How much truth is there for scientists in fiction?
For as long back as I can remember, I have been in love with science. And that love stayed with me long enough that I decided to pursue a career in it, which is why many of you have seen my comments/posts/tweets about graduate school (and the insanity that is graduate school.) Yet, education and reality isn’t the only way I pursue my love of science. I also read science fiction.
Science fiction is designed to be somewhat false. Or perhaps it involves science that isn’t designed yet and therefore is only theoretical, but even so, there are some pieces of the science fiction that I thoroughly and whole-heartedly believe need to be based in reality and remain as such. What is one of those pieces, you might ask?
I am not sure why, but as science fiction and reality science have evolved, the concept of what is a scientist has remained relatively the same. This, unfortunately, has translated into science fiction and other forms of fiction where scientists are utilized for a plot or character or whatever and, most of the time, they are so horribly wrong that it makes me cringe and scream and throw my book. But, like any good scientist, I should explain my reasoning behind this and I will start with de-bunking some of the popular cliches of scientists in fiction (and maybe even reality.)
1. A scientist understands all kinds of science.
😑 Are you serious right now? Do you really think that a scientist understands all of chemistry, all of physics, all of biology, and every sub-sect of science in between? NO! HELL NO! Scientists are usually only good at one form of science and that’s the area they will end up focusing on in school and their career. Likely they may have some basic knowledge in the other fields, but only as it pertains to what they are doing.
Example: A rocket scientists is unlikely to understand ecology (unless they happen to do it as a hobby.)
Example: A chemist is unlikely to really contemplate nuclear physics unless they are looking at the half-lives of certain elements.
Example: A biologist is not going to wander around making off-hand comments about how easy bio-engineering is because even though they are both biology-based fields, they are both specialized fields.
2. Scientists are all totally arrogant ass-hats.
Now, like any stereotype, this founded in truth. There are definitely scientists out there who are arrogant assholes who think they are the shit and no other scientists nor person can ever measure up to their divinity. Usually, this scientist got this way because they made some AMAZING discovery that changed the entire way science is done.
Usually scientists are the people who love science so gosh darn much that they don’t have time to worry about people, much less being arrogant to other people, because all they care about is their science. They live, eat, breathe, sleep their science and it consumes them more than a full-time job, especially if they work in research.
3. Scientists make totally unethical, crazy, asinine choices.
Okay. I’ll be honest. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes those scientists I just described above are so into their own science and in love with it and unable to really pull back from it and spend so much time focusing on the ‘can we’ that they never ask ‘should we.’ As a result, we have really bad consequences, such as the atomic bomb, bio-warefare, and the plethora of vile, despicable experiments done on prisoners during WWII.
It is awful that some scientists are so blinded by their love and their drive that they forget what humanity is or they simply cannot see beyond the achievement to the consequences. We, unfortunately, still live with this day-in and day-out. Some of the biggest things at the moment that face this very problem are recreating the Wooly Mammoth (we’re farther than you think), developing self-driving cars (also farther than you might think), and advancing technology to a point that most of humanity no longer have jobs. If people can’t work, how will they pay for food or housing or clothes?
This is what I mean by ‘should we.’ Not all advancement is good or beneficial and it takes a very grounded scientist to see that. Or, perhaps it takes you, the public to remind scientists to take a broader look at their work.
But what do you think of scientists?
Do you think these ideas are true of real-life scientists?
Leave your thoughts below!
And check out my discussion from last week: