Comic Con 4: Abusing Science video

By Phil Plait | August 2, 2010 12:15 pm

Last week was Comic Con, and for the third year in a row, the Hive Overmind Discover Magazine sent me along to be on a panel. Every year we do a variation on discussing the science of science fiction, and this year we focused on its abuse. We asked our panelists (Jaime Paglia [Eureka], Kevin Grazier [science advisor for Eureka and Battlestar Galactica], Zack Stentz [Fringe, Thor], and Sean Carroll [cosmologist and DM blogger]) to pick examples of good and bad science in the movies.

The results? Well, watch for yourself:

A couple of notes:

  • The panel was a bit short. The panels in the room had been running long all day, and the Comic Con Powers That Be were pressuring me to end the panel really early. Sticking it to The Man is one of my favorite things to do, so I let it run almost to the full length.
  • It pained me to admit I wasn’t fully caught up on Eureka, which is really a fun show. My own TV show, the blog, and a billion other things have been swamping me lately, but since the panel I’ve been dutifully watching it, and it gets better with each episode! I really recommend it along with Fringe.

To more meaty matters: Zack brought up the point that science is important, and important to get right, but not at the cost of the story. This may surprise you, but I agree. As I said in my opening comments, I was inspired as a kid by some shows that abused science in a pretty awful way. But the science itself wasn’t the key thing, it was just that science and scientists were there. And in many cases, they were the key characters, figuring out what was going on. Spock, Victor Bergman, and many others were my heroes.

Of course, I hate it when science is flogged to death in movies, like in "Armageddon", "The Core", and a gazillion others, but even then it can still inspire someone. I’d rather it were treated with respect, as it was in "Deep Impact", or even "Iron Man". That’s when it really can come alive for kids, and even adults.

But the important thing to remember is that these are stories. Keeping the science accurate but screwing up the story makes for a bad movie or TV show. It’s OK to mess up the science sometimes if it’s necessary.

But only if it’s necessary. Many times, accurate science can vastly improve a story, and that’s the part of the aim of the Science and Entertainment exchange, which in part sponsored the panel. Writers can be very good at their craft, but they may be limited simply by not knowing all the possibilities the science of their story provides them. Nature is more clever than any of us, so I think that looking to the real science can inspire the writers. The more information they have about reality, the more likely they will see avenues and twists in the plot that would’ve been hidden otherwise.

That’s why I like that producers are using more science advisors. They can always ignore the advice if they want, and that’s OK. But sometimes it also provides a more entertaining story, too, and that’s the most important thing of all.

Panelist Sean Carrol provides his own thoughts on this at Cosmic Variance.

Related posts:

Comic Con 1: Abusing the Sci of SciFi panel
Comic Con 2: SMBC and me
Comic Con 3: w00tstock


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