Mapping Changes in Science Fiction Worldbuilding in Response to Scientific Discovery

Mapping Changes in Science Fiction Worldbuilding in Response to Scientific Discovery

Presented at the 10th Annual BayesiaLab Conference on Thursday, October 27, 2022.


We present a digital humanities application of Bayesian networks to investigate changes in science fiction portrayals of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) since the 1990s discovery by astronomers of real exoplanets. Bayesian network analysis is applied to a representative database of fictional exoplanets to determine if the publication date influences fictional exoplanet characteristics. Networks are generated using Banjo, search methodology decisions are confirmed with BayesPiles analysis, and the results are visualised using GraphViz. Results show fictional exoplanets from media created after the discovery of real exoplanets are moderately less likely to host established human populations and slightly less likely to host intelligent native life. This change in response to the scientific discovery of thousands of exoplanets, many of which are not hospitable to humans, provides genre-wide evidence indicating that science fiction does communicate rapidly evolving scientific results. This research demonstrates the potential for Bayesian network analysis as a promising data science methodology in interdisciplinary academic practice.

Presentation Video

Presentation Slides


  • Emma Johanna Puranen, University of St Andrews (Presenter)
  • V Anne Smith, University of St Andrews
  • Emily Finer, University of St Andrews
  • Christiane Helling, The Space Research Institute (Institut für Weltraumforschung, IWF)

About the Presenter

Emma Johanna Puranen is a St Leonards’ Interdisciplinary Doctoral Scholar at the University of St Andrews, combining astronomy, data science, and media studies in her research on exoplanets in science fiction. A member of the St Andrews Centre for Exoplanet Science, she is very interested in questions of astrobiology and space ethics, including how humans portray speculative space travel in science fiction. Learn more at her website (opens in a new tab).

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