Early computer-based analysis of scifi

In 1977, William Sims Bainbridge and Murray M. Dalziel wrote “New Maps of Science Fiction.” Published in Analog Yearbook [1977, pp. 277-99], it was one of the first carefully done computer-based social sciencey analyses of science fiction. The essay says (among other things):

Our computer has generated many more maps of science fiction, enough for a small atlas, several using rather sophisticated mathematical techniques: factor analysis, similarity matrix analysis, and multidimensional scaling. But we think we have already made our point: standard sociological survey techniques can be used to make reliable maps of science fiction or any other kind of literature. When social scientists explain their findings to the public, they walk an unpleasant tightrope. If the findings make too much sense, people will say, “Oh, we knew that all along. Big Deal. ” If the findings are strange and surprising, people will refuse to believe them. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Many of the results we have presented here will make sense to science fiction readers. We hope that fact will give you some confidence in our methods. Perhaps you also have a sense that questionnaires can produce a tremendous amount of unexpected information when subjected to scientific analysis….

(Thanks to investigator Rose Fox for bringing this to our attention.)