Science in Fiction: A Rant

I just wanted to rant a little. This is mainly because I’ve recently been watching a TV series that originally aired on ABC called Surface. Basically, it’s about a population explosion of this dragon-like alien species that burrows into the Earth’s crust under the ocean. It’s actually pretty good, in general, especially as far as special effects and story and character development go. However, there are a few problems with it. Mainly dealing with bad sciences.

Unfortunately, this is an all-too common occurrence with sci-fi, creature features, and fictitious hospital or forensics shows. Honestly, I don’t know how the scientific community hasn’t said something. But let’s get one thing straight, here. We’re not talking about the extreme nitty-gritty details that would boost my ego to tell you about. We’re talking about very BASIC science. As in, something a fifth grader could easily answer in a different sort of TV show.

The problem is that Hollywood, and even some authors, just don’t do their basic science homework. What is even more annoying is when the TV show or movie was overall good other than the bad science! Take, for example, the movie Whiteout.  Great movie, minus one glaring flaw. There was supposedly a hurricane ripping across Antarctica. There are no hurricanes over Antarctica. Hurricanes only exist over warm waters (seed waters need to be at least 80OF). There are hurricane-force winds in Antarctica, but no hurricanes.

Another fine example is the movie Boa vs. Python (really, painfully bad; not even a decent B movie). In this movie, a giant boa and a giant python (which both look like large worms more than snakes) fight (surprise!). Before the fight, though, one of the snakes disappears so the hunting party goes underground into the sewer system because the snake wanted to “cool off”. A boa, or python for that matter, would not shelter in the cool darkness of underground at midday “to cool off” because they are cold blooded. It’d rather be out in the 80OF California suburb where it had escaped.

In Surface, the dragon-like creatures are supposed to be mammals but they have enormous egg clutches floating about the ocean. Not only this, but the scientist “knew” it was a mammal the second she saw it. Mammals bear live young and feed their young milk. Therefore, you could not tell a creature was a mammal by just glimpsing it for a minute or two. You need to see it give birth.

These are but a few small examples and I am writing a short rant since this is my first article. Really, though, if you are a budding (or, even, established) author or screen writer, then for heaven’s sake PLEASE just go to the library and verify your basic science facts. Also, don’t use Wikipedia. Please. Anyone can alter the information and it can take months to catch a false fact. It’s a decent basis and quick reference but don’t go basing your research off of it.

Has science bothered you in a movie or TV show before? Tell us about it in the comments!

**Our newest contributer: Alison Cetogen, or A. cetogen for short, is a graduate student in Microbiology. In her spare time, she’s also an artist, a science fiction/fantasy reader, and an alchemist.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jason
    May 20, 2010 @ 11:49:00

    Your little dragon creatures could be some kind of monotreme, but I suppose that would have been mentioned had that been the case. You’re right, though. Simple research could fix a lot of problems in writing. Television and movies are typically horrible at portraying computers and firearms in any sort of realistic way, for example.

    My pet peeve is actually from comics and other fantasy and sci-fi illustration. People on motorcycles firing weapons (or swinging swords for Pete’s sake) with their right hands. Your right hand is your throttle hand on a motorcycle, and should rarely, if ever, leave the handlebars. This is why artists who have never been on a motorcycle shouldn’t draw them.


  2. GeekInsight
    May 20, 2010 @ 12:31:24

    For me the worst offenders are internet movies. “The Net” with Sandra Bullock leaps to mind.


  3. girlsaregeeks
    May 20, 2010 @ 12:44:55

    We had a good laugh in the new Die Hard when they took over the whole internet. As a life scientist My biggest issues tend to be how crazy fast and easy things like PCR and elemental/gas analyses work. I can sequence too, but it takes me 3-4 days!



  4. Ruth
    May 20, 2010 @ 13:27:24

    Well, “the ship that made the Kessell run in less than twelve parsecs” generally makes my brain twitch.

    It’s happened other times, but not as much that’s stuck with me.


  5. Ruth
    May 20, 2010 @ 13:28:33

    @GeekInsight — ooh, good point. Internet hacking stuff really pisses me off. I know I’m not a hacker, I’m not even trying, but internet & general computer stuff in tv shows can be a real source of irritation.


  6. Jovana
    May 21, 2010 @ 08:51:26

    I agree with the this 100% completely percent. It annoys me when they get the small things wrong.

    However – when I mention it to people, the usual reply is “It’s a movie – it’s not supposed to make sense”! Haha 🙂


  7. MarthaK
    May 25, 2010 @ 23:10:51

    The entire reason they’re strip mining Pandora in the movie “Avatar” (warning: spoiler alert!) is because of a little greyish blackish rock called ‘unobtanium.” If I remember my science facts (back me up if I do get it wrong.) the entire sequence of “uns” (as I call them.) Are not only highly unstable and would only last miliseconds, it would be highly radioactive. Not for him to stroll around with casually throwing it in the air before setting it back down again. Every time we get to that scene in the movie, I can’t help but laugh. Then the story continues.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

May 2010
« Apr   Jun »
%d bloggers like this: