Examples of terrible science in fiction

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Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby existential_elevator » Tue Jul 05, 2011 10:23 am UTC

What books / films / media have you ingested which contained terrible science?

I'm currently reading a pretty interesting anthology of early science fiction short stories written exclusively by women (called "The Dreaming Sex") and the opening story, while compelling, contained completely awful science. The story is "The Blue Laboratory" by L T Meade. Given that the story was written in 1895, I'm actually a little unsure of how accurate a representation of the science at the time it is. Regardless, the focal point of the awful is when the author is explaining through the scientist character how he has managed to photographically capture thoughts - in short, he has found a way of processing the images left on the retinas of live humans, in a similar way to that in which you would process a film from a camera.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love imaginative science. The thing that ruins it for me is when the writer tries too hard to explain why the science is possible, and winds up spouting something that I just can't suspend my disbelief for. I'm sure there are countless other examples of this.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Aelfyre » Tue Jul 05, 2011 10:34 am UTC

existential_elevator wrote:What books / films / media have you ingested which contained terrible science?

I'm currently reading a pretty interesting anthology of early science fiction short stories written exclusively by women (called "The Dreaming Sex") and the opening story, while compelling, contained completely awful science. The story is "The Blue Laboratory" by L T Meade. Given that the story was written in 1895, I'm actually a little unsure of how accurate a representation of the science at the time it is. Regardless, the focal point of the awful is when the author is explaining through the scientist character how he has managed to photographically capture thoughts - in short, he has found a way of processing the images left on the retinas of live humans, in a similar way to that in which you would process a film from a camera.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love imaginative science. The thing that ruins it for me is when the writer tries too hard to explain why the science is possible, and winds up spouting something that I just can't suspend my disbelief for. I'm sure there are countless other examples of this.



The TV Series Lexx is pretty much *MADE* of terrible science. I forced myself thru the first two seasons, at the end of which they destroy the universe. (Yes the *entire* universe) After that I just couldn't bring myself to watch seasons 3 and 4. Got half way thru season 3 ep 1 and turned it off, thought "screw it, I don't *care* what happens this is stupid"

That shows crimes against science are nearly too many to list but my chief complaint is its absolute disregard for the speed of light.. not just in the typical handwavium "We have FTL drive" sense, not even light itself traveled at c.

Spoiler:
There is one point near the end of Season 2 where an astronomer notices there are "Patchs in the Sky" as he watchs the universe be destroyed by a swarm of Von Neuman Probes, in real time. As in whole clusters of galaxies billions of light years away are disappearing right before his eyes. The general campy nature and bad writing I could almost over look, that irritated the hell out of me.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby SlyReaper » Tue Jul 05, 2011 1:14 pm UTC

I seem to recall that someone once made an objection regarding the teleporters in Star Trek. Due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, it's impossible to exactly measure the position and momentum of every particle in a person's body, so they can't be reassembled properly at the other end. The solution the Star Trek writers came up with? A casual mention in the next episode of "Heisenberg compensators".

I don't really think it's fair to pick on 19th century novels for having bad science in them. Remember, they didn't have Wikipedia back in those days.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Kang » Tue Jul 05, 2011 2:30 pm UTC

SlyReaper wrote:I seem to recall that someone once made an objection regarding the teleporters in Star Trek. Due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, it's impossible to exactly measure the position and momentum of every particle in a person's body, so they can't be reassembled properly at the other end. The solution the Star Trek writers came up with? A casual mention in the next episode of "Heisenberg compensators".

I don't really think it's fair to pick on 19th century novels for having bad science in them. Remember, they didn't have Wikipedia back in those days.

A journalist once asked the show's science advisor: «So how does the Heisenberg Compensator work?» to which the reply was: «It works well, thank you.»
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby scarecrovv » Wed Jul 06, 2011 1:05 am UTC

Kang wrote:A journalist once asked the show's science advisor: «So how does the Heisenberg Compensator work?» to which the reply was: «It works well, thank you.»


That is the sort of thing I can live with.

The movie Armageddon is not. They billed it as being accurate, but anybody can tell that they didn't even try, or care at all about accuracy. If they were going to quote numbers, they could have at least asked somebody who knew what they were talking about if the numbers were within 6 orders of magnitude of something plausible. The dialogue would have sounded no less cool if the numbers were accurate than if they were not. And did they really need to specify that the asteroid was "the size of Texas"? Saying it's 10 miles across would have worked just as well. Just add one more line saying that "it will hit us at 40 miles per second, and at that speed its impact will be like 110 billion hiroshima bombs going off at once", which would be roughly accurate. Seriously, it would have taken one measly day for a scientifically literate person to proofread the script. Michael Bay can go die in a hole for all I care.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Sat Jul 09, 2011 8:34 pm UTC

Two words: The Core. And for that matter, The Day After Tommorow
...And that is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Dthen » Sat Jul 09, 2011 9:50 pm UTC

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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby blademan9999 » Tue Jul 12, 2011 6:56 am UTC

The whole of startrek
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby thorgold » Wed Jul 13, 2011 9:02 pm UTC

Total Recall pissed me off with its representation of Mars. Several times throughout the movie, windows or walls are blown open in gunfights and the room is opened up to the Martian surface. At this point, people start getting sucked out - as if the surface of Mars was a total vacuum. One of the main antagonists, whose death outside is shown, consists of his eyes being sucked out of his head, his skin swelling up like a balloon, then his exploding. That doesn't even happen in the vacuum of space, let alone on Mars! At worst you'd get a very nasty hickey all over your body before asyphixation.

And do we even need to MENTION 2012?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Patapon » Thu Jul 14, 2011 10:01 am UTC

Several times throughout the movie, windows or walls are blown open in gunfights and the room is opened up to the Martian surface. At this point, people start getting sucked out - as if the surface of Mars was a total vacuum.


Mars atmosphere has a mean surface level pressure of 600 Pa, less than 1% of the sea level pressure down here. As far as the human body is concerned, 600 Pa and total vacuum are quite the same. But it's true that the antagonist should die of asphixia and not by having his eyes popping out or suffering a sudden dispersion of his body on a wide area.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby thorgold » Thu Jul 14, 2011 10:33 pm UTC

Patapon wrote:
Several times throughout the movie, windows or walls are blown open in gunfights and the room is opened up to the Martian surface. At this point, people start getting sucked out - as if the surface of Mars was a total vacuum.


Mars atmosphere has a mean surface level pressure of 600 Pa, less than 1% of the sea level pressure down here. As far as the human body is concerned, 600 Pa and total vacuum are quite the same. But it's true that the antagonist should die of asphixia and not by having his eyes popping out or suffering a sudden dispersion of his body on a wide area.

I knew someone'd call me on that, I couldn't remember the percentage. But still, it's bad science nonetheless.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Streff » Wed Jul 20, 2011 2:53 pm UTC

.......Enemy of the State....



Love the 3d camera technology they use... 'whats in the bag? I know, i'll use shape recognition on footage taken from 300yds away on a 240x240 CCTV camera...'
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Yakk » Thu Jul 21, 2011 3:25 am UTC

TR gives a number of clues that the protagonist was in a psychotic break. That was one of them.
One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision - BR

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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby ConMan » Thu Jul 21, 2011 11:04 pm UTC

Some relatives of mine watched a movie called "Lava Storm", and tweeted throughout it. Here are some highlights of the science side of the sporking:

...why does a mine have stalagmites?
Two emergency responders, walking into a mine where people have died from gas poisoning, and not wearing breathing gear?
They're going to go and shelter in the mine. The mine. The one with the poisonous gases and the lava and the heat.
Heavy ash falling for the last hour and yet it doesn't accumulate at all? And the others at the lake close by with NO ASH?
Just no. If you have a "pumice cloud" and pyroclastic flows then you do NOT also have aa and Pāhoehoe in the same eruption.
Classic, beautiful shots of Hawaiian pillow lava forming should not be used for stock footage of "breaking dam stops lava"
OK, so let me get this right. A small-town dam breaking can stop an eruption that's spread ash from London to Calgary?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Yakk » Fri Jul 22, 2011 1:20 pm UTC

ConMan wrote:...why does a mine have stalagmites?

It is an old mine.
Two emergency responders, walking into a mine where people have died from gas poisoning, and not wearing breathing gear?

They are breatharians. Breathing gear is against their religion.
They're going to go and shelter in the mine. The mine. The one with the poisonous gases and the lava and the heat.

Much like lightning...
Heavy ash falling for the last hour and yet it doesn't accumulate at all? And the others at the lake close by with NO ASH?

Efficient street cleaning service!
Just no. If you have a "pumice cloud" and pyroclastic flows then you do NOT also have aa and Pāhoehoe in the same eruption.

Siamese eruption!
Classic, beautiful shots of Hawaiian pillow lava forming should not be used for stock footage of "breaking dam stops lava"

Heh.
OK, so let me get this right. A small-town dam breaking can stop an eruption that's spread ash from London to Calgary?

They build things big in Texas.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Kang » Mon Jul 25, 2011 5:49 pm UTC

Yesterday just before falling asleep I caught some of one of those discovery channel 'documentaries' about various ends of the world. This one was new to me: what happens when the world stops turning within five years?
Now I'm not picky, lets assume that premise wasn't completely absurd yet. Here's the part I saw: with slowing rotation there will be less centrifugal force, which in turn will make a lot of seawater from the equatorial regions move out towards the poles. As plausible as that may have sounded so far: that will result in areas like the English Channel to dry up. That's when I thought to myself, wow, I never knew how close Southern England was to the equator, but just five minutes later: the vast amounts of water collecting at the poles flood large portions of land! The map that went with that showed a coastline just south of Paris. And that's when I thought to myself, come on, now you're just shitting me.
All of the water moves out of the English Channel and southern North Sea and a while later it all comes back and brings some friends along to flood everything?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Adacore » Wed Jul 27, 2011 7:03 am UTC

I'm going back to Victorian science fiction. I know I should forgive Jules Verne a lot because Victorian geoscience was really not very advanced, but I very nearly couldn't finish A Journey to the Centre of the Earth because the science was just so amazingly bad. Practically every scientific point Jules Verne covered (and he made sure to make a lot of them obvious in his dialogue) was fundamentally incorrect in at least one aspect. :?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby TimXCampbell » Wed Jul 27, 2011 7:50 am UTC

existential_elevator wrote:The thing that ruins it for me is when the writer tries too hard to explain why the science is possible, and winds up spouting something that I just can't suspend my disbelief for. I'm sure there are countless other examples of this.


Yes. In fact, there was an entire series of books based on that premise. They were the Tom Swift books!

I remember, as an 8-year-old, re-reading my all-time favorite Tom Swift book: "Tom Swift and His Megascope Space Prober". To my older ears (I'm now 54 or so) that title actually sounds kind of rude, but at the time it sounded neat-o keen. And so did the explanation of how it worked!

You see, the Megascope Space Prober was a kind of telescope. It emitted a beam of some sort, and a second beam, fired from a slight offset, intercepted the first beam at the point to be inspected. Voila! Perfect resolution at any distance!

I remember reading that and thinking, "Well, why don't they build the thing? The author gave the explanation right there!"

Well, in later years I found out that explanations can be, shall we say, inadequate. I read that in WW-II the British had a clearing house for ideas to stop the enemy air force (Luftwaffe). A rather common suggestion was to shine light beams into the sky and (somehow) make them solid so that the German aircraft would collide with them. If the submitter was asked how that could be done, they'd invariably respond, "I came up with the basic idea; I'll leave the technical details to you."

Incidentally, I have an idea for an invention. What you do, see, is program a computer to come up with ideas for more inventions. It's like asking a genie for more wishes, see? So why doesn't somebody write a program like that?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby TimXCampbell » Wed Jul 27, 2011 7:52 am UTC

Aelfyre wrote:The TV Series Lexx is pretty much *MADE* of terrible science.


Watching Lexx for the science is like, well, watching Star Trek for the science. Or Lost in Space. Or Stargate SG-1. Or Battlestar Galactica. Etc.

Lexx was very funny, in a dark and twisted way. But it was no science course, for sure!
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby AvatarIII » Wed Jul 27, 2011 8:43 am UTC

TimXCampbell wrote:
Aelfyre wrote:The TV Series Lexx is pretty much *MADE* of terrible science.


Watching Lexx for the science is like, well, watching Star Trek for the science. Or Lost in Space. Or Stargate SG-1. Or Battlestar Galactica. Etc.

Lexx was very funny, in a dark and twisted way. But it was no science course, for sure!


at least SG-1 taught me of the dangers of naquadria, without that valuable knowledge, if i ever came across any, i'd be fucked!
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Adam H » Fri Jul 29, 2011 7:37 pm UTC

Hehe I watched an episode of Heroes last week (yeah yeah I'm a little behind the times). A computer monitor had a video feed of a person's red blood cells, and the doctor looked at it, and said, "the nucleotides are mutating!" Aren't nucleotides the stuff that DNA is made of?

I guess it was significantly more awesome than saying "the red blood cells are mutating."
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Aelfyre » Sat Jul 30, 2011 12:29 am UTC

TimXCampbell wrote:
existential_elevator wrote:Incidentally, I have an idea for an invention. What you do, see, is program a computer to come up with ideas for more inventions. It's like asking a genie for more wishes, see? So why doesn't somebody write a program like that?


They are working on it. :)


TimXCampbell wrote:
Aelfyre wrote:The TV Series Lexx is pretty much *MADE* of terrible science.


Watching Lexx for the science is like, well, watching Star Trek for the science. Or Lost in Space. Or Stargate SG-1. Or Battlestar Galactica. Etc.

Lexx was very funny, in a dark and twisted way. But it was no science course, for sure!


Very funny is a *very* generous statement.. it had humor in much the same way it had science in brief occasional ephemeral puffs.. most of them unintentional.. such as that ridiculous falcon cry sound that happened every time superdead emo boi fired his little retractable wrist rocket grappler thing... it didn't seem *too* out of place until he gets to a fight where he is firing it over and OVER again and its just *SQWAAAH!* *SQWAAAH!* *SQWAAAH!* *SQWAAAH!* LOL

I seriously could have over looked the science if they had at least made an effort with the writing :D I mean... Gigarotta? seriously? LOL
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby TimXCampbell » Sun Jul 31, 2011 11:29 am UTC

Aelfyre wrote:I seriously could have over looked the science if they had at least made an effort with the writing :D I mean... Gigarotta? seriously? LOL


Huh? She was one of the funniest characters in the show!

In any case, I won't insist that "funny" is the right word to use for Lexx. "Embarassing to enjoy with somebody else in the room" also covers it. To me, though, there's something about the way that the "hero" is so opposite to the usual SF hero, and the way the show is gleefully bleak. The show is at odds with just about everything else on television. I rather relish the refreshing amorality of it all, along with the utter lack of a message about how the universe pulls for the good guy. It cleanses the mental pallete, albeit with rusty steel wool.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Jul 31, 2011 6:45 pm UTC

Adam H wrote:Hehe I watched an episode of Heroes last week (yeah yeah I'm a little behind the times). A computer monitor had a video feed of a person's red blood cells, and the doctor looked at it, and said, "the nucleotides are mutating!" Aren't nucleotides the stuff that DNA is made of?

I guess it was significantly more awesome than saying "the red blood cells are mutating."

Cool or not, your final quote is also incorrect. Mutating needs DNA right? Reb blood cells don't have DNA. IIRC that clip has it happen in real time*. So they cannot use the escuse "he meant the bone marrow mutated and made new blood cells" either. :x


*GAH! That other clip from CSI Miami comes back to haunt me!
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Pandorly » Wed Aug 03, 2011 9:39 am UTC

Dthen wrote:I'll just leave this here...

Speaking of crime, I'm in the process of watching Dexter (starting Series 5 at the moment) and the amount of loose ends he leaves, forensically, would have had him caught mid-way through series two at the latest. A huge amount of evidence in various crimes always points to him and everyone is so willing to absolutely ignore it except occasionally for one character here and there who will inevitably by killed or become hated by everyone. Not to mention the fact that the Bay Harbour Butcher was from INSIDE THE PRECINCT and everybody knew it wasn't Dokes. Frustratingly poor believablilty and awful forensic science (overlooking evidence when it points to an unlikely suspect, ridiculous!).
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Aug 05, 2011 12:50 pm UTC

So, I went to see Captain America at the cinema yesterday. I wasn't expecting it to be at all scientifically plausible, but it was slightly better than I expected. The low point for me was the super serum infusion process: Put short, skinny guy into a sealed metal box, inject with the super serum and illuminate with "vita-rays" (whatever they may be). Leave to bake for about half a minute, and hey presto, magically appearing matter than makes your subject instantly much taller and more muscular. Screw conservation of mass, need for nutrients or anything else, we'll just have it appear.
On the bright side, though, when he first tries to run round a corner at high speed, he overbalances and falls, which does make sense.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Pandorly » Fri Aug 05, 2011 3:11 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:So, I went to see Captain America at the cinema yesterday.

As did I!

Plasma Man wrote:The low point for me was the super serum infusion process: Put short, skinny guy into a sealed metal box, inject with the super serum and illuminate with "vita-rays" (whatever they may be). Leave to bake for about half a minute, and hey presto, magically appearing matter than makes your subject instantly much taller and more muscular. Screw conservation of mass, need for nutrients or anything else, we'll just have it appear.

Not to mention the Cosmic Cube just not making any sense whatsoever within the context of the film other than being a source of conflict. It's an energy source which is described as having Godlike powers and Schmidt even talks about how he has used the "magic" of science. Although wartime science was distinctly different from modern-day science, it's highly unorthodox for any scientists to create weapons which are fuelled by highly unstable power sources they don't understand themselves. Particularly when they glow blue the whole time. Irradiated soldiers ftw?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Kang » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:12 pm UTC

Pandorly wrote:Although wartime science was distinctly different from modern-day science, it's highly unorthodox for any scientists to create weapons which are fuelled by highly unstable power sources they don't understand themselves. Particularly when they glow blue the whole time. Irradiated soldiers ftw?

Project 57 and it's derivates, anyone?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Pandorly » Fri Aug 05, 2011 4:38 pm UTC

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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby ikrase » Sun Aug 07, 2011 7:06 am UTC

So, I went to see Captain America at the cinema yesterday. I wasn't expecting it to be at all scientifically plausible, but it was slightly better than I expected. The low point for me was the super serum infusion process: Put short, skinny guy into a sealed metal box, inject with the super serum and illuminate with "vita-rays" (whatever they may be). Leave to bake for about half a minute, and hey presto, magically appearing matter than makes your subject instantly much taller and more muscular. Screw conservation of mass, need for nutrients or anything else, we'll just have it appear.
On the bright side, though, when he first tries to run round a corner at high speed, he overbalances and falls, which does make sense.

Simple genetic modification, enhancement, etc always bothers me. I think the most realistic would be where you clone a genetic model, make your changes, birth and grow the enhanced clone, and THEN you have your work (amazingly, Star Wars got this right, and they have a 2:1 growth acceleration). Surgical is also reasonable. (I seem to remember that HALO Spartans had both genetic and surgical modifications, and had a high death rate during enhancement). But some things have it just too simple.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Kang » Sun Aug 07, 2011 10:32 am UTC

Unfortunately I didn't catch the title of that B-movie I got a glimpse of last night. But it had a deadly virus which spread by look. Yes, indeed. As long as you didn't look at an infected person you were alright. How ridiculous is that?
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby userxp » Sun Aug 07, 2011 12:48 pm UTC

Doctor Who.
There, I said it.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Aug 07, 2011 6:33 pm UTC

userxp wrote:Doctor Who.
There, I said it.


Thanks for saying what I had no courage to. It's basically just "magic" with "science" labelled over the top. Sad to think the people watching it now will be making my meds when I'm older. :shock:

Mutation growth that does not account for consumption of matter annoys me. I'd accept anything really to count for the matter. Eat a car, a rock, I don't care. I can pretend fusion/fission is more believable than "thin air" if needed. I'd even accept a great inhalation of air. Oh, wait, that confuses me even more. How did superman inhale all that air? His lungs have a specific limit on their capacity. Gah! :lol:
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Plasma Man » Mon Aug 08, 2011 11:03 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Thanks for saying what I had no courage to. It's basically just "magic" with "science" labelled over the top. Sad to think the people watching it now will be making my meds when I'm older. :shock:
http://xkcd.com/218/

Also, a bit off-topic, but I didn't have a problem with the cosmic cube. I mean, this is the same universe that has Thor & the rest of that pantheon, so it's internally consistent to have god-powered companion cube.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby AvatarIII » Mon Aug 08, 2011 2:04 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:
userxp wrote:Doctor Who.
There, I said it.


Thanks for saying what I had no courage to. It's basically just "magic" with "science" labelled over the top. Sad to think the people watching it now will be making my meds when I'm older. :shock:

Mutation growth that does not account for consumption of matter annoys me. I'd accept anything really to count for the matter. Eat a car, a rock, I don't care. I can pretend fusion/fission is more believable than "thin air" if needed. I'd even accept a great inhalation of air. Oh, wait, that confuses me even more. How did superman inhale all that air? His lungs have a specific limit on their capacity. Gah! :lol:


maybe superman is incredibly dense, and any air he inhales also becomes as dense as he is,

i watched Never Let Me Go over the weekend, it's a good movie, but in it,
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perfect human cloning is invented in 1952!! that doesn't even make sense
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby ShootTheChicken » Mon Aug 08, 2011 9:58 pm UTC

thorgold wrote:
And do we even need to MENTION 2012?


The latinos are mutating!
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby nitePhyyre » Tue Aug 09, 2011 6:03 am UTC

That was f-ing hilarious!
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby tearcastle » Tue Aug 09, 2011 1:21 pm UTC

Star Wars

But it moved the hearts of so many people that they managed to save it from, well, this by making tons of explanations about the anomalies, whether true science or bad science.
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby Aelfyre » Tue Aug 09, 2011 7:50 pm UTC

tearcastle wrote:Star Wars

But it moved the hearts of so many people that they managed to save it from, well, this by making tons of explanations about the anomalies, whether true science or bad science.


I tend to give Star Wars a pass there because I never got the impression that it was *trying* to be scientifically rigorous..

Star Trek can burn tho... PRE-EDIT sorry.. mini rant almost erupted.. but yeah... pretends to be more rooted in reality than it ever could potentially be. :D
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Re: Examples of terrible science in fiction

Postby TimelordSimone » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:28 am UTC

Aelfyre wrote:Star Trek can burn tho... PRE-EDIT sorry.. mini rant almost erupted.. but yeah... pretends to be more rooted in reality than it ever could potentially be. :D

This is why I get annoyed with people who dislike Fantasy because it's 'unrealistic' but then love Star Trek. Because apparently Star Trek is so grounded in reality.
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