What Makes Fictional Science Palatable, and What Makes Actual Scientists Cringe

If you see someone in a cafe with vampirically pale skin, out of fashion T-shirt, and a volume from the Star Wars extended universe, you’re probably going to assume that person is a nerd. If you write for Hollywood, you are going to assume that person is a misunderstood computer science genius. If you do not do of these things, you might hypothesize that you’re seeing someone proficient with technology. The long line of people waiting for the Avengers premiere? Engineers. The Red Shirt you met at that fan convention has a day job researching solar flares. Accuracy of these assumptions aside, it isn’t too far a stretch to say that the people who like stories about science and technology generally tend to work in science and technology. I’m in engineering, and I happen to be a fan of Firefly, Superhero comics, and Bones. Many of my friends’ favorite genres are sci-fi.

However, we have all had that moment watching a show or reading a book, where the quality of science exhibited made us want to throw things and send the writers/creators/actors/everyone involved back to high school science. The most blatant disregard generally featured is explosions in space. Because there is no oxygen, or any other gases, outside of the atmosphere of planets, all of those glorious explosions in Star Wars are horribly wrong. There is no sound in space, so that BOOM? Not a real thing. I know, it’s sad. I wanted there to be large WOOOSHing noises every time I narrowly avoid grazing a TIE fighter in the Falcon. A parsec is a measure of distance equal to approximately 19.2 trillion miles, not of speed. And don’t get me started on the nuclear testing scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. (For more examples of the bad science in movies, see links below!) 

Even though these things make us weep and despair for the future of humanity, we line up again and again to see the latest and greatest that Hollywood has to offer us. We read things about time travel, nodding and smiling whenever someone tries to explains how they made it happen. We love it, even when it’s wrong. 

Why? I think it’s because science fiction does something that reality can’t generally do for engineers and scientists and others who are bound by physics and so forth: it says, “Screw rules, what if you built REALLY COOL stuff? What kind of awesomeness would happen?” 

People keep telling us that science and technology should save the world, give the scientists and technicians a bunch of problems complicated with socio-economic and people factors, and say, “Have fun, kids.” Rarely does anyone say, “Oh here, let us give you infinite resources to build whatever craziness you’ve got in your head.” Even more rarely: “Have the money, time, people, and other resources you need to solve this actual problem that really needs to be fixed.” 

Films give us a space where that is possible. We can fantasize about playing with the best and most interesting technology mankind can come up with. (As an aside, the hoveraircraft carrier in the Avengers isn’t completely impossible. We so need to make it happen.) That guy who wrote a petition to congress to build the USS Enterprise? Visionary. He took something from fiction and figured out what technology, funding, and time we would need to complete it. Furthermore, he even justified its building with real logic! (http://www.buildtheenterprise.org/

Stories make us more creative, and help us push the bounds of possibility. So even though the accuracy is off, the dreams are still there, inspiring scientists and engineers to build REALLY AWESOME stuff. 

I conclude with this graphic representation of the effect of science fiction on engineers: 

Bad Movie Science Links: 




(^ this one also has accurate science films!) 


How I Met Your Mother: the Greatest Love Story on Television














So this was it. The last night. Ted finally manages to get through the 9 year story of How He Met Penny and Luke’s Mom.

And after an episode that simultaneously reminded me of Up, the time my friends drug me on Superman at Six Flags, and the obituary of the greatest friendship New York has ever seen, I feel safe in saying that this show will be remembered as one of the best written shows of all time. I would then like to add that it is probably one of the best written stories of all time.

Like real life, there’s no such thing as a happy ending on HIMYM, but rather a hopeful new beginning for every heartbreak and setback. Marshall finally became a judge. Barney found that his true calling in life wasn’t a playboy, or even Robin’s husband, but as a dad.

Robin had her chance to fly, and she took it. She never really settled down like Ted and the mother (Her name is Tracy!) or Marshmellow and Lillypad. I’m simultaneously disappointed that she and Barney didn’t work out, but it’s something that I understand, that feels real in the emotional heart of this show. The lives of all of these characters are ridiculously complex, even through the final episode, and it feels so real and right.

A moment of silence, though, for the mother. I really had a feeling it was coming, but as someone who has experienced the sting of cancer personally, I can only say that this show handled it beautifully. Ted and Tracy had a wonderful life together, and they raised two kids, who I am assuming are awesome, but wonderful things do not last. Mono no Aware.

But How I Met Your Mother, while fully exploring the tragedies of human life- the most ordinary, regular tragedies- has an optimism that life will continue. Because it does. And so it closes 9 seasons of friendship, love, broken hearts, and way too much alcohol consumption by showing how life comes full circle.

Ted finally gets his chance with Robin. And the reappearance of the blue French Horn garnered many a cheer. So it turns out that How I Met Your Mother wasn’t really about how Ted met the mother. It was Ted, asking for permission to move on. Or maybe he was just asking if he could finally have a chance. Thankfully, the kids said yes. This night, and this show were in one word, Legendary.

We don’t have to wait for it anymore.