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Has science fiction ever caused scientists to do real research?

  • Science fiction here means fiction that tries to explain things in the world rather than speculate about the future or unexplorable past (e.g. aliens having travelled to Earth 100 million years ago is unexplorable).

  • Real research means the one based on scientific methods, such as experimental analysis, statistics and so on.

  • I am interested in natural science such as physics, biology, chemistry, etc, as well as history rather than human-created such as mathematics.

Some examples of science fiction according to my definition may include the fiction describing dark matter, human and animal behavior (e.g. fiction describing hunter-gatherer society where women can be hunters), historical speculations (say, ancient europeans travelled Americas), etc.

No way I am asking for a big/complete list of such examples, just most remarkable ones if there even are any.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you please edit your question to better explain your definition of science fiction? Some examples may help. You can also look into categorisations of science-fiction hardness like this, this, and this. $\endgroup$
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 9:18
  • $\begingroup$ If someone would create "natural-science" and "history" (so strange it's not here), I would appreciate it. $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Wrzlprmft, yes, I am aware about science fiction hardness. While I think the odds of science fiction causing scientists to do research correlates with it's hardness, I do not think it is essential for it to be hard. $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ @rus9384 regarding the history tag: hsm.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/88/… $\endgroup$
    – plannapus
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 10:25
  • $\begingroup$ @plannapus, but the thing is that history as science and history of terminology are different things and terminology is in no way suited for my question. $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 10:31

6 Answers 6

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Science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke is often credited with the idea of communication satellites. link That was in 1945, long before any artificial satellite had been launched in reality.

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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, geosynchronous satellites are said to occupy the Clarke Belt (or have Clarke orbits) in honor of his recognition of the special value of a satellite that appears stationary relative to a ground antenna. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 23, 2018 at 18:04
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One such case comes to my mind: Jules Verne's novel Green ray (1882). Jules Verne popularized this rare phenomenon, and it seems that it has not been scientifically studied before. After Jules Verne novel, the green ray has been photographed and explained. See Wikipedia "Green flash" where there is a list of literature (Jules Verne included!).

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this counts, as Verne was writing about an observed phenomenon, not an as-yet undiscovered law of physics or uninvented bit of technology. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 13:13
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While it may not be research exactly, the fictional cases of Sherlock Holmes did actually influence the way real world police agencies and detectives approached forensic science.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes using fingerprint identification roughly 10 years before the police started to rely on it. Also, Holmes did a lot of soil analysis before it was standard forensic practice.

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  • $\begingroup$ It is interesting about fingerprints -- still not embraced by the Lindberg kidnapping in the 1930s -- FBI was trying to use it but the local cops did not understand about contaminating the crime site and evidence. J Edgar Hoover was a proponent of fingerprints and other modern techniques. $\endgroup$
    – releseabe
    Commented Jul 18, 2023 at 13:46
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Paul Krugman's research was caused by Isaac Azimov's Foundation novels.

(For this answer, you have to accept economics as a science and you have to accept "caused scientists to do real research" in the sense of motivating them to do it.)

From his interview, December 2008, on the Nobel website.

(Yes, yes, I know, the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel)

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/2008/krugman/interview/

Q: "What turned you on to being an economist in the first place?" ...

A: "I was an avid science fiction reader when I was a teenager and there's the classic set of novels by Isaac Azimov: the Foundation novels, which are about how a group of social scientists who save galactic civilization through their understanding of the laws that determine the behavior of societies, and I wanted to be one of those guys, and the closest you can get at this point, I'm afraid, is being an economist"

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The Alcubierre drive concept. Miguel Alcubierre published his first and only paper on the concept while still a PhD student, stating that he drew inspiration from the Star Trek television series. (See the associated tab on the Wiki link.)

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome on the site! Note, your answers look much better if they also contain verifiable sources, references. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @peterh Do you mean quotes from the sources? I've linked the Wikipedia article, however I'm on a mobile platform so I can't link the specific Wikipedia tab. I'll be able to make the edit later in the day. $\endgroup$
    – BMF
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, but don't forget it :-) (btw, you got the upvote from me). It is also useful, if you cite the most important part below the link. It would preserve the refered content forever (i.e. if the wikipedia page would be deleted or renamed, or it would be re-organized years later, the important content of your text will remain still understable). $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 16:21
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There was a boy born on October 5, 1882 who read The War of the worlds (1897, 1898) by H.G. Wells, at age 16 and became interested in space, which led to an experience on October 19, 1899.

On this day I climbed a tall cherry tree at the back of the barn ... and as I looked toward the fields at the east, I imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale, if sent up from the meadow at my feet. I have several photographs of the tree, taken since, with the little ladder I made to climb it, leaning against it.

It seemed to me then that a weight whirling around a horizontal shaft, moving more rapidly above than below, could furnish lift by virtue of the greater centrifugal force at the top of the path.

I was a different boy when I descended the tree from when I ascended. Existence at last seemed very purposive.[16]: 26 [23]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_H._Goddard

He became Dr. Robert Goddard, one of the great pioneers of rocketry.

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