Advisor to the planets^h^h^h stars

By Phil Plait | February 8, 2010 2:14 pm

I was pleasantly surprised to see my old friend Kevin Grazier — planetary scientist with Cassini, and science advisor for Battlestar Galactica and Eureka — highlighted in a Eureka Unscripted blog post. It’s a two-parter, with the second one going up sometimes soon.

eurekaAt the same time, it was cool to see another friend, Jennifer Ouellette, talking about the science of Eureka as well! I like the show, and while the science is sometimes warped a bit (or a lot) for story-telling, I know for a fact the executive producer and writers try to get as much right as they can. The EP, Jaime Paglia, is a smart and funny guy; I was on a panel with him at Comic Con a couple of years ago (with Kevin, too!) and moderated one that he was on as well. His role is not that of a science teacher, but a story teller. But even so, he and his team, strive to base what they do on solid science.

Plus? It’s just a fun show. That’s why I like Fringe, too. Look: I am the biggest hard case you’ll find when it comes to accuracy in science fiction, but even I know when to hang it up if the story is fun. That way I can actually sit back and enjoy stuff like Doctor Who and Star Trek without getting all twisted up into a pseudo-Riemannian 11-dimensional manifold.

See what I did there? Yeah, if you did, you’re a dork too.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, SciFi, TV/Movies

Comments (34)

  1. Phil, did you ever watch the show “Brink” on the Science channel? If so what did you think of their decision to axe it?

  2. Phil, any plans to talk about the science in Avatar any time soon?

  3. KCS

    “pseudo-Riemannian 11-dimensional manifold” I’m not smart enough to be a dork, but I assume the 11 dimension part refers to string theory, so I you meant “Knot”?

  4. “without getting all twisted up into a pseudo-Riemannian 11-dimensional manifold.”

    Well, as long as it isn’t the 12-dimensional one coming from F-Theory, I think you are Okay. That’s when things really start to get weird. :)

  5. Richard

    I was at that Comic-Con panel from a couple of years ago! I really enjoyed it.

  6. Brian Schlosser

    “At least *I* didn’t have to invent 26 dimensions to get the math to work!”

  7. I love Fringe too! I did a spit-take when they aired an episode that involved a chemist who put an “inactive” 3D seahorse shaped stucture in his molecule as a signature- using 1930’s knowledge of chemistry and good old-fashioned beaker and flask chemistry. Still, I even managed to enjoy that episode. It’s called “willing suspension of disbelief”.

  8. Chris

    Seriously they try to get the science right? I find Star Trek and Stargate more scientifically real.

  9. ND

    Willfully yet temporary auto-induced blissful ignorance?


    I think blowing up a star using a stargate should have taken longer that depicted in that episode. A lot, lot longer I think.

  10. Woof

    What’s “plan stars”? 😉

    And how many of your readers know what a ^h is?

  11. @Woof: I was going to ask the same thing.

  12. Adam H.

    I think you out-dorked yourself this time, Phil! I’m afraid I didn’t really get ANY of the references you made: ^h? All I can think is “carrot” or “ctrl” … which makes me think of Ctrl-H and browser history… hmm…

    And, I can only think of integrals when you say Riemann…
    Manifold would be a surface (closed surface, perhaps?)…
    11-dimensions would be string theory…

    Therefore? I guess KCS probably had it right with “knot.” My dork credentials must be short today.

  13. Dr. Morbius

    I used to watch Fringe but I stopped because I got tired of episodes ending with no explanation of what happened. Also, the episodes seemed to consist of random scenes and dialog that didn’t seem to have any connection to each other. And finally, the manbaby episode pissed me off because they never explained how a baby could grow that fast without eating anything. Did it absorb matter through osmosis?

    At least Star Trek and Stargate tried to be scientifically accurate. Fringe doesn’t even bother. It reminds me a lot of the recent Star Trek movie, which I liked. They needed red matter as a plot device for the story to work but they didn’t even bother explaining what it was. J.J. Abrams seems to have a lazy streak when it comes to plot development.

  14. lagomorph

    ^h is CTRL-h or an ASCII backspace but it makes no sense as a geeky reference unless you use the right number of them. I’ve pointed it out here to Phil before consarnit. “Advisor to the plan stars” indeed.

  15. Jeremy

    I’m frankly stunned to discover Eureka HAS science advisors, they certainly don’t seem to pay them any mind. In and of itself that can be ok, soft sci-fi and outright sci-fantasy can be fun if done well, but Eureka seems to take an actively antiscience bent in some respects. “The scientists endanger everyone with their recklessness and only the clever non-scientists can save us” seems to be the recurring theme, from what I’ve seen. It doesn’t sit well.

  16. John Paradox

    RE: Fringe. Before it premiered, I was thinking it was a variation on Eleventh Hour (with Rufus Sewell, derived from the UK miniseries with Patrick Stewart). When both premiered, I watched about a half-dozen of each, then dropped Fringe because of the wilder ideas. I kept watching Eleventh Hour (also like Sewell, see Dark City for IMO a great movie), and when they introduced the ‘sidekick’ (the big black guy who knew some of what was being talked about), I could see a lot of potential. However, it got cancelled, and I kept hearing about how ‘great’ Fringe was. I may go back to catching it, but I have really dropped a lot of TV SF… though some are simply not currently on-air. (“V”, “FlashForward”, “Warehouse 13*”, etc.)

    *Warehouse 13 is basically a ‘let’s get weird for comedy’ show, so the ‘realism’ is more ‘open’ with techno-babble, though I am a Nikola Tesla fan, so can accept “Sanctuary” as well.


  17. Asimov fan

    Eureka is generally a really funny, clever & great show but one scene in one episode – where they dissolved a living, breathing, loving human woman who was created by this spaceship as a super-computer in acid to transform her into data on the ships journey – really gave me the creeps.


    It was one of the strangest & (emotionally) saddest things that I have ever seen in many years of watching TV SF.

  18. Planets^h would be planets to the h power. So the post title would be planets to the h power, to the h power, to the h power again.
    I don’t have cable, so I don’t get the reference.

    I must not be a geek, then…

    I’ve started watching Fringe because the wife & girls like it (because of the Dr. Walter Bishop character), but I’m not sure I’m able to suspend my disbelief. I’ll keep viewing it for now and withhold judgement for now…

  19. mike burkhart

    I find a lot of science flaws in science fiction but I still enjoy it for the entertainment value if I want to know science facts I’ll read a book or look it up online

  20. ND

    I’m actually old enough to have seen a ^H characters appears on VT terminals. Does this still happen to people?

  21. Jeff Fite

    I think I get it…

    Taking the ^h to mean ‘backspace,’ thereby changing the title of the post to “Advisor to the plan stars” refers to Kevin Grazier being a science advisor on Battlestar Galactica. Y’know, where they had a plan.

    What’s my prize? 😉

  22. Patricia

    Speaking (as you did briefly) of Doctor Who, did you hear that Neil Gaiman is going to be writing an episode?

  23. Catbunny

    The way I remember it, working on a VT terminal (er.. Virtual Terminal. *gah!*) in college in the early ’90s, if you hit the “backspace” key, a ^H appeared on the screen (the “delete” key was the proper key to use to backspace…?).
    So, yeah. Plan stars. *heh*
    No clue on the pseudo-Riemannian 11-dimensional manifold, though.

  24. Svlad Cjelli

    I can handle silly shows, but the revelation that they are actually trying hard makes me kind of sad.

  25. Some of you take things ‘way too seriously.

    Eureka is fun, AND it makes some people think along lines they might not have in the first place. Maybe one or more of them (me, for instance) will look up stuff online when a plot device is something I haven’t read about or thought about before then. I get to learn something new.

    When you watch a show like that, where the science has yet to reach reality (and that’s ALWAYS what happens on that show), you HAVE to suspend belief for it to be fun.

    And that show is definitely fun.

    The added benefit of shows like that is that there are kids out there watching and enjoying the show and getting turned on by science. In the U.S., that’s a great thing, because our society doesn’t promote science and math education enough. Shows like Eureka, just like Star Trek (and tell me how much of the science Kirk and his crew used was doable or even believable), bring new people to science who might have never considered it as a career or even a hobby.

    If science FICTION did not exist, I don’t know what I’d be doing today, but I can tell you, I would have had a very boring and frustrating childhood. Maybe even adulthood.

    @Jeremy – The idea behind that particular plot device is that, just because someone is smart (or brilliant or whatever), doesn’t mean they have common sense, and sometimes common sense is important to solving a problem. It’s the whole idea of, “it takes a team to make things work”, that one person can’t think of all possible outcomes because their life perspective limits each and every one of us.

    While Eureka strains the concept, it’s a good lesson for us all to learn. Drink a beer and relax. Enjoy the show.

  26. Old Grey Geologist

    @16 I strongly agree with John Paradox – Eleventh Hour was a MUCH better show than Fringe from a science perspective. Fringe seems to be an attempt to spin the old X-Files series to a more bizarre level.

    @15 Also agree with Jeremy. I really object to “The scientists endanger everyone with their recklessness and only the clever non-scientists can save us” seems to be the recurring theme, from what I’ve seen. It doesn’t sit well. This aspect creeps into many poorly made SF shows, and it doesn’t sit well with me either.

  27. I’d like to live there, the description of it sounded fantastic:

    Town of the Week, Eureka, California. This week’s town is a port city located near the extensive preserves of the world’s oldest trees, the Coastal Redwoods. Eureka, on Humboldt Bay, is the county seat and principal city in Humboldt County, California. Eureka is a Greek word meaning “I have found it,” and is the official motto of California. Eureka was a major player in the historic west coast lumber trade, with 140 lumber schooners operating in Humboldt Bay. Eureka is the site of hundreds of Victorian homes including the Carson Mansion. The Carson Mansion on 2nd and M Streets is perhaps the most spectacular Victorian in the nation, is a museum and was built in 1884. Old Town Eureka, the original downtown center of this busy city in the 19th Century, has been restored as a lively arts center. Old Town has been declared an Historic District by the National Register. Eureka’s livelihood has long been tied to salmon fisheries and oyster farming. On January 9th, last month, a Richter magnitude 6.5 earthquake occurred about 33 miles offshore of Eureka. The quake was described as a “jumper”, imposing mostly vertical shocks from the ground, leading to broken windows, overturned shelving, and loss of architectural detail on a number of historic buildings. Injuries were described as minor. Eureka has a population of more than 42,000 people. Major employers include College of the Redwoods, County of Humboldt, and St. Joseph Hospital. Known as the “Queen City of the Ultimate West”, it is our Town of the Week, Eureka, CA. “

  28. Melora

    Ah I love “Eureka” so much! It is definitely my favorite show. I always wondered about the scientific accuracy in it, but since so many of the stories focus on inventions that don’t exist, I figured they take some artistic liberties.

    @!astralProjectile — Unfortunately, the fictional town of Eureka in the TV show is in Oregon (and has less lumber schooners, I’d imagine). That’s not to say that Eureka, CA isn’t worth a visit, though.

  29. rajjan

    Any show that brings just a litte Lexa Doig is worth watching.

  30. gaiainc

    My husband and I like to watch Eureka because it’s one science/medicine show I’m less likely to yell at. It’s also silly. The plot device of having the sheriff provide the necessary insight so that the rest of the scientists can figure out the plan does get a little old, but it can be a useful reminder that sometimes having fresh eyes can help. A lot of the medicine they do on the show is wrong, but I engage in a willing suspension of disbelief…

    …unless it’s really egregious in which case, there will be some yellin’ at the TV.

  31. Thanks, Phil.

    It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my suspension of disbelief and enjoyment around Fringe.

  32. Chris Winter

    The Eureka people have a blog? Oh frabjous day! I’m going to… No.

    Must. Get. Back. To. Work.

  33. Chris Winter

    ND wrote: “I think blowing up a star using a stargate should have taken longer that depicted in that episode. A lot, lot longer I think.”

    Well, they say it seems a lot quicker your first time.

    THEY say that…


  34. fuga

    Brian Schlosser “At least *I* didn’t have to invent 26 dimensions to get the math to work!”
    love the referance

    with regards to the whole Eureka sherrif always saving the day i think they are trying to point out that sometimes scientists tend to overcomplicate the solution, where as he tends to find a very simple solution.

    my personal favorite has to be the stargates, i have always wondered about the scientific accuracy of the show and really haven’t found much about it.


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