Anyway, what shook me out of my lack of blogging was the realization Comic-Con had come and gone already. If you aren't familiar with Comic-Con, it's a massive annual convention in San Diego that started out focusing on comic books but has been embraced in recent years by Hollywood. That means movie previews and panels with TV stars along with comics and science fiction fare,
This year a panel on "Abusing the Sci of Sci-Fi" was moderated by Phil Plait (of Bad Astronomy), and included panelists*:
- Sean Carroll, a CalTech cosmologist who blogs at Cosmic Variance
- Kevin Grazier, a planetary physicist at JPL/NASA who has been a science consultant on TV show like Eureka and Battlestar Galactica, and who sometimes blogs at Science Not Fiction
- Jamie Paglia, writer and producer of the TV show Eureka
- Zack Stentz, producer of TV shows Fringe and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
And on the panel Stentz confirmed that science plays second fiddle to "story" on Fringe as Eric Wolff reported at Science not Fiction:
“Sometimes you have to break the rules to tell the story you want to tell,” he said, and ran a Fringe clip in which Olivia and Peter realize that Bell has extracted memories from Walter’s brain by removing actual pieces of Walter’s brain.
“He literally had his memories removed,” Stentz said. “We knew when we wrote it that memories aren’t stored in a discrete portion of your brain.”That episode - "Grey Matters" - was indeed especially silly science. Wolff suggests that it's especially bad bad science because most people don't know it's bad science:
Everyone knows we can’t travel faster then light, so we accept a universe where we all agree that the technology exists. But the brains/memories plot device hinges on the audience being too ignorant to understand the inaccuracy. The rule-breaking isn’t based on the paranormal or on advanced technology. It’s based on the audience not knowing better. That seems like the wrong kind of rule-breaking to me.When I saw the episode I knew it was ridiculous, but in a fictional universe where a person can be wired to a dead man's brain to retrieve his memories it didn't seem particularly out of place. But Wolff may be right that the way the story was presented most people might not have realized that it was as unrealistic as regular travel between parallel universes. Perhaps that has something to do with the average SF-watcher's knowledge of bioscience as compared to physics?
Apparently the scientists on the panel disagreed that science needs to bend for the sake of drama.
I'm hoping someone posts a video of the panel online, since it sounds like an interesting discussion.
Script PhD also has a write up of that and a few other science and science fiction-related Comic-Con panels.
* The panelists seem like an interesting and intelligent group, but they appear to embody the stereotypes that "science" is the realm of white men working in the physical sciences and that the science in "science fiction" is astronomy and physics. And it perhaps provides a hint as to why the biosciences are portrayed so inaccurately on SF TV shows.