because none of us know the answer, doesn’t mean the answer that comforts us most (and belief in God is comforting to me) is the objective answer. Therefore I am dispassionate about beliefs, but what does upset me is when people force personal beliefs on others as a matter of fact.
Very few things can be considered objective facts. Political ideology is certainly not one of them. I might lean liberal in most issues, but neither liberal nor conservative ideologies are objective truths. Role of government vis-à-vis social safety nets, abortion, healthcare, military, and education can elicit deep emotional responses, but no matter how deeply we feel about the issue, the other side feels just as deeply about their viewpoint. This doesn’t mean logical inconsistencies or hypocrisy cannot exist on either side regarding an issue. We can still debate for our beliefs while still calling out irrationality or double-standards on all sides.
“Man-made climate change is a hoax” or “GMOs are inherently dangerous” are objective falsehoods. Evolution is true and vaccines are safe are objective truths. We should be humble enough to accept that the Universe is far too complicated for us to fully comprehend. But the scientific proofs and consensus in these issues are far too strong that unless there is a paradigm shift with new data, these scientific issues are objective truths. 9/11 was not a false-flag operation by Bush, and Obama was born in America are objective facts, doesn’t matter what the far-left and far-right want to believe. Once we learn to distinguish between facts and beliefs, hopefully we can be dispassionate in our debates and arguments and learn to understand the other side’s perspectives. It doesn’t mean giving up on all our beliefs, but at least not considering differing beliefs as objectively evil or falsehoods, or not giving in to the loonies on either extremes. It means not instinctively supporting “our team” or opposing the “other team”, but trying out best to study an issue devoid of emotions and then deciding if it is an issue that can have an objective answer, or is it an issue that will remain subjective and therefore open for endless debates.

Immigration is important, and it must be fair.

Last week I completed 17 years in the United States, and three weeks back was 14 years since I last entered the country. I have been extremely fortunate at the opportunities I have had here, while the byzantine and illogical immigration rules have at times made it impossible or risky to travel abroad, and also stressing me out about the uncertainty of my future legal status. Yet the immigration debate on both sides bother me, where the binary choices come down to either slashing immigration numbers or supporting all undocumented immigration. Here are my thoughts on a few immigration topics –

LEGAL IMMIGRATION

First, here are some basic statistics about immigration in the United States –

  • There were over 617,000 green cards issued last year, including over 230,000 in the family category and over 370,000 in the employment category.
  • There are over 4.3 million people waiting on line for their green cards.
    • As of October 2017, the waiting line for some family-based categories goes back 20-22 years for Mexico and Philippines, while for India and China it goes back 6-13 years.
    • For employment-based green cards, the waiting line for India goes back 9 to 11 years, and for China it goes back 3 to 4 years.
  • There were nearly 10.4 million visas issued last year, while an additional 3.7 million visa applications were denied.
  • Over 40% of those living in the country without proper documentation have overstayed their visas, and every year since 2007 more people have overstayed their visas than crossed the border illegally.

As someone still jumping through visa hoops, I wonder what will I do if I go back to a country I have visited once in 17 years, especially when my own parents and sibling are citizens here. From a rational perspective, we need young people who go to school, college, and contribute to society and the economy. We need these young workers and innovators whose contributions can create even more jobs. From a moral perspective, we shouldn’t punish those who came here as children and for whom this is the only country they know or remember. Neither the latest DREAM Act proposal nor DACA should discriminate against legal immigrants who came to this country as children, which both currently do, but who have fallen through the cracks of the system because of long waiting periods. Immigration, when done right, is important for economic growth. Immigrants are consumers, employees, and employers. Their participation in the economy causes growths of jobs and new industries. They help businesses that cannot find enough qualified native workers. Immigrants tend to move to different locations more than native-born. This helps the growth of sparsely population and rural regions. When immigrants are younger they slow the aging of the population, and their contribution to the economy and taxes lessen the burden on the social safety net.

Immigration laws must also be fair, to protect both immigrants and native workers. Legal immigration must be made easier for those truly in need, like refugees and asylum-seekers from across the world, as well as those who can contribute to a country’s growth. We must fight restriction on intake of refugees, as well as fight the discriminatory ban on Muslim-majority countries. As an immigrant, myself and others have looked upon the ideals of America as a land of fresh start, a land where old tribal identities and battles can no longer hold us back, and a land of laws and a sense of justice and fairness. Helping refugees portrays the good side of America. And if we help those truly in need, we also benefit to reap the rewards of their gratitude. The ban on Muslim-majority countries does not distinguish between individuals, and painting them with a broad brush just because they share some man-made tribal identities is inherently unfair and immoral.

Whether it is high-skilled jobs or blue-collar workers, as long as employers aren’t allowed to abuse the minimum wage laws, hiring of immigrants must be made easier for employers when they cannot find native workers. But once people are allowed to immigrate as workers, like on H1B, they must be allowed to change jobs or look for other jobs without losing their immigration status by tying them to a particular employer. This gives the employee more rights to negotiate salary and benefits, and prevents employers from driving down their own cost and employee wages by hiring immigrants over native workers. As an immigrant going through the byzantine immigration process, as well as part of a company’s management, I have experienced the frustrations of the immigration system from both sides. There have been a few times I have thought it is better to go back than deal with the amount of paperwork required for filing an application, or feeling overwhelmed by the waiting line. And I have also seen that one of the biggest disruption for a small business is employee turnover. If someone has received a high-skilled work visa and has been working at the same company for half a dozen years, getting an employment-based green card should be automatic or at least made easier. Yet the employment-based green card process is ridiculously complicated for employers trying to keep their senior or high-qualified employees.

Similarly, H1B visas or employment-based green cards shouldn’t punish employers who spend time, money, resources on their immigrant employees who promptly quit when they find something better. It is not fair to tie employees to an employer, but it is also not fair to an employer to make them go through the months-long process of doing immigration paper-work and then lose the employee in a short period of time. Immigration categories like H1B must also be fixed so that a few multi-national companies, like those from India, do not abuse the process by placing tens of thousands of applications and overwhelming the visa lottery process. Smaller businesses should not suffer because larger companies get most of the H1B visas because they afford tens of thousands of applications. And highly-skilled workers of other countries should not be left behind because the vast majority of H1B visas go to Indian multinational companies who have overwhelmed the visa lottery process.

If the employment-based immigration process is complicated and long for those from India or China, I think the family-based green card process is even worse. Limits on immigrations from individual nations has resulted for some countries’ citizens getting a green card in a few months to a couple of years, while for people from countries such as India, China, Mexico, and Philippines it can take a dozen years to a few decades. And the visa categories have ensured that if someone turns 21 while waiting, or for a few other reasons, they can get kicked off the line and start the process all over again. For those who fall under these cracks, like myself, getting a green card through the legal process can possibly take half a lifetime, even if they have been here since they were children. Yet someone coming from overseas through marriage can get a green card in a matter of months.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

From my experience, illegal immigration, even among the immigrant population, is an issue that varies by age and geographical ancestry of immigrants. Liberal second-generation immigrants, or those who came at a very young age, or those from countries without a long waiting line, tend to have a different view towards undocumented immigrants than those from other places of the world who have experienced the excruciating slowness or cruelty of legal immigration laws. Those who have had to wait years or decades or gone through tremendous hassles have a more negative view towards undocumented immigrants. We cannot have people living in the shadows and in fear. Without legal rights, they are at risk from being taken advantage of by employers and other unscrupulous people. Immigration must be made easier and practical, but stronger borders are necessary to thwart human traffickers or those taking advantage of their geographical proximity to the United States. It also ensures that those trying to immigrate legally do not lose out by following the rules.

If we are going to have immigration laws, we must have enforcement of those laws. If we choose to have open borders where anyone who can afford a flight ticket or rent a pickup truck can stay here, that is okay. But having immigration laws for those who follow them, and not enforcing the laws on those who don’t is inherently unfair on the former. I support stronger border because of the fairness for legal immigrants and protection for illegal immigrants. Imagine if half of those 10+ million getting visas annually decide to stay behind after their status expires. Or the millions whose applications are rejected each year decide to cross the border illegally. Most adults who are currently here without documentation must get a pathway to citizenship. But they must get behind those who have been waiting for green cards through the legal pathway. Sometimes I keep reading that sending people to the back of the line isn’t desirable because of how long and slow the legal line is. But it would be inherently unfair if those following the rules are treated worse than those who did not.

I hope for a world of open borders and unhindered travel. But for such a world to exist, we must have economic equality between nations so that the free movement of people isn’t only in one direction. We shouldn’t build walls, but prosperous nations must do more to help people in the poorer nations. With opportunities and economic security, there would be less brain-drain from the developing world. Over-population can put a strain on resources, and too much increase in supply of workers can depress wages. We cannot ‘save’ everyone in the world with the wave of a wand. But we can help others to the best of our abilities as a people and a nation.

Not everyone who supports immigration control is a bigot or xenophobe, nor does anyone who supports law and order in immigration matter should be criticized as a racist. We have to understand immigration through human nature. At our innate level, we have a basic fear of others – it is more in some and less in others. Protecting our territory is a trait that goes back deep into evolutionary history. In India, there has been deadly violence when people cross state lines to pursue better job opportunities. Yesterday’s immigrants might oppose today’s immigrants, and today’s immigrants might oppose tomorrow’s. For us to convince others about the positive aspects of immigration and free movements of people, we have to understand their viewpoints as well as ensure that economic security of native workers is taken care of. Ad hominem attacks on anyone who disagrees with us won’t change their mindsets. No matter the positive aspects of immigration, if native workers are struggling economically many will vote against immigration, even if it is self-defeating for the country. And in a democracy, the optics of not trying to ensure the economic security for native workers will do more harm than good to the concept of immigration. Emotional decisions, be it of the bleeding-heart variety or xenophobia, do not tend to work in the long term.