I suspect that a nontrivial percentage of the people reading this became involved with the community because of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
So to the extent that those who were drawn to join the community because of that source are making the world a better place, we have at least one clear example of a novel having an important impact
I’ve made a living through self publishing novels for the last five years (specifically Pride and Prejudice variations, that is Jane Austen fan fiction). Recently inspired by conversations at EA Virtual and worries made more emotionally salient by GTP-3 examples, I decided that I wanted to put part of my professional time towards writing novels that might have a positive impact on conversations around AI.
As part of this I did some thinking about when fiction seemed to exert an influence on public policy, and then I looked for academic research on the subject, and I think there are people in the community who will find this write up about the subject interesting and useful.
I identified four common mechanisms that seemed to be involved when fiction had a large impact on opinions. This is not an exhaustive list, and there is some overlap and fuzziness around the boundary of each concept.
Radicalizing the already convinced:
A classic example is Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel about a slave unjustly suffering written in the 1850s that was credited with helping to spark the Civil War. Uncle Tom’s Cabin did not introduce anyone to the idea that slavery was bad, or convince anyone who thought that slavery was a fine peculiar Southern institution that it was actually evil. However it seems to have radicalized Northern attitudes towards slavery, and it was part of the moment when enough one issue voters on slavery existed that the party system broke down and allowed the new abolitionist Republican party to win congress and the presidency in 1860.
Research has been done via surveys to find out if readers of popular novels about climate change have changed their views about climate change relative to similar readers who did not read any of them. Concerned readers become alarmed by climate change after reading, and those who were aware but not concerned become concerned. However, readers who think that climate change is a hoax usually don’t read ‘Cli-fi’ and when they do read it, their opinions are not changed. (Schneider-Mayerson, M. 2018 and 2020)
Evoking empathy for new groups:
Uncle Tom’s Cabin succeeded at radicalizing northerners by making them care about the fate of a particular southern slave. LGBTQ representation in media drive viewers to care about gay characters, and see them as normal human beings who deserve to have the same chances for happiness as anyone else. In the 1970s and 80s The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show helped convince white Americans that black Americans could be successful, intelligent and well dressed citizens.
Some of the research in cultivation theory specifically shows that heavy TV watchers as a group changed their opinions on minorities far more than the general public as positive representations of these groups became common.
On the other hand, negative representations can exist. For example anti semetic stories in which the long-nosed Jewish banker mistreats a poor person. Or media which portrays minority Americans as dangerous and violent. West German attitudes towards the Holocaust were substantially changed when a quarter of the viewing population watched the Holocaust miniseries in the seventies, and this likely contributed to passing laws that supported extraditions of more war criminals to Isreal.
Exposure to New Points of View:
After reading Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle, the president at the time, Teddy Roosevelt supposedly stared at his morning sausage and was unable to stomach the possibility of human body parts being in it. The rest of the public was equally horrified by the prospect of tainted meat, and within a year the act establishing the FDA was made.
Methods of Rationality exposed many of its readers to a way of thinking about the world that they’d never seen and that they found highly engaging. When I read Atlas Shrugged as a teenager who was trying to decide if he thought God existed, I saw for the first time an expression of intellectually satisfied atheists who were confident in living and being happy living without believing that God existed. Supposedly many of the people who laid the foundation for the science of robotics were inspired by reading Isaac Asimov’s Robots series.
The science fiction community created a space for people interested in engineering and technology to meet each other informally in the early part of the century. Atlas Shrugged recruited people to join objectivist circles. The Less Wrong community recruited probably half its current population from people who loved Methods of Rationality.
A paper about fiction influencing international relations argued that the Left Behind novels were part of the structure that maintained unity amongst Christian Evangelicals during George W Bush’s presidency. (Musgrave)
How attitudinal changes lead to real world changes
Influencing specific important individuals:
Ronald Reagan became more opposed to nuclear weapons after watching The Day After. Scientists who started the field of robotics read Asimov. Paul Ryan and Alan Greenspan are huge fans of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged. Many of us are here because we liked Methods of Rationality. Often specific influential individuals then cause major changes because they were influenced to do so by reading a specific book or watching a specific movie.
Supporting a mass movement:
Uncle Tom’s cabin radicalized Northern abolitionist attitudes, and was part of the process that led to the Republican party. Radicalizing environmentalists via cli-fi possibly has led to groups like Extinction Rebellion and enthusiasm for buying Teslas. Anti-war films reduced political willingness to keep troops in Vietnam and Iraq. Nuclear apocalypse films increased political support for the Test Ban Treaty. Global warming films are definitely part of why the public in most countries supports things like the Paris Agreement, or why California passed a cap and trade policy. LGBTQ rights and civil rights are more likely to get friendly supreme court rulings, friendly company hiring practices, etc because they are popular, which is partly because of media representations.
How does fiction change attitudes?
Transportation theory; synthetic experiences and aliefs:
The brain doesn’t fully treat fictional evidence differently, and fiction gives a veneer of the real and specific to ideas that before were just general and abstract.
Professor Paul Bloom at Yale describes this phenomenon as fiction creating ‘aliefs’, where the emotional portion of our brain responds to things that are not real as though they were. For example most atheists are unwilling to sign a contract selling their soul to the devil, which Bloom interprets as being an example of part of the brain treating the fictional entity as real. However, as we all know the real world is theoretically over determined, and refusing to take twenty dollars to sell your soul to the devil might be a reasonable response in a case of potentially infinite stakes with trivial residual uncertainty.
Feeling deeply transported into a different world in a key part of fiction’s appeal, and it seems to be an important part of how fiction can make people treat fictional examples as though they were concrete and real. (Busselle 2009)
A research manipulation to make readers feel more emotionally engaged before exposing them to a story changed how believable they found it, while changing whether a story was labelled as fiction based on a true story, or a true story did not.
Cli-fi readers talked about now feeling like climate change would actually happen to actual people. This led to increased radicalization as they had a sense of connection to this future. Having characters who the readers could identify with acting in familiar settings that create a sense of place and being a real location may have been what drove that success. (Schneider-Mayerson 2018)
Fiction influences readers by making the problem seem more real, creating a feeling of emotional verisimilitude and plausibility, and making the problem seem vivid and concrete.
Lesson for EA writers: Someone, possibly Mark Twain, said that you need to give your readers two familiar things for every strange idea you introduce. If you want to get at a broader audience (not necessarily a mass audience!) to be moved by your book, try to make sure you actually hit that target.
According to this model, people think the world is like the media they are repeatedly exposed to. As a result people who watch lots of TV think there is more crime and that more people are lawyers than people who don’t watch very much TV. They also like minorities and LGBTQ groups as well today as low TV watchers, after decades of positive media representation of those groups. However in the early surveys before this representation happened, high TV watchers were more bigotted against minority groups. (Mosharafa 2015)
A Harvard professor convinced lots of TV shows to insert designated drivers into episodes where the group went to a party and got drunk as part of the public safety campaign. Given how much money different companies pay to have people be seen in movies drinking Pepsi while flying somewhere on Southwest, after they paid with a Chase credit card, we can assume that ideological product placement probably has some impact.
Maybe we could try to convince screenwriters to look for a chance to get their characters to be mentioned doing EA type things, like donating a regular percentage of their money to extreme poverty reduction, or talking about impact evaluations after mentioning they’ve donated to something.
Audiences will reject and resist ideas that disagree with their preexisting assumptions. They also will draw lessons and meanings from fiction that are congruent with what they already believed.
Example: After reading a cli-fi novel where a PoV character betrays and murders another PoV character at the very end of the novel, conservative and moderate readers drew the lesson from the book that you can’t trust anyone, and that you need to be grateful for the little things in life. They also tended to identify with the ruthless and initially amoral rich male character, rather than the middle class activist/journalist or the poor Latina immigrant. (Schneider-Mayerson 2020)
Example: Teenagers and children make fun of media that is obviously trying to convince them to act in a way that adults would like them to, for example anti-drug messages in shows for teenagers seem to have had a very limited effect, especially when the ‘facts’ in the message are broadly believed to be false.
Example: Tom Clancy’s influence on the Republican policy elite was much smaller during the George W Bush presidency when the use of preemptive wars that he thought were a bad idea had become the preferred elite policy. (Musgrove)
What goes wrong?
Democracy counts numbers not intensity
If the radicalized people simply become more passionate members of a blocked political coalition, it doesn’t do anything. There needs to be a way to transmit the increased passion for the subject into an actual change. Movements like the Extinction Rebellion are reflections of the way that the blocked political coalition in favor of stronger climate policies is now engaging in civil disobedience because it is clear that they are not going to be able to directly achieve the policy victories they view as desperately important through purely democratic processes.
Attitudinal changes are temporary:
A group of psychology freshmen were assigned to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma and compared to a group of freshmen who weren’t assigned to read it. Their attitudes right after they read the book were changed in the direction of the book compared to the control group, but after a year’s time their opinions had mostly returned to what the control group thought. (Hormes et al 2013)
Books generally do not convert opponents:
Southern slave owners did not generally read Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and if they did, they wrote thought it was an unrealistic and dishonest portrayal of slavery instead of deciding that slavery must be ended. Climate change hoaxers do not generally read cli-fi novels, and when they do, they say that the climate change scenario portrayed was unrealistic.
The Left Behind novels may have tied together Evangelicals in the conservative political coalition, but nobody who wasn’t an evangelical Christian had the slightest interest in reading them. The framework of the argument in a book must match the presuppositions of the audience (Musgrave).
The changes in attitude that come with fiction often depend on the reader not having much personal experience with the situation. In the case of events that are common in media, but uncommon in personal life, people will automatically recall media examples of the situation, for example murder trials, chemical explosions or international spy rings. But if you ask them to recall an event that is both common in real life and in media, such as dates or highway accidents, they automatically think of their own experiences or those of friends (Busselle 2003).
Southerners had many personal experiences with slavery that would have dominated fictional portrayals in how they thought about it. AI researchers have daily personal experience with AI being extremely dumb and not suddenly destroying the world.
Lesson for EA writers: People who disagree with the model of the world they think is expressed by your book probably won’t read it. If they do read the book, they will be in a ‘am I allowed to disbelieve this’ mindset, rather than trying to figure out if it is actually true. So be aware of what ideas will feel strange and might create resistance in your desired audience and either figure out a way to make your argument so that it follows logically from their existing presuppositions, or figure out a way to market your book to an audience that shares your presuppositions or is undecided on them.
Example: The Day After was an explicitly non partisan film designed to simply show ordinary Americans being ordinary and then dying because of the nuclear exchange. The Republican establishment that controlled the presidency at the time did not need to react to the movie as a partisan attack, but as expressing authentic concerns.
Fictional portrayals of effective torture provoked extensive debate and elite backlash arguing against the portrayal, and thus the effect of these scenes on the support for torture was at best ambiguous, and likely null. (Payne)
But despite the response, did this portrayal possibly legitimize, or give a platform for the idea that torture could be a wothy tool in extreme situations, and thus even though the public debate did not fully support the idea, it still became more popular and legitimate?
My suspicion is that this effect was negligible. The idea that torture might be effective and legitimate to use in extreme circumstances already existed. I remember as a teenager spontaneously thinking about torturing terrorists as probably being useful on the morning of Sept 11, 2001. It is a natural idea for people to have.
Media that showed effective torture reflected this pre-existing belief. Possibly the belief could have been delegitimized in the way racism was delegitimized after the 60s by showing that it had no political or social power, but simply not speaking about the possibility of torture being effective would not have done that. The idea did in fact have political power and was believed by many elites in the party holding the presidency and congress.
Most likely the net effect of 24 cinematically displaying effective torture was zero.
However, fictional representations may be part of how particular policies change from polarized to bipartisan over time. For example the military preparedness policies promoted by a story about an invasion of Britain by Germany written in 1871 were strongly disliked by the Liberals who were in power at that time, but twenty years later, military preparedness against the chance of an invasion was funded with bipartisan support (Kirkwood 2012).
Lesson for EA authors: Be aware of pushing against an established opposition. If you can’t undercut the coalition against your preferred policy, you probably will achieve very little. Robin Hanson’s political orthogonality thesis, the idea that you will be most effective at pulling the debate in a direction without an established opposition is relevant here.
Depressing people too much to act
As they are focused on disasters, often cli-fi books create intense negative affect, depression, and a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. This can lead people to paradoxically act less. (Schneider-Mayerson 2018)
Audiences have a sophisticated response to what they read. They will notice the things that aren’t said or even considered in the books they read. If it is clear that a book is trying to promote a particular political point of view, many readers will strongly discount the intended message. They will also spontaneously come up with objections to arguments that do not feel correct to them.
For change to happen it does not only need to change opinions, there needs to be a way for the changed opinion to be turned into action.
Simply radicalizing people doesn’t matter without a path for change.
This especially true if there is a blocking coalition that is unaffected by the attitudinal change. Uncle Tom’s Cabin mattered because the North had enough people to politically dominate the country, and because the South delegitimized itself in Northern eyes by seceding.
In many cases politically motivated fiction that successfully radicalized those who consumed it probably did very little:
For example, Climate change fiction will only matter in the long run if it weakens the power of the blocking coalition (since the supporting coalition will act whenever it is in power anyways). And it doesn’t seem to weaken the blocking coalition directly.
Possibly, despite the failure of the broader coalition, cli-fi books are actually making an important contribution by intensifying the salience of climate change in the supportive political coalition. Climate change is viewed as an extremely important issue outside of the US, and one of the political coalitions in the US is dedicated to pushing forward climate policies. An Inconvenient Truth and The Day After Tomorrow and cli-fi novels are plausibly why the US might someday pass strong climate change policies, and why California and Germany already have.
In cases where the goal is for small numbers of people to engage in intense efforts by donating substantial amounts of money or of changing their professional plans, radicalizing a few people is probably more valuable than convincing a majority to vote differently. Democratic political majorities require broad, but shallow, agreement. Deep engagement by narrow communities might improve AI safety norms, expand the use of randomized control trials in global poverty reduction research, or fund charities that give poor American inmates bail money
Finally: Highly successful changes can take a long time to become real.
The laws against debtor’s prison and child labor that Charles Dickens promoted were passed over decades. The scientists who attribute their interest in robotics to Isaac Asimov’s only started making substantial progress decades after the first stories were published. To the extent that Ayn Rand’s novels have led to any concrete policy changes, it has taken a long time, and those policy changes were not large.
Rick Busselle & Helena Bilandzic (2009) Measuring Narrative Engagement, Media Psychology, 12:4, 321-347
Rick W. Busselle & L. J. Shrum (2003) Media Exposure and Exemplar Accessibility, Media Psychology, 5:3, 255-282
Jenny Kitzinger, (2009) Questioning the sci-fi alibi: a critique of how ‘science fiction fears’ are used to explain away public concerns about risk. Journal of Risk Research
Paul Musgrave, J. Furman Daniel. Working Paper on Fiction and International Relations Theory
Schneider-Mayerson, M. (2018). The Influence of Climate Fiction: An Empirical Survey of Readers. Environmental Humanities, 10(2), 473–500.
Schneider-Mayerson, M. (2020). "Just as in the Book"? The Influence of Literature on Readers' Awareness of Climate Injustice and Perception of Climate Migrants. ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment.
Eman Mosharafa, (2015) All you Need to Know About: The Cultivation Theory, www.researchgate.net/publication/337077784_All_you_Need_to_Know_About_The_Cultivation_Theory
Rodger A. Payne, Popular Culture and Public Deliberation about Torture
Hormes JM, Rozin P, Green MC and Fincher K (2013) Reading a book can change your mind, but only some changes last for a year: food attitude changes in readers of The Omnivore's Dilemma. Front. Psychol. 4:778. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00778 www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00778/full
Kirkwood, P. M. (2012). The Impact of Fiction on Public Debate in Late Victorian Britain: The Battle of Dorking and the "Lost Career" of Sir George Tomkyns Chesney (Fall 2012). Graduate History Review.
The thought process leading to action is something like:
What are the facts? => How do I feel about them? => What am I going to do about it?
But it turns out these thorny political issues have been unsolved problems for so long because there's a lot of complexity and nuance to them. Action gets tied up and dies in the first stage, and you never get to the part where emotion and passion come in.
Fiction shifts this process to:
Assume these are the facts. How do I feel about them? => Is this a reasonably good model of what's actually going on in the real world? => What am I going to do about it?
I may not be qualified to discuss the structure of the Antebellum South, but I am qualified to discuss Uncle Tom's Cabin. And furthermore, I'm more or less as qualified as anyone else who's read it. Knowing more about the realities of the time would definitely deepen my understanding, but it's not a requirement for talking about the book from within the closed environment of the book. (Okay, well that's an approximation. Obviously someone with perfect recall for details wouldn't have a great conversation with someone who skimmed it, but the point is that anything's true if it's written in the book, even if it disagrees with real life.)
Through fiction I've been freed up to think about things in a second order way, and consider what I would do IF these circumstances are true. And I'd say that once you start actually imaging yourself being a force for change, it gets you excited enough to start looking for an excuse to do it.
The threshold of action has been lowered from "know everything," to "be reasonably sure."
Another example for your list: Altneuland catalyzed the Zionist movement that led to the creation of Israel. The city of Tel Aviv is named after the book. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Old_New_Land
Oh that's cool. I had known about Herzl being a central figure in Zionism, but not that he'd written a novel to push it forward.
Great and interesting post!
When it comes to presenting a "path of change" that individuals can contribute too, I can think of two:
1. Donate money to organisations like MIRI, CHAI and others working on AI alignment/safety.
2. Becoming involved in the community and doing research/pushing policies themselves.
Both of these actions likely require "radicalising" the importance of AI safety, which could be used as an argument for why radicalisation of a few people might be more effective aim with a novel, rather than trying to influence the masses. Although to me it seems reasonable that a novel can do both.
My sister and I are currently writing a novel where there is an arms race to develop AGI/ASI. One of the main characters manage to become the leader of one project to create ASI, and she insists on a safer approach, even if it takes longer time. It seems like they will lose the arms race, endangering the entire human species, until the climax where they find a faster way to create AGI and thus have time to do so safely. The book ends with an utopia where the ASI is aligned and everyone lives happily ever after. Also the book will bring up the importance of organisations like MIRI and CHAI that has done work on AI alignment/safety.
Do you believe that sounds like a good approach towards influencing towards taking more consideration towards AI safety/alignment? (assuming the plot is interesting and feel realistic to the reader)
Btw this is my first comment, so any feedback on how I can improve my commenting skill is welcome and appreciated.
I think that was a great comment :)
As for how this idea can be used -- I'd say that as a sort of artistic thing, as described it feels a little deus ex machina, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, its just I'm right now personally trying to come up with stories where by the time the AI is actually on the verge of being developed, enough right choices were made earlier that it is inevitable things go well, with the idea that what is valuable now is encouraging people to build the institutions and safety procedures into their system so that it doesn't come close. On the other hand that doesn't optimize for strong conflicts and climax, and I think your plan could do that really well.
We're both still just sort of guessing at what will actually help -- but signal boosting existing organizations like MIRI and CHAI and the idea of explicitly taking safety really seriously sounds promising to me.
One thing I do do in my Pride and Prejudice Variations is always write an afterward talking about how I wrote the book, and then ending with telling people that they should donate to Doctors Without Borders, something like that, explicitly having a simple call to action at the end of the novel probably is a good idea.
Yes, I can see why it would be greater motivation for people to act today, if they read a book where the actions today to a greater extent determine the outcome of the first AGI/ASI.
And I can see some ways we today could increase the likelihood of aligned AI, like a international cooperation program, or very high funding of organisations like MIRI and CHAI. I presume the people that aided to the safe creation of AI, could be painted as heroes, which might also work as a motivator for the reader to act.
A clear call to action after the book seems like an effective way to increase the chance that people will act, I will include that in the book if we finish writing it.
If you have a specific approach to aligned AI, that you think is likely to work and would like to write the book about, I think it would be very interesting to discuss, and potentially be included in my book as well.
I'm a writer, not a technical person -- what I'm interested in trying to do is signal boosting ideas that within the community to the sort of general tech audience that reads hard sci fi novels, in the hopes of boosting serious interest and awareness around the subject, rather than painting a particular approach as the right approach.
That does sound like a rational approach, especially since the complexity of the problem makes it near impossible to promote a single approach.
When it comes to AGI stories, I think a good story would be one where multiple countries go for AGI. As many countries try to distribute all the economic gains to the broad public one country reinvests most of the gains into it's AGI and grows more powerful. As the story goes on that country grows more and more powerful and in the end it takes over everything and live gets worse for the humans while there are news of a Dyson sphere getting erected and plans for intersolar system travel are made.
I feel like there is a lot of dystopian literature out there, but relatively little about telling a story where there is a plausible path to escaping things going horribly wrong that then works. So I'm right now intentionally trying to come up with stories that sell an utopian path while signal boosting ideas that are being put forward in FHI papers and other parts of the community as ways to get there. For example the project I'm right now the most excited about has the working title of The Windfall Clause. Also the sci fi project that I already have written that is in this context is exploring ideas about the repugnant conclusion in a far future hard sci fi setting which is organized like Scott Alexander's archipelago, and where we managed to both get AI that did what we wanted, and then where we collectively didn't use it to murder ourselves. (Link if anyone is interested)
I do welcome ideas about stories that people think it would be a good idea if someone wrote. Though if it is about something going horribly wrong, I'd probably try to find a way to write a story where that nearly happens, but we find a smart way to avoid it happening.
Also, honestly, I think that all of the countries would reinvest as much as they need to maintain a strategic balance, and that is the actual problem requiring coordination.
I'd probably try to find a way to write a story where that nearly happens, but we find a smart way to avoid it happening.
That sounds to me like the story will teach the wrong thing. It will teach that it's just a matter of being smart and then we will survive.
I don't think that "we manage to find a smart way to avoid a disaster, though we almost lose anyway" implies "being smart automatically means that we win".
I said nothing about smartness automatically meaning that we win. I point is more that the universe doesn't care about whether you are smart. It's the core of what Beyond the Reach of God is about. I'm used to contact with it once a year at the solstice.
For me it's an important part of the core narrative of the solstice and that the world isn't just letting the hero win because he comes up with a smart solution.
I think there's a huge danger if people think that being smart and caring about AI safety is enough and then push forward projects like OpenAI that increase capabilities.
To the extend that fiction can teach narratives to people the Beyond the Reach of God narrative seems important.
Who specifically do you think should act differently, and in what concrete way because they are more aware of the Beyond the Reach of God narrative?
I don't think the intellectual work of finding a concrete way that's likely makes humanity survive an AGI going foom is currently done. If there would be a concrete way, the problem would be a lot less problematic.
Hopefully, places like MIRI and FHI will do that work in the future. So I would expect people to take it seriously to support organizations like MIRI and FHI over OpenAI which pushes for capability increases.
As far as torture goes, it seems the average person did get more approving of it. However it seems like the election of Obama did more to legitimize torture then the series if I look at the chart of public opinion. It seems to me that you are right and fiction didn't have a big influence.
Related excerpt from Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing on people's tendency to pick up beliefs from fiction (note that this is a pre-replication crisis social psychology paper, so take it with a grain of salt):
A related but perhaps more surprising source of misinformation is literary fiction. People extract knowledge even from sources that are explicitly identified as fictional. This process is often adaptive, because fiction frequently contains valid information about the world. For example, non-Americans’ knowledge of U.S. traditions, sports, climate, and geography partly stems from movies and novels, and many Americans know from movies that Britain and Australia have left-hand traffic. By definition, however, fiction writers are not obliged to stick to the facts, which creates an avenue for the spread of misinformation, even by stories that are explicitly identified as fictional. A study by Marsh, Meade, and Roediger (2003) showed that people relied on misinformation acquired from clearly fictitious stories to respond to later quiz questions, even when these pieces of misinformation contradicted common knowledge. In most cases, source attribution was intact, so people were aware that their answers to the quiz questions were based on information from the stories, but reading the stories also increased people’s illusory belief of prior knowledge. In other words, encountering misinformation in a fictional context led people to assume they had known it all along and to integrate this misinformation with their prior knowledge (Marsh & Fazio, 2006; Marsh et al., 2003).The effects of fictional misinformation have been shown to be stable and difficult to eliminate. Marsh and Fazio (2006) reported that prior warnings were ineffective in reducing the acquisition of misinformation from fiction, and that acquisition was only reduced (not eliminated) under conditions of active on-line monitoring—when participants were instructed to actively monitor the contents of what they were reading and to press a key every time they encountered a piece of misinformation (see also Eslick, Fazio, & Marsh, 2011). Few people would be so alert and mindful when reading fiction for enjoyment. These links between fiction and incorrect knowledge are particularly concerning when popular fiction pretends to accurately portray science but fails to do so, as was the case with Michael Crichton’s novel State of Fear. The novel misrepresented the science of global climate change but was nevertheless introduced as “scientific” evidence into a U.S. Senate committee (Allen, 2005; Leggett, 2005)
My current model is how thinking about fiction helps with thinking about facts that it makes it worthwhile to consider longwinded hypotheses. Fiction makes you address the hypothesis space and in the first instance form it. Fiction address first and foremost argument from lack of imagination - "I think X cause I can't think of any other way things could be".
In the analysis in the post there seems to be a undertone that fiction somehow advances views in some form of "flag-waving", repeating an idea, making an idea "cool". In the same way that logical rigous doesn't advocate for particular propositions, just that things are true and technically accurate, I think fiction promotes making concious and lived opinions. They will predicably be of higher quality/more humane and if one can pinpoint a particularly dark/cruel/thoughless the expectation would be that the noted person will move away from the shaky thought.
I would think that a framework where a stance or philosophy is given a strict trial rather than seeking a specific outcome would make quite a big difference in making the books. Offcourse in an adversial setting it might be that if we pit two strong opposed advocates that is most efficient way to get to truth. Buyt I fear a lto of failure modes for seeking specific outcomes (ie "winnig" most of your courts).