January 2nd, 2010, 02:37 PM
Legalities of story consultation
I am writing a story using some heavy scientific theory. I am considering contacting a few professors at my university to get advice on the subject matter. Should I stick to merely yes or no answers or can I ask them to give me examples of how something I have in mind might conceivably work? I know that if they give me ideas on how a theory could play out, and I use it, they could claim co-authorship and have a right to part of the royalties (assuming any ever resulted from my work).
January 2nd, 2010, 04:47 PM
First off - if you have a story and they're amenable to answering some of your questions then you should ask specific leading questions, thought about and created prior to the interview based on what you absolutely have to know for your story, so that they are simply giving you information and you aren't wasting their time.
Personally I would go to a library and or use the internet first, if not for a basic handle on what you're asking then there may in all likelihood be resources available to give you the answers you seek anyway. Sitting down with a professor for ten minutes to grasp something that could have taken them years to understand isn't going to happen, so realistically you want access to sources you can constantly refer to.
Secondly I don't believe you can trademark or copyright scientific theories so I don't think it's possible for them to claim any royalties etc It's traditional to thank people who have helped you but beyond that the legality of any case they brought against you would probably be spurious at best. Consider that quite a few authors consult specialists and experts when researching, if the legal issues were murky I'm sure there'd have been plenty of such cases. That said, I'm not a lawyer.
January 2nd, 2010, 04:53 PM
They can't claim co-authorship, nor are they likely to want to. Authors consult with experts all the time as part of research and most experts think it is pretty fun to answer questions regarding a work of fiction. (Science professors tend to be science fiction fans.) The proper thing to do is then to thank them in the Acknowledgments page, if your publisher gives you one.
January 2nd, 2010, 05:55 PM
Thanks guys, and yes, I have actually done some pretty extensive research on my own but as my questions pertain to some grey areas within the realm of quantum mechanics and string theory, I thought it best to clarify my own observations and theories. In any event, I have sent off my queries to five professors and now await their reply (or lack there-of). Should any agree, I have a pre-compiled list of questions to zip over. I do not expect to gain my doctorate in theoretical physics from this questionnaire, I'll settle for a Nebula Award.
January 2nd, 2010, 07:47 PM
Then good luck and welcome to sffworld
January 4th, 2010, 09:22 AM
Agreeing with advice, and adding that if you send in an Acknowledgments page, it'll just about always be included in the book. Some people prefer not to be named (I've had some) so it's always good to ask "May I mention your name in the Acknowledgments or would you rather be un-named?"
January 9th, 2010, 12:37 AM
As an update, I have received a response from three of the professors I sent out my query for advice too. All have been interested in answering my questions and they even seem intrigued with the concept I am working on
January 16th, 2010, 12:42 PM
We Read for Light
Inkstain -- Hello again.
Just a tag to what others have said: My wife writes mysteries, and has twice found it necessary to research police procedures. Two years ago she invited, individually, both the current and former chiefs of police to lunch. Both were flattered. Most human beings receive so little acknowledgment, even tacit, for their work that to be treated with respect is payment enough.
January 16th, 2010, 01:56 PM
I completely agree Window Bar. I have received great response from my inquiries to the various physics professors I emailed. Almost all replied back and of those who replied, all were interested in answering my questions. Several expressed interest in the concept of the story as well.
All who agreed to answer my questions received the same questionnaire and most answers lined up fairly well. Now I'm in the process of using their answers on the mechanics of quantum physics -and other related theories- to create notes and work out where these theories leave room for creative license.