Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Mad Scientists Under Attack… By Non-mad Scientists

I’m very certain that this recent press release from The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champange has something to do with my new favorite TV show Fringe. I mean, there’s no doubt that the science in Fringe is ridiciulous bordering on the impossible, but then again, that’s sort of the point. Today, there was also a medical announcement that the first transplant was completed of an organ grown from the patient’s own stem cells—her entire windpipe was re-grown and replacement. With that sort of science being in the news, the kind of science fiction that a writer wants to tackle becomes (A) seemingly crazy and (B) the research becomes hard to access (due to the impenetrability of a lot of scientific literature). So, qouth the press release:

“…the newly formed Science & Entertainment Exchange will connect those in the entertainment industry to “some of the nation’s leading scientists, engineers and health professionals. The Exchange will facilitate a dialogue and foster deeper connectivity between science and entertainment.”

This is a good thing, to be sure. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve balked at the premise of film because of some ridiculous misconception about science.1 But the great thing about Fringe is that often (not always) you’re left feeling that, “well… that’s a far-fetched idea, but maybe…” And lots of other good science fiction movies started out with equally implausible premises (dino DNA from mosquitos in amber, anyone?). That makes all the difference really. There’s the impossible, the implausible and the just-plain-wrong. It is important for the scientific community to keep writers away from the just-plain-wrong types of premises if only because it can spread disinformation about science. But we have to keep the implausible and even the impossible alive to really challenge our imaginations (and the imaginations of scientists in turn).

  1. Although it’s more engineering than science, the computer virus that defeats the aliens in “Independence Day” still ranks as my favorite “Huh!?” moments in a sci-fi movement. Hmmm, I smell a top-ten list in the making. 

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