Science panel of Eeeeeevvvvvil!

By Phil Plait | August 4, 2009 7:00 am

Last week, I moderated a very cool panel at Comic Con about the Science of Science Fiction, stressing science for good or evil in fiction. IMO it was a really good discussion, and now you have a chance to see for yourself! The full video and description of the panel has been posted on the Hive Overmind blog Science Not Fiction, and I’ve embedded it here for your convenience:

[Feel free to grab the embed for your blog if you’d like.]

Watching it, I was struck by how serious the discussion was. Not "serious" as in we were all sourpusses and frowny and finger-wagging — we laughed and joked a lot — but serious in that the depth of the discussion surprised me. I had a lot of fun up there, and somehow I was remembering that as haha fun. But now, thinking back on it, I had fun talking about deep philosophical topics — life, death, torture, memory, the knowledge of self — with smart people.*

Smart people are cool. A panel full of them is awesomely cool, and it was a privilege to stand up there with them. Go give that video a watch. I think you’ll enjoy it.

And, of course, I can’t wait until next year!

* And how much did it rock that Jaime Paglia quoted from Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow? That was a defining moment in the panel for me.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, SciFi, TV/Movies

Comments (19)


    I don’t think this is too off-topic, since your post is about your panel discussion of the “science” in science fiction. I’m just wondering if you happened to catch any of the pilot episode of the new ABC sci-fi series, “Defying Gravity.”

    I hope to God you didn’t. I especially hope no one who works for NASA watched it. It was garbage.

    You know, I can forgive science fiction movies and TV shows a lot of things. “Battlestar Galactica” and the whole “Star Trek” franchise are essentially extravagant space operas with a lot of wildly speculative “science.”

    But “Defying Gravity” was at least ostensibly supposed to have some basis in the near future of manned space exploration. Apparently the producers took their inspiration from that British docu-drama, “Space Odyssey: Voyage to the Planets,” which at least TRIED to get the science right and didn’t get bogged down in melodrama. In “Defying Gravity” on the other hand, the exact opposite was true. Just like that execrable NBC seried “Meteor” that aired recently, “Defying Gravity” made me feel downright angry for reducing space exploration to melodrama and fistfights.

    I read one defender of the program say, “It’s a fictional TV show created for the entertainment and enjoyment of the viewer- not to give a realistic view into the potential future.” This may be true. But would it necessarily be a BAD thing for network television to create a program about space exploration that IS realistic? Is that too much to ask? Or is network television to be forever the province of the lowest common denominator and the shameless pursuit of profit?

    Ooops! Did I say something a bit too obvious?

  2. Caleb Jones

    @Chuck Anziulewicz

    That’s why I no longer pay $60+ a month for television programming that by in large insults my intelligence. I think that I was maybe getting ~$10 worth out of television so the $60+ just didn’t make sense.

    Instead, now I choose what programs I watch on MY schedule. Using Netflix and the available video sites on the internet (Hulu, Youtube), I don’t have to trudge through all the garbage since I choose what I watch and what’s “currently playing”. Since I’m a season behind regular TV, by the time shows become available to me to watch, they’ve already been properly vetted (by people like you) or have already been canceled so I know which ones are worth my time watching.

    In the past while I’ve seen:
    -The Dark Side of the Moon (excellent documentary on the Apollo programs)
    -Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (I’m half way through and love it)
    -Various Star Trek episodes from various series
    -Several foreign and independent films with more depth to them than most Hollywood films ever attempt to have
    -Turning Points in Physical Sciences (A multi-series documentary chronicling the major advancements in science)

    Plus I never have to watch commercials or ridiculous political ads ever again.

    As soon as I started taking control over what I watched and when I watched it while not paying for all the garbage I’m not watching, I’ve started enjoying TV again (if you still can call it that).

  3. “Plus I never have to watch commercials or ridiculous political ads ever again.”

    Why? They’re usually a lot funnier than the sitcoms.

  4. As he thinks where to get a new crowbar he thinks “how did fringe hear about that?”.
    Also I liked Defyning Gravity.

  5. You know you’re a parent when…

    you read the title of this blog entry and hear the voice of Mermaid Man.

  6. teacherninja

    Great panel discussion an great job moderating. I especially enjoyed the last question which brought it back to education, “unweaving the rainbow” and your spot on quote of Sagan. Thanks for sharing!

  7. RL

    Yeah, I thought this was going to be a post related to Spongebob. (And could hear Ernest Borgnines voice in my head).

  8. mus

    I can’t see the video. I tried unblocking scripts in firefox, nothing. I tried google chrome, nothing. I tried internet explorer, nothing.

    Anyone else having problems?

  9. Gary Ansorge

    NAtional Academy of Sciences, Science and Entertainment Exchange? I had no idea there even was such a close, science connect to the entertainment industry. Way Fraking cool!!!

    I enjoyed that as much as I usually enjoy my SciFi shows. I finally disconnected my dish network tv and am now relying on the web for all my tv viewing( I have a 6 meg dsl line, which is plenty fast enough for real time downloads). It gives me options I never had with commercial programming and probably saves me $50/month(though I did have to spend $40 for the five made for tv movies of Babylon 5).

    Did I understand correctly that some of the shows DO accept unsolicited manuscripts? If that’s accurate, I really need to find out their protocols,,,Hey, I’m retired now so what else do I have to do with my time?

    GAry 7

  10. RE: denying, er Defying Gravity was described, I believe in SyFy’s news wire a “Gray’s Anatomy in Space”, so I expected some pretty poor science from it, and am wondering if I will bother to watch any more episodes. The ‘nanotech gravity simuation’ stuff made me ill.

    Why is it I have no children but still also heard Mermaid Man? (more scientific than some other shows?)

    Gary… I have an old (got it a long time ago) Professional Writer’s Teleplay/Screenplay Format booklet, available from the Writer’s Guild. Don’t know if address is current, so you might want to look for it online. Also, there is a freeware program called Celtx that is specifically designed for writing in teleplay/screenplay format, and includes some examples (e.g. Wizard of Oz, with the Novel, Storyboard, Screenplay, and Production Schedule in the example).

    Also, I am less than happy with the name change to SyFy, so I did this graphic for their new “tagline”:


  11. this was one of the few panels i wanted to see that i actually got to see, with meetings and other weird interruptions getting in the way of the most of the others. It was a great time

  12. This is so going on my new site. I am glad it is here because the friend that was suppose to tape your panels for me, didn’t.

  13. yumenoko

    Yay! I can relive the experience!

  14. Gary Ansorge

    10. John Paradox

    Thanks. I’ll look those up.

    Cheese grater? LOL,,,several times,,,

    GAry 7

  15. JOHN PARADOX: “The ‘nanotech gravity simuation’ stuff made me ill.”

    It made me wanna yark also, but don’t you SEE? It means the producers can save money not having to worry about pricey zero-gee effects and centrifuges and stuff. Then, one assumes, they can spend more time exploring the astronauts’ sex lives.

    Thank God for the Science Channel.

  16. Jdhuey

    WRT teleportation: The societal impacts of teleportation have been explored in a number of science fiction stories. Larry Niven’s Known Space universe is one major example; ‘jaunting’ in works of James Blish is another oldy but goody.

    Also, WRT the mention of the transgenic glowing creatures, brings to mind one of the application I read about: use retroviruses to transfer ‘glowing’ genes to nerve cells of patients undergoing surgery so the surgeon can more readily distinguish nerve cells (that he doesn’t want to cut) from other tissues that he does.

  17. Science fiction fans aren’t always the geeks and weirdoes that many in the literary and movie world sometimes portray. That’s why you had a serious discussion panel. Sorry I couldn’t have been there to hear the panel. As a science fiction author, I am always interested in the reasons “why” such as why do aliens threaten humans so much. Thanks for the great article and video.

    Check out my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting story is a romantic action adventure in space.

  18. tommy

    Jane is grasping for Clarke’s third law; “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.

    Stargate SG-1 actually did a good job showing this (over and over and over again…) but I have a hard time using this excuse for the BSG “angels”.

    A most excellent panel, thanks for posting the video!

  19. Phil, Phil, Phil… it’s Hubert Farnsworth. Not Hugo!


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