Discussion

{DISCUSSION} Scientists in Fiction

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?

Scientists!

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.)
ExampleA chemist is unlikely to really contemplate nuclear physics unless they are looking at the half-lives of certain elements.
ExampleA 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.

HOWEVER!

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:
“N/A”

18 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Scientists in Fiction”

  1. I agree that we should see more of the real scientists in fiction, though, actually, I guess it depends on what books you read. Most movies are just way out. I think authors who use those cliches are being lazy. On the other hand, a lot of the readers get mad if they aren’t given cliches. They want the professor on Gilligan’s Island, or an evil counterpart who doesn’t care about anybody or anything.

    Now to your first point….

    Looking at the scientists that i know, most are very interested in a wide variety of sciences – it is part of their personality. OK, my brother for an example. He is a hydro-geologist. A large part of his work is chemistry. There is, of course, a huge amount of mathematics in his modeling work. He also has a pretty good knowledge of physics, though not at the level of someone with even a BS in physics, but much more than even the average trekker or other sci-fi groupie. (Actually, the “hydro” part means that he has to be an expert in fluid dynamics). His son has always been interested in astronomy (he just graduated with a degree in aero-engineering and picked up a job designing software to change satellite orbits), so he has had to study astronomy his entire adult life to keep up with his son. Besides geology, he has always been interested in paleontology, mineralogy, etc. that are semi related fields. And Archeology. Geography, of course. And backyard botany. And… the list goes on. So while the storie’s astrophysicist won’t have the knowledge of a PhD chemist, it is very possible she’ll know a lot more chemistry than the someone who just took a year of chemistry to complete their degree.

    OK, I have met some people who are total experts in their very narrow fields and seem lost as soon as you go an inch outside of the lines, but i think they are the exceptions. Or possibly they are the brightest in that one little area.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, well, I also disagree with many readers on a lot of things and am overly annoyed by cliches despite TONS of readers loving them. -.-

      People may have an interest in other subjects, but the way scientists are portrayed in fiction is just BEYOND the general interest in something. If you are a researcher, your time is soooo booked up with that that it’s hard to find time to learn about your other interests. You may know more than the average layman, but you will NOT be an expert. Not like the scientists (or doctors. Don’t even get me started here) in fiction are. :/

      And, in my experience, your friend is a bit of an odd case. No offense to them. Most scientists I have interacted with do not have large ranges of interests. There are a few (good god. I am a prime example of them), but most scientists, like 98%, stay in their niche and only branch out when it furthers their own research/interests.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I hang with a cool crowd with a lot of interests 😉 My problem is that I can’t think of how scientists are portrayed in fiction beyond TV and movies. Weird thing, but I can’t remember the last book I read that had a scientist in it. When I see the word “scientist” related to fiction, I think of awful B sci fi movies from the 50s, which are even worse than what you said! Maybe its a YA thing, since you seem to see it enough to be bothered.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Actually, I think most of my examples are also from movies and TV shows, one in particular that comes to mind is ZOO. Wonderful TV show, but the science is just AWFUL and there’s only one scientist who knows everything. It’s just kind of… unlikely. :/ I don’t see it much in YA, either, because most YA is fantasy. (Unfortunately.)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. This started off with fiction then kind of drifted into real science. In fiction, I’m willing to accept a scientist that knows just a bit more, because having an extra character to fill that story element may be burdensome. I love the mad scientists. Give me a character who is bat-shit crazy and expects everyone to move aside for his/her creation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand your interest in those characters, Craig, as they are fun. However, for many people who have never met a real scientist, these are really bad images that affect their opinion of real life people. The attitude towards scientists in modern day society is really bad and fictional portrayals of them isn’t helping. I don’t mind the fun, crazy characters as they do make for good plots, but I would love to see a little more realism, as I do with most things that transfer into fiction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Real scientists need better publicists if they’re going to change public perception. We have sports MVPs, Olympians, even Victoria’s Secret Angels which are perceived as something to be honored. We even have the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show and Kentucky Derby. Why not give some press to the scientific achievements and awards. Make those people something to aspire to.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So… the thing is that scientists were extremely well revered back in the day… during war time. However, when they were no longer needed by the government or society, they were pushed to the wayside and funding became an issue. And as most scientists are introverts whose passion is science, they have very little interest or ability to come out of their labs and actually communicate with people. They can’t hire publicists as you suggest, though, because researchers tend to be extremely busy struggling for grant money and job security while the government continues to cut funding and ignore the advice of professionals at every turn. It’s not just about the scientists. It’s about society and the government attacking them, as well.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. The problem is getting people to even take a glance at it. I mean, there are tons of articles out in the world now about researching that is being done and the way science could benefit us, but if people don’t have even a hint of interest in them… They aren’t going to scan the article, much less read it and care. :/ I wish there were an easy answer, but I haven’t found it yet. (Though, I do hope to get into the publicity aspect more once I earn my PhD. As an extrovert in science, I’d be more than happy to help the scientists who are too nervous/awkward to chat in public and to promote science to everyone. But I got a couple years before that. :p )

              Liked by 1 person

                1. Hahaha! My show? Who said I was doing a show. :p But I have actually thought about becoming the next Bill Nye the Science Guy. That would be awesome. Combine acting and science. 😀

                  And I agree with you. It is quite sad that people are more interested in the vapid lifestyles of the overly rich who hoard their money and help no one, than they are in the things that could directly impact them: science and politics. But such is the society we have allowed to grow.

                  Liked by 1 person

  3. I was a scientist for my whole academic career and still am – we search for answers, look for the truth, and then publish to share with the world. Yes, there are some arrogant p…ks out there who would drive over their own mother to get ahead, but the vast majority of scientists I’ve been privileged to know and work with are kind, sharing, and love their families. Like me, they tried to raise their children right, balance their work and family (not always easy), and these are the ones I want to see portrayed in fiction. Not the crazy, lunatic, knuckleheads. So I’m with you, MN. What I’ve seen in the scientific world makes me believe in God.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. As someone just coming into the scientific field (in research) as a PhD student, I have been more exposed to scientists than ever before. I’ll admit, I’ve seen a wide range and I’ve met some people who care more about their research and training and teaching the next generation, but part of that is the stress of job security. Still, it’s been apparent that those scientists care about the science and, as you said, many of them have families. I wish we did see more of that in fiction. Maybe then society would have a better opinion towards us.

      Liked by 1 person

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