At Fermilab, I know that they are wading in the deep, dark waters surrounding our fundamental existence to get at the very essence of matter and, in the long term, unify many theories with one Grand Explanation. But I think science needs to learn to work more at the here-and-now level and worry less about some point in the future when It Will All Make Sense. Junk science (anti-global warming propaganda, conflicting and impossible food news, politicians who don't know women from ducks) is filling this gap, which is extremely troubling.
So I think there should be a new subset of scientists devoted to a Unified Theory that would be helpful, would get people's attention, would matter to many, and would generate revenue: map the worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Doctor Who and find any and all possible connections. (I am up for other major sci-fi franchises to be added, but not graphic novels. Sorry).
Never would I have believed that the goofy movie that debuted when I was seven would still be captivating people today. I mostly liked it because it was space, and Princess Leia was a sassy brunette with real responsibilities. I had the toys, watched the sequels, then grew up. But growing up is no longer an impediment to being a Star Wars freak.
I consider myself a bit of an early adopter when it comes to Doctor Who. In the late 1970s, PBS aired the Tom Baker series, and so, as a pre-teen, I became certain that a dalek lurked around every blind corner. Then I grew up, and laughed at the silly special effects, but still admired how those stories stayed with me. (The Ark in Space is low on actual cheese and high on concept). Those stories stayed with many other people, as well, and The Doctor was resuscitated in 2005. I wasn't interested, really, until recently, when the chatterings of friends whose opinions I value told me to re-investigate the reboot. I did, and liked many aspects of it, and found other aspects maddening. It turns out am exactly the right audience for the show's spin-off, Torchwood, so that's where I am spending my binge-time now.
As for Star Trek: never been a fan, but you probably are.
I am convinced that one day, hundreds of years from now, Star Wars will be a religion. Star Trek may spawn a political system, and perhaps the Doctor Who chronicles will be used as a theory of workplace dynamics and psychology. That's how important these story lines are to people -- many of us have found that they have worked their way into our daily lives. It's more than buying a TARDIS pencil holder or having Mark Hamill sign your still originally packaged Kenner lightsabre at ComicConExtravaRama. It's wondering how Rose Tyler would react to something, or really understanding why Han Solo replied, "I know."
Would it be silly to spend science time on sci-fi? Two answers: 1) Physicists are studying dark matter, or stuff that exists but cannot be seen around all the stuff that is visible. Doesn't that sound like sci-fi? and 2) Science and religion have always been traveling companions, but religion, some believe, is fading as a source of inspiration or explanation for people. Other stories and ways of thought are becoming central to our lives and maybe deserve more respect and attention.
One more thing: theories of sci-fi have posited that the seemingly outrageous thinking involved in creating alien races and whole other galaxies actually help human people reason through our earth-bound problems. Big, crazy thinking has a place. What scientists can learn from those who have created our beloved fantasy franchises is how to tell stories that allow us to conceptualize larger questions. We can keep things in their separate good/evil-colored bowls, or we can learn that our heroes are related to our enemies.
We can try to get our minds around time as an equation:
or we can have fictional characters
who we often love more than real humans
inspire us to think about our place in the universe.