The Stonemaker's nitpicking Argument

By Phil Plait | November 2, 2009 2:00 pm

Clearly, the artist behind The Stonemaker Argument is after my heart. And his daughter is an awful lot like mine…

stonemakercartoon

[Click to see the whole thing...]

The link to this cartoon was left in the comments to an earlier post of mine, but deserves its on post, so tip o’ the Treknobabble to Andrew.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Humor

Comments (66)

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  2. The Stonemaker Argument | Genetics News | November 5, 2009
  1. Brian

    Yeah, that cartoon is great.

  2. The moon’s crescent shape is CORRECT! Look at the shadow across her face. The sun is setting to her right, as you would expect for a crescent moon behind her.

    Two wrongs make a right? ;)

  3. Aaron

    Haha, fantastic.

  4. Charles Boyer

    That is absolutely fan-frakkin-tastic.

    A lot of my sci-fi friends say I have no imagination. No, I say, it just makes for a better story if it actually follows some basic laws of physics, AKA common sense to those of us who know better.

    And spare me the crew-saving macguffins. No sane captain allows his engineer to try an untested and never proven scientific theory on a capitol ship with hundreds or even thousands of human souls aboard. That’s one of my biggest gripes against Star Trek, even the new movie.

  5. Becca Stareyes

    A friend of mine — not a science major — noticed that I had gotten her looking for the moon thing when reading fantasy/SF, because I had delivered a rant about wrongly phased moons. (It’s such a tiny detail, and usually one that doesn’t suffer from plotting, but people get it wrong.)

  6. Oded

    “Makom” is “place” in Hebrew.. I wonder if that was intentional, probably so.

    And, HILARIOUS! :D

  7. evinfuilt

    If you haven’t, go and read #2. The comic writer does these strips on the side so its many months between them, but that one is just fantastic.

  8. Paul Schrum

    Excellent. I thought I was the only one who cared about such stuff (based on what my friends tell me when I point it out to them.) There was a moon-gaff in the recent version of The Poseiden Adventure. I tried not to care but had to anyway because I am so compulsive about it.

  9. John Powell

    My wife suffers through this every time she watches Stargate Universe or Primeval with myself and/or our daughters…

  10. Jeremy

    Someone with an understanding of science that won’t allow their imagination to roam beyond the bounds of what we understand now isn’t going to make much of a scientist. I feel sorry for this kid, no imagination at all.

  11. There is imagination, and there is silly. And the fact that this cartoon small child is knowledgable enough to see the silly actually speaks highly. That someone like (oh, for instance) Jeremy would be such a stick in the mud about a COMIC makes me feel sorry for him. :P

  12. BobH

    Man, I just LOVE smart kids, and I just LOVE when girls have an interest in science! And, I make sure my lovely 13-year-old daughter knows it! Great comic!

  13. Chet Twarog

    Great fun science orientated cartoons. Let your science teachers know about these for their students.

  14. Jeremy

    @Larian LeQuella

    “There is imagination, and there is silly. ”

    Yup, and there’s a bit of each in this cartoon. It’s wonderful that the child can identify the silly (the moon issue, the lack of atmosphere) and a little sad that she can’t imagine her way around the things that aren’t (that a civilization capable of building an interstellar vessel might have figured out an FTL drive or a means of sensing distant objects).

    It’s important, in fostering skepticism, that we not stomp out imagination, since imagination is the very thing that drives science. We skeptics have a terrible reputation in that regard, largely unearned IMO. I’m never happy to see something that fosters the stereotype.

  15. Paul Schrum

    @Jeremy, some of us (I don’t know how many think like me) suspend disbelief in science fiction for unknown physics, but require accuracy for known physics. According to known physics, when the moon is near opposition, it is full, never crescent. To us it does not look like lack of imagination. It looks like lack of education.

    So warp drive is allowed because it “might could” be possible since its realization is beyond the limits of our current knowledge. An adult Klingon transforming into a giant cricket by means of a retro virus is not allowed because we know that speciation occurs in the embryo (or pupa) stage, never in adults. (Both examples are from Star Trek.)

    (I don’t know much about biology, and it shows in this post. Sorry. Corrections on terminology are welcomed.)

  16. Jeremy

    @Paul Schrum

    But that’s exactly what I’m talking about, she’s throwing the baby out with the bath water. If it were just the atmosphere bit and the moon bit I’d have no problem with it, it’s the dismissal of unknown physics that prompted the comment.

  17. One Eyed Jack

    I ended up reading them all. Brilliant stuff.

  18. One Eyed Jack

    @Jeremy

    Stop using the word, “imagination”. You don’t seem to understand what it means.

  19. amphiox

    Actually, Jeremy, IMHO, it takes far more imagination to question an unsound proposition, to think of all the many different ways it doesn’t make sense, or seems to be accurate, but isn’t really, than it does to accept the declaration of another.

    If there is any failure of imagination in that cartoon, it is in the storyteller, not the child. The child is using her (his?) imagination to ask questions-good, hard questions. But the storyteller is unable to use his (her?) imagination to come up with reasonable explanations consistent with the narrative world, and changes the story to something duller, simpler, and easier, instead.

  20. Jeremy

    @One Eyed Jack

    Read more carefully.

  21. Jeremy

    “Actually, Jeremy, IMHO, it takes far more imagination to question an unsound proposition, to think of all the many different ways it doesn’t make sense, or seems to be accurate, but isn’t really, than it does to accept the declaration of another.”

    Self-evidently true. Of course, it take far more imagination to come up with a way something COULD happen that has scientific legs than it does to simply declare “that can’t happen,” which is all this kid ever seems to do. Thinking about something scientifically is always a good thing, but simply declaring everything you come across that isn’t within the bounds of current technology impossible is… really kind of sad.

    You’re right, however, that the greater failure is probably that of the story teller.

  22. Paul Schrum

    @Jeremy,
    Well, your original complaint was “Someone with an understanding of science that won’t allow their imagination to roam beyond the bounds of what we understand now isn’t going to make much of a scientist.” But when daddy mentions warp drive, she does not say he is wrong like she does with the cresent moon. She asks how it works. This fictional (but representative) kid has just what it takes to make for a good scientist (or engineer).

  23. Mike

    Hah!
    Very cool. =)

  24. Nekura

    Extrasolar planet count: 403

    The thing with random planets is, they’re usually around these hard to miss, giant, glowing, balls of plasma, and you might want to look out for those.

  25. jrpowell

    @Jeremy

    If the “baby” is magical thinking, then I say throw it away with the H2O…

  26. This is the daughter you deserve BA:)

  27. Michael

    Comic #2: Unfortunately the author has no idea of how full the universe is with galaxies. I’m not sure off the top of my head what the number is (and it would depend on how you defined the edge of a galaxy) but it is (logarithmically) much closer to one part in 1000 than one part in 6 billion. That’s why we have so many pretty colliding galaxies to look at.

  28. AliCali

    @ Jeremy #11:

    “Someone with an understanding of science that won’t allow their imagination to roam beyond the bounds of what we understand now isn’t going to make much of a scientist. I feel sorry for this kid, no imagination at all.”

    Actually, isn’t it better to question things that don’t make sense instead of accepting them? Don’t scientific breakthroughs happen when a scientist sees something weird and asks questions? For instance:

    Why does this candle go out when I put a glass upside down over it?

    Why does this side of the Petri dish lack bacteria?

    Why does Mercury’s orbit seem to be off using Newton’s equations?

    When that girl questions the items that don’t seem to make sense, that’s the mark of a good scientist. Why is the sky red with no atmosphere? Is there something strange that we haven’t discovered yet? Could there be a magnetic field that’s mixing with something coming from the star causing an as-yet unknown phenomenon?

    And more importantly, the asking of questions IS using imagination. It’s her thinking about the situation, putting together facts, and coming up with a logical conclusion. If the conclusion doesn’t fit the observation, you have to ask what’s going on.

    I’d rather someone ask questions than just swallow what’s given.

  29. Jeremy

    “She asks how it works. This fictional (but representative) kid has just what it takes to make for a good scientist (or engineer).”

    Mostly engineer, a scientist would try to figure out for herself how it might work. ;)

    “Actually, isn’t it better to question things that don’t make sense instead of accepting them? ”

    Yes, obviously. No one is suggesting that she just accept any of this, least of all me.

    “Don’t scientific breakthroughs happen when a scientist sees something weird and asks questions?”

    Yup, and also when she tries to figure out how things work, or how they might work. You know when scientific breakthroughs don’t happen? When people curtly dismiss as impossible things they can’t immediately explain with known science.

    “’d rather someone ask questions than just swallow what’s given.”

    So would I.

  30. Nekura

    I have to agree with Jeremy, there is a distinction between questioning the science, and questioning the fiction, i.e. future technology. Stating that FTL is impossible, or demanding a justification for it, shows a lack of an ability to accept new ideas. Any scientist who thinks they already know the answer before they try an experiment is not a good scientist.

    @AliCali #28

    When she asked “Why is the sky red with no atmosphere?” she was not asking “Is there something strange that we haven’t discovered yet?” she was just being pedantic.

    It is okay to question, but there is a point in reading sci-fi where the answer should be “This is the fiction, so it’s okay” and the question never goes beyond the readers head.

    (And just to be pedantic myself, the most time-efficient way to travel, especially interstellar travel, would be to constantly accelerate to the halfway point, and then constantly decelerate to the destination, thus arriving in the shortest amount of time.)

  31. All this reminds me of a thought experiment Charlie Stross had on his blog about the habitability of the earth and and aliens testing said habitability using mindless naked meat puppets. The comments devolved into a discussion on the viability of meat puppets and why an alien would use meat puppets completely missing the point about what the experiment was actually about.

  32. I read many, many great web comics. Now, I have to add another one to the list. Curse you Phil the Bad Astronomer!

    At least there aren’t that many updates so I just added it to my Google Reader list and won’t need to check in every day.

  33. Adela

    I want to see more of Sam the photon adventures. Also t-shirt.

  34. PhantomPhoton

    ROFL
    Definitely a good one.
    Thanks for posting it Phil. :)

  35. PhantomPhoton

    ROFL
    Definitely a good one.
    Thanks for posting it Phil. :)

  36. Merijn

    My own Little Astronomer (daughter Robin, 18mo) can point and name the moon and since yesterday she knows that at night there may be stars. Please don’t take this all too seriously, and figure how *your* most recent discussion with a three year old went :)

  37. @28 Michael: I believe the reason we have so many colliding galaxies is the gravity that tends to attract them to one another, not necessarily their number or distribution.

  38. Astroquoter

    “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    - Albert Einstein.

  39. Petrolonfire

    Hmmm .. Looks like one of the BA’s movie reviews in cartoon form! ;-)

    Why does Mercury’s orbit seem to be off using Newton’s equations?

    Because Mercury’s just sick of all of Newtons’ restrictive laws alright! ;-)

    Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

    If the tales good enough the pedant should be able to suspend disbelief & just enjoy the ride.

    That noted, scientific accuracy can add a bit of verisimilitude and extra interest to a tale too. :-)

    Nice cartoon. Smart kid. Poor dad! But Ithink he’ll be very proud of her one day .. :-)

    I wonder if that was drawn from the cartoonists personal experience – & whether the author is likely to be looking here & kind enough to tell us?

  40. Messier Tidy-Upper

    @ 20. amphiox Says:

    …. If there is any failure of imagination in that cartoon, it is in the storyteller, not the child. The child is using her (his?) imagination to ask questions-good, hard questions. But the storyteller is unable to use his (her?) imagination to come up with reasonable explanations consistent with the narrative world, and changes the story to something duller, simpler, and easier, instead.

    So as alternative post hoc (or is it ad hoc?) solutions :

    1. Low on fuel because

    - her ship was using a very old RTG which was nearly finished (Radioactive Thermal Generator –y’know thing that people kicked up such a stink about Cassini having.)

    - Or it was running out of reaction mass to eject from the back?

    - Or was powered by a micro-black hole which was evaporating away because of Hawking radiation?

    2. Warp engines & FTL – well ‘Star Trek’ has worked that one out, something about a distorted bubble of space-time right?

    - Converting neutrinos into tachyons?

    - Adams Infinite Improbability Drive?

    - “You’ll need a twenty year course in higher physics and maths to understand it I’m afraid girl!” (Cop out but believable)

    - A million hamsters running on their little wheels psychically harnessed to the ship! (okay, not-so scientifically plausible but fun!)

    3. Detecting a planet – oh we do that now – transits, micro-lensing, stellar astrometry & spectral line radial velocity shifts .. & yes the odds are astronomical but then there’s a lot of potential ejected planets and ice dwarfs orbiting far from their stars and subject to perturbation and ejection into interstellar space. Incidentally, we later discover she’s in a stellar system anyhow with at least one orange sun rather than interstellar space.

    4. How does she *know* the planet is waterless? Couldn’t there be a huge ocean taking up some or even most of the planet and she’s just landed in a dry area – as for oxygen? Easy – bacteria! The Cambrian-Devonian (?) Earth ( ??? million years ago) was like this just before the first planets and insects arrived on land.

    - Or, hang on a minute, how sure are we that’s she’s human and not an android or hasn’t been genetically redesigned to survive vacuum?

    - ‘Star Trek’ style force fields but scaled down to act as personal suits. (The SF show ‘Eureka’ recently featured something like that.)

    5. Vacuum but red sky? Well for starters how much of a vacuum is the vacuum?

    – Red giant star or very close red dwarf star rising as their surfaces may be diffuse or the star may have an extended shell of surrounding gas and dust.

    – Perhaps it’s an R Coronae Borealis variable shrouded in a dusty disk of star-made soot?

    – Or perhaps it’s a Mira variable?

    – Perhaps it’s located in a nebula of reddish gas?

    – Lava fire fountain just over the horizon or local out gassing?

    – Or perhaps that’s just one big auroral curtain! ;-)

    6. Crescent Moon not full one – ah but opposite which sun – is this evidence for a binary system?

    - Or if not a binary could there be a nearby superluminous star like Rigel, Deneb or (5 million x solar luminosity) Eta Carinae that’s close enough to be bright enough to illuminate that moon like its a crescent. NB. Rigel and some other stars have absolute magnitudes of minus seven so putting them thirty light years away would make them much brighter than Venus and nearly as bright as, well, our crescent moon. Put them within three or two light years away then ..? Yowza! That’d be twinkle twinkle OMG BRIGHT Star!

    - Or is the moon physically crescent shaped i.e. Non-spheroidal – & if so why – massive impact, small size, or, to quote Han Solo : “that’s no moon!” ;-)

    So there’s a few possibilities there anyhow! :-)

  41. toasterhead

    29. AliCali Says:
    November 2nd, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Why does this candle go out when I put a glass upside down over it?

    The glass fills up with phlogiston, which snuffs out the candle. DUH! Everybody knows that!

  42. amphiox

    Jeremy #30: “Mostly engineer, a scientist would try to figure out for herself how it might work.”

    The first thing any scientist or engineer would do is find out if anyone else has already figured out how it might work. They would ask colleagues and search the literature. For a child to resort to asking a trusted authority figure like a parent who is telling the story (and presumably should know what they’re telling a story about!) is exactly analogous to what a scientist would do first. Going to the library and get some books on the matter would be like doing the literature search, but one doesn’t do that at bedtime.

    The storyteller misses many “teachable moments”, as it were, as he could have come up with plausible explanations to stimulate the child’s curiosity, or he could even have said “we can go to the library tomorrow to find out if such a thing really can or cannot happen”.

    But if he had done so, the comic wouldn’t have been as funny.

  43. Messier Tidy-Upper

    I love the ‘Sam the photon :The Journey begins’ comic there too!

    http://www.stonemakerargument.com/4.html

    Classic. I gotta admit I laughed aloud at the end there.

    Y’know I bet that’s what Felicia Day was like as a young girl! ;-)

    See http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2009/10/26/felicia-day-collides-galaxies/

    If you haven’t already. That’s classic too! :-D

  44. Greg

    I do find it funny that people are vociferously deriding technobabble in the comments for a site that goes absolutely wild for Dr. Who, perhaps the ultimate in the Deus Ex Machina character and story.

  45. Charlie Young

    Oh, and what about running into so many humanoid lifeforms throughout the galaxy. That’s always been my big “HUH?” about Trek.

  46. AliCali

    @ Charlie Young #46: “Oh, and what about running into so many humanoid lifeforms throughout the galaxy. That’s always been my big “HUH?” about Trek.”

    That was answered in a Next Generation episode. Way, way back, there was a humanoid race, but nobody else. So they sprinkled their own DNA into a bunch of M-Class (life-sustainable) planets so they would eventually evolve into humanoids. So when they left their planet, they would have buddies everywhere! Explains the reason they can mate with each other, so long as you don’t consult any biologists of the actual feasibility of such a plan.

    It’s just as good of an explanation as you usually get on any Trek episode about some matter.

  47. So many people questioning a comic drawn by an artist who plays World of Warcraft enough to make a comic based on it. Bravo.

    Though yes, the Stonemaker Arguments are some of the greatest comics ever.

  48. 41. Messier Tidy-Upper Says:

    [deletia]
    - ‘Star Trek’ style force fields but scaled down to act as personal suits. (The SF show ‘Eureka’ recently featured something like that.)

    Actually, in The Animated Series, Trek had such fields as a kind of space suit (haven’t seen the series in light years [joke], but I recall it involved some ‘water planet’ where they used the fields as ‘diving suits’)

    5. Vacuum but red sky? Well for starters how much of a vacuum is the vacuum?

    – Red giant star or very close red dwarf star rising as their surfaces may be diffuse or the star may have an extended shell of surrounding gas and dust.

    The Mote In God’s Eye and its sequel The Grasping Hand have an FTL technique that involves natural ‘jump points’ where the gravitation of stars allow travel between systems according to certain ‘laws’. The connection to the “Motie” system is in the outer shell of a red giant, at a sufficient depth in the ‘atmosphere’ of the star that shielded ships can survive the heat/radiation and there are actually Human starships barricading the ‘jump point’ so the ‘Moties’ can be kept from getting into the rest of the Galaxy.

    47. AliCali Says:

    @ Charlie Young #46: “Oh, and what about running into so many humanoid lifeforms throughout the galaxy. That’s always been my big “HUH?” about Trek.”

    That was answered in a Next Generation episode. Way, way back, there was a humanoid race, but nobody else. So they sprinkled their own DNA into a bunch of M-Class (life-sustainable) planets so they would eventually evolve into humanoids.

    I recently watched a TOS episode that referred to “The Preservers” (IIRC, but don’t remember the episode name/number) as a humanoid race that did the same thing. Interesting that whoever wrote the NG episode didn’t have a reference to that episode and the fact that it was known almost eighty years (or more) before the NG episode.

    J/P=?

  49. Dan I.

    @ 41.

    Tut-tut, misquoting STAR WARS.

    It wasn’t Han Solo who said “that’s no moon” is was Obi-Wan.

  50. amphiox

    Personally, I have no problem with technobabble and related imaginary stuff per se in sci fi (or even fantasy), but what I do prefer self-consistency. It’s fine for the fictional universe to operate on rules that may not necessarily be identical to those in the real world, but the fictional universe should still operate on rules of some sort. What is true in episode one should remain true in episode ten, and so on. It should, in fact, be possible for an observer, by examining the various episodes, to work out exactly what these rules are (and that’s part of the fun of watching)

  51. T_U_T

    the storyteller is a moron. Anyone could come up with plausible fictional answers to the kids objections.
    Q : How do they work ?
    A : alcubierre drive

    Q : How can sensors detect a planet unless we are super close ?
    A : our sensor drones form a 150 km diameter interferometer.

    Q : breathable atmosphere w/o water and life
    A : someone is just terraforming the place

    Q : red sky and vacuum
    A1 : 500 Pa pressure is vacuum for almost all practical purposes but it is enough to keep the finest dust airborne.
    A2 : the dust from a recent asteroid impact is just settling down

    Q : it is on the opposite side of the sun, so why is it not a full moon ?
    A : the planet is in a binary star system, and the brighter sun `is just below the eastern horizon

  52. Michael

    @38 Carey:
    Here’s a very rough calculation. Our galaxy is about 30kpc radius, say 1kpc thickness for a volume of about 3e12 cubic parsecs. The nearest large galaxy is M31/Andromeda, about 750kpc away. So very roughly, a sphere 750kpc in radius contains one sizable galaxy. That sphere has volume about 2e18 cubic parsecs. Then a random point in space has about one chance in 650000 of being inside a galaxy.

    More accurate data and different definitions of what counts as being inside a galaxy might shift that number by a couple of orders of magnitude either way. It won’t stretch as far as one in 6 billion, but my ‘one in 1000′ is also not looking so good. The data is out there, but I’ve spent too much time on this already.

    The fact that galaxies form clusters makes collisions much more likely than if they were randomly uniformly scattered through space, as does their attraction to each other.

  53. John Phillips, FCD

    Jeremy said

    It’s important, in fostering skepticism, that we not stomp out imagination, since imagination is the very thing that drives science. We skeptics have a terrible reputation in that regard, largely unearned IMO. I’m never happy to see something that fosters the stereotype.

    We are also often stereotyped as having no sense of humour, guess who fits that sterotype here.

  54. Martin

    The most hillarious blunder I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi movie was that redshirt in Star Trek, who – as a reaction to the captain’s command to “load the photon torpedoes” – deposited two shiny metal tubes about a meter long onto the coach beside the control panel. (I admit the details are a bit hazy in my memory. Maybe it was a blueshirt after all.)

    On a second though, they were PHOTON torpedoes. Maybe they are usualy shoulder-launched through the side window of the ship?

  55. Nigel Depledge

    Jeremy (11) said:

    Someone with an understanding of science that won’t allow their imagination to roam beyond the bounds of what we understand now isn’t going to make much of a scientist. I feel sorry for this kid, no imagination at all.

    This is ill-thought-out.

    It’s one thing to imagine new things that don’t violate what is already known (e.g. regarding phases of the moon), and it’s an altogether different, and easier, thing to imagine stuff that is plainly contradicted by reality. The former is applied at the frontiers of science (and “proper” science fiction), while the latter is mere fantasy. (BTW, that’s why I don’t classify Star Wars as sci-fi.)

  56. Nigel Depledge

    Jeremy (15) said:

    . . . she can’t imagine her way around the things that aren’t (that a civilization capable of building an interstellar vessel might have figured out an FTL drive or a means of sensing distant objects).

    Not so – she first quizzes the computer about how the FTL drive works.

    But since the concept of an FTL drive was (in the cartoon) made up ad hoc, there is no answer. As far as we can tell, FTL travel is impossible. Even the postulated warp drive (in which a vessel uses its engines to warp spacetime so that it never exceeds the speed of light locally, but it causes space in front of itself to contract such that there is an apparent FTL travel) is completely unfeasible because of the vast energy requirements (we’re not simply talking about the output of several power stations – we’re talking in the ballpark of the output of whole stars).

    It’s important, in fostering skepticism, that we not stomp out imagination, since imagination is the very thing that drives science. We skeptics have a terrible reputation in that regard, largely unearned IMO. I’m never happy to see something that fosters the stereotype.

    I agree about the unearned reputation of sceptics, but I disagree that the cartoon does what you say it does.

  57. Nigel Depledge

    Paul Schrum (16) said:

    @Jeremy, some of us (I don’t know how many think like me) suspend disbelief in science fiction for unknown physics, but require accuracy for known physics. According to known physics, when the moon is near opposition, it is full, never crescent. To us it does not look like lack of imagination. It looks like lack of education.

    Agreed, except it could also be a symptom of “don’t care about facts / can’t be bothered to find out”.

    So warp drive is allowed because it “might could” be possible since its realization is beyond the limits of our current knowledge. An adult Klingon transforming into a giant cricket by means of a retro virus is not allowed because we know that speciation occurs in the embryo (or pupa) stage, never in adults. (Both examples are from Star Trek.)

    (I don’t know much about biology, and it shows in this post. Sorry. Corrections on terminology are welcomed.)

    Yeah, speciation only ever happens in one generation when two species hybridise to form a third. More commonly (overwhelmingly so), speciation is a gradual process that takes many generations. Exactly how many generations is open to debate, because the exact definition of a species is quite woolly at the edges.

    However, a klingon will not turn into a bush cricket because evolution cannot go backwards. (And it would need to go backwards to the common ancestor of vertebrates and arthropods in order to change a mammal into an insect.)

  58. Nigel Depledge

    Jeremy (22) said:

    Self-evidently true. Of course, it take far more imagination to come up with a way something COULD happen that has scientific legs than it does to simply declare “that can’t happen,” which is all this kid ever seems to do.

    In principle, you are correct.

    However, in this example, you are wrong. The child never actually says that FTL travel is impossible, she merely questions how it works, and the storyteller is unable to reply.

    However, you must also acknowledge that there are instances where we know that certain things are indeed impossible (such as a klingon transforming into a cricket). Or to contain a black hole by means of magnetic fields (as is used in the movie Event Horizon) – magnetic fields can often counteract gravity, but they cannot nullify it. In that movie, the ship should have collapsed into the black hole.

  59. Nigel Depledge

    Jeremy (30) said:

    Yup, and also when she tries to figure out how things work, or how they might work. You know when scientific breakthroughs don’t happen? When people curtly dismiss as impossible things they can’t immediately explain with known science.

    And do you know when scientific careers go down the toilet?

    When a scientist refuses to accept that his hypothesis is impossible. Cold fusion is a good example of this. Whether or not cold fusion is possible at all was irrelevant to the fact that whatever Fleischman and Pons detected was not nuclear fusion.

    Most scientists, when encountering something they cannot explain, are unlikely to dismiss a hypothesis as “impossible”; but they are likely to dismiss one (or several) as “unlikely”, based on what is already known.

    What you seem to have missed is that, while we have much still to learn, there is quite a lot of stuff that we do know with a high degree of confidence.

  60. amphiox

    On the question of the fuel, the storyteller could also have said that the fuel was for generating the power necessary to maintain the life support systems.

    The kid’s questioning of the planet detection, however, is bang on. The vast majority of possible paths between Star A and Star B should not be intersected by any Star C. Even if such a Star C did exist, it’s presence should have been readily known and accounted for before the trip from A to B was planned. So even if Star C exists and had a previously undetected planet circling it, the crew of the spaceship should have been aware of the existence of Star C, and the detection of a planet around it should have been an expected possibility, for which contingency plans should have been made. And if the planet detected was not near the flight path of the spaceship, it strains credulity that it would have been so easy to divert the mission to go study it. The scenario in the comic suggests either a very incompetent navigator, or a very badly planned mission from the start.

    Well, maybe that’s why they were running out of fuel, too. Someone at mission control asleep at the switch. . . .

  61. Gary Ansorge

    31. Nekura

    (And just to be pedantic myself, the most time-efficient way to travel, especially interstellar travel, would be to constantly accelerate to the halfway point, and then constantly decelerate to the destination, thus arriving in the shortest amount of time.)

    Actually that’s inaccurate. After accelerating half way to Alpha Centauri, you’d be traveling .9999999999 % of C. (approx.) I expect you’d never have enough fuel to decelerate (unless you’re using a Bussard ram scoop). Unless we use the magical FTL, a story gimmick I’m willing to accept for consideration of aliens, etc. Unfortunately, Einstein MAY be right. If so, then we’re probably limited to generation ships to the stars. Oh well, that’s been done too,,,

    John W. Campbell(editor of ANALOG SciFi) was basically the father of 20th century SciFi, in which he required his writers to use no more than one IMPOSSIBLE idea in a story. All else had to be within the realm of what we knew to be possible(and, of course, believable characters).

    But, for me, the whole story panel was just hilarious!

    GAry 7

  62. Nigel Depledge

    Nekura (31) said:

    I have to agree with Jeremy, there is a distinction between questioning the science, and questioning the fiction, i.e. future technology. Stating that FTL is impossible, or demanding a justification for it, shows a lack of an ability to accept new ideas. Any scientist who thinks they already know the answer before they try an experiment is not a good scientist.

    I disagree with you on this.

    While it is true that dismissing something as impossible is, in principle, poor judgement, there are plenty of situations in science where we actually do know enough to dismiss something as impossible (such as a modern mammal species evolving into a new species of insect).

    The best scientists are those that ask the right questions in such a way that they obtain a new answer.

    @AliCali #28

    When she asked “Why is the sky red with no atmosphere?” she was not asking “Is there something strange that we haven’t discovered yet?” she was just being pedantic.

    But not wrong.

    Why should we not expect fiction to exist in the same universe – with, ergo, the same laws of physics and chemistry – as we do? If there is no atmosphere, the sky should be black. If the sky is coloured, that means there is an atmosphere. A simple observation leading to a rock-solid conclusion. But (potentially) undermined by sloppy fiction.

    It is okay to question, but there is a point in reading sci-fi where the answer should be “This is the fiction, so it’s okay” and the question never goes beyond the readers head.

    Why? You state this as a given, but you make no attempt to justify your claim. I accept that most sci-fi must ignore basic rules of how the universe works in order to create and drive the story. However, why should not the background details be correct? Why should we not care about ignorance or carelessness?

  63. Markle

    All this kerfluffle and nobody noticed that the pedantic cartoonist painted the crescent moon 90 degrees off? A just risen waning crescent would have its ‘horns’ pointing away from its rising location.

    There’s another option, of course. Since we’re talking about a bedtime story that doesn’t appear to be illustrated, a retrograde moon could rise in the same part of the sky(wasn’t mentioned) that the sun set. It would then be a crescent and rise towards fullness in the synodic period. We haven’t had orbital or even planetary rotational periods defined either. There are lots of ways to make everything but the way the artist painted the moon with respect to the horizon work.

  64. I still say Jeremy is a stick in the mud. :D

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