Why did we have to play god and try to cure cancer?!

I don’t even remember what class it was for, but when I was a freshman in college I read a book by Stephen J. Gould called Dinosaur in a Haystack.  One of the things that stuck with me the most from that book was his connection of Hollywood, the scientific and drama, primarily in the form of Jurassic Park. He was really rather put off by Hollywood’s tendency to demonize science.  That’s not to say it always demonizes science, but that tendency is definitely there.  If a zombie movie isn’t supernaturally inspired, odds are pretty good that Science! was the culprit for the undead outbreak.  Not to mention all these robot uprising movies, where our damned curiosity and Science! led to the machines becoming self aware and, naturally, enslaving us.  Oddly, the robot-enslavement narrative that makes the most sense to me is I, Robot, in which the main antagonist robot is just doing what she’s been programmed to do, just… to an extreme.  Maybe not a logical extreme, but at least it wasn’t that she woke up one day like “Hey, fuck you guys, I’m in charge now!”

I think Jurassic Park spells this out most overtly, what with Malcolm’s little diatribe on “whether or not they thought they could, never stopped to think if they should,” that nature “selected” dinosaurs for extinction, and that ressurecting dinosaurs was the “rape of the natural world”.  Harsh words, Malcolm.  But here’s the thing; maybe a theme park wasn’t the best reason to bring dinosaurs back from the grave, but was it really science’s fault that things went to the shit?  I’d say it’s the fat guy’s. Science and technology totally held up their end of the bargain.

I saw Splice the other day.  I recognize that it was a weak attempt to turn this trope into something slightly more engaging.  Of course their incentive in this movie was to dig up some proteins to help cure cancer or Parkinson’s or whatever, but the result instead was their uh… genetically modified-snail-Down’s-syndrome-man-woman-rape-baby… I won’t go into the weird abortion metaphor, so I’ll stick with the “science is bad” stuff.  And maybe that might work if you have something to say about it.  But I find that in most “science is bad” narratives, the problem in question is resolved simply with “x is God’s domain; respect God.”  Ya know, the same rationale we were seeing at the Salem witch trials.  I guess it’s a time honored b-movie SciFi tradition, and Splice is just carrying on the torch past 2010, but… really, guys.  Are we still harboring Victor Frankenstein’s horror and guilt?

Half-inspired by Splice, my next NChick’s gonna be an exploration into this trend. What’s your thought to this trend in science fiction? What are examples? What are exceptions, where technology is our friend, goddamnit?  And are there any lessons to take from it other than “don’t play God?”  Leave me a comment!

  • einah

    I don’t think Splice was trying to say “science is bad”, more like it needs to be kept in check.

    • FritzLang

      You are contradicting yourself Tell me why would you need to keep in check something that is good ?

      • Coffee Rocket

        I do agree with you that science is fantastic, we need it, we’d be sunk without it, etc. I mean after successfully eradicating smallpox and polio, it does deserve to be adulated. But, like einah said, it can be taken to an extreme. Good things can be taken too far. In the case of science, when the experiment to see what would happen when we split an atom ended up creating a device that sent us hurtling towards global annihilation. Like I said, I totally share your opinion that science is a huge plus for humanity, but we do need to keep it under control.

  • Another lesson within the same idea of “Don’t play God” is “Mother Nature’s gonna bitchslap you!” other examples – well, Rocky Horror Picture Show (loosely), 6th Day, Even Star Wars (the Clone Army). We all know how bad “Attack of the Clones” was – proof enough that you shouldn’t play God. Terminator, the Matrix.

    Not science, but along the same lines, the beginning of Season 5 of Buffy when Willow and the gang bring her back to life (even more so with the episode where Dawn tried to bring Joyce back).

    As for examples where technology and science can be our friend – Real life is the best example. I’m not talking about facebook or iPads; I mean medical discoveries such as insulin, laser eye surgery (wish I could afford that), pacemakers and prosthetic limbs.

  • One example springs to mind in which the supernatural (a pagan deity, no less) is ultimately defeated by the power of science and technology. That would be Ghostbusters. Yes.

    Michael Crichton loved this trope. It’s possibly even more explicit in that one about nano-particles, which explains how they will one day learn to imitate our spouses while secretly eating them.

    ALSO blog about Alejandro please.

  • Well, i hate the trope “science bad, X domain of God”. Science is a tool. The good or bad comes from his use, not the tool itself.

    And for exceptions… the vaccine for the smallpox, or the one for the rabies. These are good examples. And not, i do not believe we are still harboring the feelings of Mr. Frankenstein.

    I believe some (and only some9 people believes themselves with the right to say what is right and what is wrong. People who is not capable of accept what today, are alternatives to the mystical stuff.

  • This is a really cool area to explore, and I’m so excited for this video! You’re totally right – I mean, the Science! –> apocalyptic consequences narrative pretty much dominates the horror and sci-fi genres.

    However, I’m not sure if in every movie, it’s just a case of “We tampered in God’s domain…” Especially with regard to sci-fi of the past 50-60 years, I think a lot of it is Cold War fears (i.e., scientific progress leads to very REAL possibly apocalyptic consequences), while if you go further back, maybe for Mary Shelley, the impending Industrial Revolution?

    There’s a lot of conflicting value sets at work here; sometimes it’s magic + dangerous female sexuality that need to be contained (like the Salem witch trials), but sometimes it’s progress + masculine western civilization that are bringing about their own downfall, and are opposed to more “native” cultures (insert almost any zombie/vampire movie).

    These are really off-the-cuff musings, and they might not quite cohere, but I hope they help! Now I just need to go see Splice… and then watch your video!

  • Natasha

    In regards to examples, wasn’t that the premise of 28 Days Later? A man-made virus caused zombies? I never thought about it until now, but you’re absolutely right that there exists an animosity towards science in the cinematic world. It’s hard to come up with an exception. I’ll let you know if I do!

  • AXOLOTL15

    One trend that REALLY pisses me off is the “extreme natural” trend. When people can’t eat or use anything that’s “unnatural”. You know, like polyester, genetically modified corn, razors, deodorant, and even in some extreme cases, people who opt for “natural treatments” in lieu of traditional cancer therapy. What is “natural” anyway? Just because we synthesize something in a lab, does it mean it’s not natural? Even if you can find this compound in nature, does the fact that it was produced in a lab and by having a guy mix the contents of two test tubes, even if it’s the exact same compound, make it somehow “evil and unnatural”? I think this ties in well with the whole “science is bad, don’t play God, man’s curiosity will lead to his doom, etc…” idea.

    Besides, not everything that nature has to offer is good. Potassium cyanide is “natural”, many plants produce it. Try eating that and see what happens.

  • Well, there are basically two schools of thought.

    1) Science will wreck mankind’s shit.

    You have your Jurassic Parks, your Terminators, and just about every movie that talks about the possibilities of nuclear holocaust.

    2) Science is the only thing that can save mankind from its certain doom.

    After all, how else could Michael Bay and Bruce Willis save the earth if it wasn’t for those fancy spaceships and asteroid drills? Not to mention the time that a group of nerdy scientists led by Jeff Goldblum saved the earth from certain destruction in “Independence Day.”

    It really seems to depend on the times. In the 50s when the threat of nuclear annihilation was the greatest, you had the biggest insurgence of anti-science science fiction films ever. And why not? For the first time mankind had to technology to literally destroy the world. That doesn’t lead to good PR for the science industry.

    But since then when things began to cool down (despite the Cold War) views on science and technology began to wane. You had the advent of films like “2001” where technology and science allowed for humankind to reach its full potential. And then you had the birth of Star Trek and Star Wars, two franchises that preached that humanity could benefit from science. Sure, Star Wars was all about warfare and Star Trek was all about inter-species conflict (and boning), the technology was never seen as an evil in itself. Well, except for the Death Star. But hey, if it wasn’t for those nice space fighters, the Alliance would never have been able to win.

    Nowadays, well, views on science and technology are a bit mixed. Some say that technology and science are good, some say they are bad. But what it really boils down to are the humans who are in control of the technology. Sure, the Death Star can blow up planets. But if the Death Star was in good hands, it could destroy asteroids that could potentially destroy planets in one fiery explosion. Sorry, that sound you just heard was that of Michael Bay having the biggest orgasm in his life.

  • Well technology is mostly friendly when it comes to protect us, from some alien form (Independence Day) or you know when it is a virus (I am legend).

    I think the problem comes when this science is developed in terms of creating something new, putting some kind of humanism in the product. Frankenstein´s monster is a good example or well Splice, havent seen it tho but i saw the trailer so i think i know where is headed. It just show how unstable the human mind is and how it can corrupt everything around it.

    In the end is complicated to talk about technology being bad or good, sometimes movies cheap this fact with plots like Matrix or Terminator, but this is just for the entertainment value. But like a lot of cartoons used to reminds us when we were litlle “if the secret weapon is captured by the bad guys is all over”. I think in science fiction movies it always worked like that. Hope its helps! Waiting for the new Nchick! Ur work is awesome bye!

  • AJ Hardaway

    Personally, I think the trope for “science is BAD” comes from the cold war era and the age of the atomic bomb.

  • But a better route to go is the evolution of how humans treat the science that they encounter. In countless movies we see that the first thing that humans want to do to aliens when they first establish contact is strap them to a table and dissect them. They wanted to cut up E.T. for crying out loud! Haven’t we moved past that mindset? The “cut up aliens on first contact” can be seen as an allegory for the Cold War and how we treat people we don’t trust or understand. But in today’s society, are we seriously supposed to believe that the government wouldn’t try to ask aliens for help concerning out problems instead of just slicing them up?

    Just food for thought…

  • I guess it depends how smart you assume the film makers are assuming their audiences are. This “don’t do science or we’ll DIE” stuff is the in-movie message people seem to take away, but the (available) meta message is usually more “don’t be a stupid dick, and then maybe your science will not go wrong so that we DIE”.

    I think it’s less simple anti-science and more good old anti-people – with people wielding science as the ULTIMATE TOOL, because that’s the best metaphor for humans making poor choices (since we invented it, and ‘science’ is always placed in opposition to ‘nature’ and the ‘natural order’).

    Then again, maybe since we were introduced to horror science before we invented most of actual science (thanks, Mary Shelley!) we just assume it HAS to go that way. How lazy.

    Hmmm.. In the Tribe, science invented a virus that fucked the world, but then science helped kick-start the rebuilding of society, but then science ballsed it all up again, but then.. I forget. In Dark Angel, science is like the abusive parent that trained Jessica Alba to be a world-saving badass. In Ghost in the Shell science is neither good nor bad, simply in existence, and helps the good guys and the bad guys. All of these are character-driven shows, I dunno if that makes a difference.

  • Yeah, I re-watched Jurassic Park for the first time in, eh, a decade or somewhat last year. Being more aware of Michael Crichton’s weird anti-science habits (I’m still not sure why he was selected as a global warming expert by Congress when the man hadn’t been working as a scientist in, oh, 30 years or so) led me to read Malcolm’s diatribe against SCIENCE! in a whole different way.

    Another one of Crichton’s silly books turned crappier movie – Sphere – is an even better example of the man’s fear of science. The whole thing is a not-so-subtle allegory for humans pushing the boundaries of science and TRYING TO PLAY GOD – which of course means they just fuck it all up because HUMANS ARE NOT READY FOR THAT KIND OF POWER.

  • Greetings from Germany!
    Some movies where science is the hero:

    Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes: Holmes proves the ‘supernatural’ going-ons to just be high-tech.

    “Sleepy Hollow”, “Pact of Wolves”, “Vidocq”, all three basically the same story: Man of Science wins battle against supernatural powers (or frauds).

    The most influential of anti-science-manifest is imho “The Lord of the Rings”: “Oh noes, the magic is gone, and will not come back, and all we humans do is doomed, doomed, doomed.”

  • Positive Sexy

    Okay I’m not good with names, but here are a few: The sixth Day, star the Govenator himself.Event Horizon, Which is just epicly bad. And Godsend, with Robert “What the fuck happened to my Career” DeNiro. These are just a few, but cement what your saying in your blog. Particularity The Sixth day, because the science itself is really bad. The make a strong argument FOR cloning at the start of the movie, then just go to ” Cloning is EVIL” for really no reason at all. The even glorify extremist (right-wing) activist in killing innocent people. Oh and I forgot The Island by Bay. Don’t see it, you’ll just gouge you eyes out.

  • Andrew

    Real Genius would be an interesting example + counterexample in one. You’ve got the weponization of science, but at the same time, they recognize that it isn’t science itself is not the enemy, but rather human greed. It’s a film that’s very conscious of the demonization of science, but that it can be used for good, to.

    • Andrew

      I shouldn’t type while watching TV. The last half of the comment made no sense. Real Genius shows that science is neither good nor bad, it only has a moral dimension in how it is used by people. You have the bad professor, using people and manipulating his students into creating a powerful weapon, but you also see the students both using science for positive (if frivolous) entertainment, as well as taking their revenge on the professor through the judicious use of technology.

  • Aramis Dagaz

    This is an interesting concept, and I agree that the “science is bad” trope is a bit overdone. What usually gets me upset about the use of this trope is that real scientists wouldn’t be so sloppy as they are typically portrayed in the movies. If a research group ever did get the green light to work on something potentially devastating to humanity, security would be tight, proper methodology would be strictly adhered to, and they certainly wouldn’t conduct experiments without running through the safety checklist first. The “he tampered in God’s domain” line worked in the old b-movie horrors because you usually had rogue, independent mad scientists conducting these horrible experiments and unleashing abominations upon the world with abandon. However, these are people who are clearly unstable to begin with and were forced underground because nobody would ever trust them with a laboratory, so the problem never was with science, but with the individual people themselves. In this day and age, with numerous miracles being produced by scientists and engineers practically everyday, I think the whole “science is bad” trope is outdated, and even casual moviegoers would know that movie science is not how real science works (at least I would hope so!).

    I can see one area where the idea of “science is bad” does warrant some merit, and that is the concept of unforeseen consequences. Automated industry increases production more than tenfold, but it puts humans out of work. Computer networks allows the instant sharing of vast quantities of information, but people begin to withdraw from the real world. Modern medicine increases our lifespans to well over a century, but now there are more pensioners than workers. However, even these ideas are not because science is bad, it’s because technology changes human society faster than most people can keep up with. Granted, that might not make for a very interesting movie, but it certainly is more realistic and relevant to today’s world.

  • Severin

    Interesting post. Though I don’t think you should take Hollywood’s tendencies against Science to mean labelling it as evil/wrong/dangerous/etc, but that it’s lazy writing. Consider the general structure of a movie:

    1) Something happens to introduce the plot, consider: Environmental event? Terrorist act? Technological advancement? Bingo.

    2) ???

    3) Profit

    IMHO, not worth the amount of thought you’ve put into it. Hollywood just needs to break from it’s cookie-cutter formula and grow a pair.

    Also, I <3 NChick.

  • Veljko

    I can’t wait for the video, being as this trope is my personal #1 pet peeve when it comes to any sort of media.

    My own hypothesis when it comes to the origin of this trope is twofold. A part of it is that it stems from good old fashioned Treason of the Intellectuals, populist crap that’s been with us for a good long while. It’s easy to demonize science, since so few people bother to understand it. And it’s popular, because a certain segment of the population really resents smartassed eggheads who have all the answers. Set them back a peg or two, show them that they aren’t as smart as they thought and you get instant cheers. It can also go back to the whole Faust motif. You have all this knowledge, what did you trade for it? And, curiously enough, it still seems to be your soul, at least in a touchy-feely modern sense. Hence, I suspect, the representation of a scientist as this cold, unfeeling pseudo-Spock. For their unnatural powers (of Science!) these sad people have traded some chunk of their humanity. It’s a cliché for a reason. And if you really want to stretch it to pretentious levels, you can say that it goes back to Prometheus. Essentially, challenge the Status Quo and be smacked down, hard. For eagle eating your ever-renewing liver values of hard. With this vast weight of narrative tradition behind this sort of outlook, it’s small wonder writers tend to follow the well worn groove.

    The other part is that science is highly annoying to a certain type of writer. Mostly the kind who really wants to write about magic, not science. They have a fantastic scenario in mind (interstellar travel, zombies, super-intelligent psychic trout from Venus) and want to justify it by waving their hands and saying “Science!” in suitably stentorian tones. Unfortunately, science is remarkably intractable and won’t do just the one thing. If you allow brainy ESP trout soon you have to have pyrokinetic pike and all manner of paranormally gifted freshwater fish and that plays hell with your envisaged storyline. Much easier to make science produce monsters which can be neatly disposed of via cleansing fire by the end of the movie/episode/book. No law of unintended consequences need apply, because anything that can cause anything that you didn’t intend is evil and also on fire.

    I may have gone a touch too tl;dr-y. Sorry.

  • Lesley

    Doesn’t Earth create some weird poison wind thing in The Happening to kill of humans for fucking with the planet? Or something?

  • Mark

    Well, for the most part Science isn’t to blame, but the people that (mis)use it and then cannot control the results.
    We have the Terminators (army wants intelligent weapons, they take over), Dune (same), Resident Evil (greedy corporation makes virus that turns people into zombies), 28 days/weeks later (same), Godzilla (the american one) (nuclear tests turn animal into monster) and the fly (man is turned into monster after he teleports himself and a fly).

    On the other hand we have Star Wars. Technology was used by both sides, but it was the use of the (spiritual, by want of a better word, in any case not scientific) force that was either good or bad. Then we have Star Trek. Although the original series had their share of evil supercomputers (although always promptly talked to death by Kirk) and doomsday devices, in the Next Gen there’s a very loyal and friendly android on the ship. What’s more, he actually doesn’t want to dominate humanity, but get more human. Although he does have an evil brother….

    Maybe then ST The motion picture deserves a mention. Here we have an incredible powerful machine, but it isn’t ‘complete/meaningful’ until it bonds with a human. (not really sure how that fits though, it is late..)

    Asimov and Clarke most of the time regarded science as just a tool in their books, it was just there without any good/bad label.

    And in The day the Earth stood still (the original) Klaatu is briefly resurrected, but states that he can only return from the dead a short while because only God has true power over life and death. What’s interesting is that he works for a robot race that has taken/been given control over the galaxy, because only they can rule truly impartial. Earth has to submit to the robots or be destroyed. so God is actually on the side of the controlling robots now.

    Well, hope it makes any sense. Time for bed now.

  • Horácio

    As someone who works with artificial intelligence applied to robotics it’s specially annoying to see a “robot uprising” movie. There’s just this Hollywood dogma that an intelligent robot is either absolute evil or comic relief. I don’t have the time to explain, and I believe the rest of you don’t feel like like reading exactly why it’s just stupid to think that robots will get angry that you’re making them do your laundry. Trust me, as long as Microsoft isn’t involved, robots won’t be killing us in the near future… I think…

    PS: There is an actual real life research group that studies the “robot uprising” scenario in england.

  • shaun in oireland

    Hollywood, is all about the spectacle. Doing movies about someone getting cancer & just being cured by surgery or chemotherapy just don’t got the zazz to open up during the Summer blockbuster season. You’ll occasionally get oscar bait, but in those cases, people die because that just ramps up the drama & doles a nice helping of oscar clips. In my opinion the primary reason for the demonisation, is an inherent anti intellectualism, that exists in to a degree in all of us. It doesn’t feel good to be the stupidest person in a room & people love to wax lyrical about subjects they know nothing of any real substance about. The existence of individuals with actual precedence for their views is threatening & plays into insecurities about our own intelligence. As an arm chair psychiatrist of renown, you can take my word on that. There are loads of examples of antagonistic, negative or ineffectual scientist characters, Alien Resurrection, Chain Reaction, Blade Runner & you could even argue, Jaws (“your poncy zoological expertise is no match for my folksy wisdom & explosions, Richard Dreyfus”).

  • Creature SH

    I, too, am amongst the many of who have noticed that science fiction seems to have a very weird auto-aggressive disorder towards its second half… Certainly in large part owed to the fact that most writers really don’t have the slightest clue about that half. “I don’t get how this works! SCARY!”

    Of course, there is always the fact that a majority of writers still harbors some kind of religion. And, as we all know, science and religion are naturally at odds – The more we actually know, the less spritiuality can be maintained. After all, suspension of disbelief can only take so much contradiction. (Unless you’re Michael Bay)

    This is one of the reasons why I’m still very fond of “Star Trek: Next Generation”. Quite a few episodes pretty flippantly disregarded religion as a silly relic. One episode in particular saw a research team accidentally instill fear of a god-like being in a stone age-level civilization, which was shown as a horrifying, wrong development. In the end, they just broke down, decided to screw the prime directive yet again and tell those guys how it is.

  • Gattaca definitely stays away from the whole “Jeebus sez sienz uz bad” theme. Its undertone is more about the ethics of modern science(more specifically medicine) advances and a hypothetical sociological divide between the ‘genetically gifted’.

    But I guess the down side to the movie, Uma Thurman doesn’t have a katana or a vendetta. This is easily overlooked though.

  • This has always been a bothersome trope to me. In most, if not all cases I’ve ever seen, it doesn’t seem so much like they “shouldn’t have tampered in God’s Domain”, even if they say or imply they shouldn’t have, it always seems more like they shouldn’t have tampered in God’s Domain without taking a few sensible precautions.

    You’re researching a virus you have aptly named “Rage” that could cause a zombie epidemic that could devastate an entire country or even the world? Umm… assuming there was REALLY a need to research this (say there’s an even worse plague that small, non-dangerous doses of this Rage Virus you’ve synthesized could cure) shouldn’t there be WAY better security precautions to prevent that possible zombie apocalypse? Such that a bunch of clearly not-too-bright ecco-protesters can’t break in and bugger everything up before you’ve safely locked away the incredibly dangerous, potentially world-threatening plague?

    You’ve resurrected the dinosaurs? Maaaaaybe hold off on the meat eaters that are larger and stronger than you are until you have absolutely fool-proofed your security measures (recommended test subjects: 5 year-old child, technology-ignorant senior, and technology savvy but socially reclusive comic book nerd. Really, testing the security measures for your dinosaur cloning lab could be a movie in and of itself). If you bother with said giant meat-eaters at all, maybe wait until you understand their genome well enough to engineer them to recognize humans as “Not to be eaten or flattened.” Also, to prevent morons from shutting off every single security measure as step 1 of a three-step plan for profit, for something this dangerous, have some autonomous force like a senior government agency or some such have at least partial control of the security system. I know, it’s kind of getting the government involved in what may be a private venture, but when it can destroy human civilization if something goes wrong, I think a little government intervention is understandable.

    Don’t even get me started on the B-movie “For Science!” plots… Giant Super-Intelligent Killer Bats? WHY?

    It seems to me like the entire conflict comes from a fear of change, and a sort of strawman representation of scientists. The speed and gravity of some of the changes science has brought about in the past few centuries (the past few decades especially) must seem overwhelming, and when it comes into conflict with the world view that some are comfortable with (God runs everything and miracles are His Department; don’t mess with The Big G, here’s His rule book), these rapid and dramatic changes may seem reckless to such individuals, like they’re treading on sacred ground without wiping their feet on the mat first. In golf shoes. So, they are represented as being reckless and stupid in their efforts, even when (like Splice seems like it leans toward) the intentions are benevolent. I guess we’re just supposed to accept that Parkinson’s or Cancer or whatever is gonna keep on killing people? Sure, mumps, smallpox, and whatnot God was fine with us getting over, but not cancer… that’d be going TOO FAR! >_>

    Well, if not exactly the above, then certainly that it just sells well to an ignorant and fearful public who enterprising movie directors KNOW will suffer the above fears.

    tl;dr – Science is change, change is bad, directors exploit fears of bad things like science for money.

  • Veljko

    A quick (amusing?) addition:

    http://dresdencodak.com/2009/09/22/caveman-science-fiction/

    Flint is all well and good, but bronze? That’s just going too far!

  • AlbiCamb

    YES!

    As a scientist in training (MSc in Chemistry), I find the anti-science sentiment in movies to be quite disturbing. Today, the general public seems to think science is unnecessary, and that we shut ourselves away in our labs flittering public money on our dangerous little pet projects. After all, we have clearly reached the pinnacle of human technological potential, what with the announcement of the iPhone 4, and everything. Who needs a cure for diabetes when you’ve got a “retina display”…?

    Anyway. You rarely see scientists portrayed as anything other than drones oblivious to the damage that their experiment wrecks. If they are blessed with the gift of having a human soul, the extent of their character development is that they become more open minded…

    That is, unless, they’re not very good scientists. Holmes might get results using what might seem to be sound logic, but trying to derive a linear chain of inferred causality from a single piece of evidence makes you a bad scientist! I guess it didn’t help that Conan Doyle believed in fairies…

    So, I say to Hollywood, lay off the scientists. They get enough trouble as it is. If my pocket protector is vandalised one more time…!

  • Danny

    Sci Fi movies were always entertaining for me for the sole fact that they leave you with the question is this where science is taking us. To me I always saw science as some form of a weapon meaning it could be extremely useful being for the right reasons but in the wrong hands it could be extremely dangerous sometimes it could be uesd for the intentions of good but will end up bad, examples Jurassic Park or Splice where they did something with somewhat good intentions thinking if we could do this who knows whats can come from it and because of that thought they don’t think of the potential dangers that can come from what they are doing. Which leaves us with this lesson “DON’T PLAY GOD” but the problems with lessons these days is they don’t hold much value as the use to, scientist resurrects dinosaurs and it turns very bad and that scientist learns a lesson but the next next scientist (or sometimes the same one as before) say “as long as I don’t do it exactly as it was done before maybe I won’t Fuck up as bad” and once again major fuck up but it doesn’t stop there as someone else will come along and attempt to do the same thing thus turning science into insanity meaning doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome. Now on to technology. you said you wanted an example of technology being our friend well here’s one of the best example, mp3’s and iPod’s, no longer do we have to go around with bulky cd cases we have it all on hard drives. Technology is indeed our friend, but its that extremely friendly friend that is always around trying to help us with our every need and ether we get annoyed or we become to reliant on it needing and using it everywhere becoming to dependent on it. What starts to happen is that it starts to do thing we may not need like a 3D TV, though this is cool but how often are you going to use it, because of this we start to use it for thing that are not necessary like watching the news in 3D where the bullshit comes right at you. and as a result of this when we are without our precious friend technology we become lost in way but we find a way to get through it.
    So for my last trick I’ll pull a Jerry Springer move and give you my final thoughts. technology is amazing improving every day, it pampers us by attending to our needs. but when is enough enough where it comes to the point where we say its ok i got it from here. one movie that quite possibly best fits the example of technology becoming to much is wall e, technology taking care of use to the point where we don’t take care of ourselves. so for my final words I say enjoy technology just don’t let it enjoy you.

    Danny.
    P.S. I look forward to your next Nostalgia Chick episode

  • Bad: the fly – teleportation will backfire if more than one thing is in the teleporter, oops.

    Good: Star Trek – beaming–and also that whole Genesis project thing from movies 2 & 3–you know, the one that brought Spock back to f’n life! Way good and “played God” by its very name, too.

  • Brinny

    Battle Star Galactica did this, and it pissed me the hell off. Mostly because I loved it besides that, the politics, the treachery, the space battles and the characters were all great. I could deal with the whole “What hath we wrought!” stuff in regards to the creation of the Cylons and them basically being terminators (in SPACE). And I appreciated their dissection of the definition of being human.

    But then comes the debunking of the entire society’s existing religious beliefs, which were based on Greek mythology. It’s basically just like, nope, sorry there’s only one true god. Deal with it. Like that wasn’t shitty enough the ending of the series is basically the textbook definition of deus ex machina. Even if I were willing to forgive everything else, the ending cock slaps you with the bible.

    BSG breaks my heart so much… It was so good, yet so dumb.

    • Brinny

      Also all the awesome female characters died so fuck that show.

  • Erin

    What did I take away from the film? That it’s hella funny to spot the rape scene in a film. And MST’ing a film in Grauman’s Chinese Theater with all of FIVE people in the room is a laugh in of itself.

    And I still don’t get how they turned a conversation that started with “why did you fuck the experiment?” into “my god, what’s happened to us?”
    No, the question is always “why did you fuck the experiment?” There’s no way that doesn’t deserve an explanation, and no matter what it won’t be satisfactory.

  • Jeff Bergeron

    Great topic, Lindsay.

    One could also argue that it’s the basic premise of The Big Bang Theory show. Scientists and logical people are doomed to be unhappy and awkward, while less intelligent, mystical people are generally happier.

    The current season finale even has Penny, the stereotypical ”dumb blonde” complaining to her ex-boyfriend Leonard (a nerdy scientist) that she cannot date ‘normal’ people anymore since she dated him, because she can now tell they are stupid. Have you learned the lesson, kids ? Never approach scientifically-minded people, or or you could catch the infection !

    I don’t watch Lost, but from what I’ve heard, it ended pretty much the same way. The rational one dies, while the irrational one gets all his suspicions confirmed.

    I think this says a lot on the world we live in. Most people are still addicted to false ideas, like gods, magic and the like, and they reject science because it basically proves that they don’t exist.

    As for exceptions, that may not be the greatest example of all, but how about the first 3 seasons of Power Rangers ? Evil witch / wizard threatens Earth, warriors use technology to defeat them. Of course, they completed inverted it with Zeo, where the Rangers used a magical crystal as a power source in order to defeat the evil Machine Empire…

  • Idril

    There is an insane number of things from progress we enjoy, and that we’re looking for on a daily basis anyway, from vaccines to stretch fabric, to the lastest informatic technology. I don’t know if those movies jeopardize much our trend anyway, as they’re ladden with hypocrisy anyway : movie technology was created thanks to the scientific experimentations of the 19th century and could only be successful thanks to mass production from the industrial revolution. And nodding moviegoers can only afford to go use this technology because they themselves have salaries big enough thanks to the use of machines (well, that and outsourcing, but well).
    But one thing I find interesting is what means the change of blame in the Nature/Science duet, who’s blamed the bad guy and the one the victim and what it means. For an awful lot of time, Nature was a pretty scary things causing *tatatam* FLOODS ! FIRES ! PLAGUE ! FAILED CROPS ! COLD ! which you could be protected from by God or to a changing extend technological progress. It was only with the Industrial Revolution that Nature was considered a lost paradise, the victim of the bad bad technology by romantics. Probably didn’t help that most people started to live in cities. This tendency was increased after WW1 then WW2, as they were said to challenge the notion of progress (eugenics much ?). So the tendency today to blame science seems a bit like making up for all this time trusting technology against Nature….
    BUT one has to note the implication : blaming Nature is blaming fate (oh noes, an asteroid ! not our fault !) . Blaming Science is blaming the unseen consequences of our best-informed, well-meaning actions (oh noes, a tyrannosaurus ! was it my fault ?), which makes more interesting stories, in my opinion. Therefore I generally forget this kind of scenarios, as long as they allow enough metaphor.
    sorry for the text-cake ! enjoy !

  • Mark

    Some additions I thought of:

    -Doom: in an effort to improve the race, aliens insert an extra chromosome. While it works for some, most aliens just turn into bloodthirsty cannibals, leading to (near) extinction. And then humans discover this, try the same, expected results.
    -Serenity: Wanting to control the population of a planet more easily, some substance is inserted into the air. Most of the people just stop doing anything and die, but a small percentage actually turns into, guess what, bloodthirsty cannibals, that go on bothering other planets.

    One positive portrayal of science is Contact. In that film scientists are the good guys that try to build a machine to contact aliens, hindered by religious zealots who think this sacrilege or something. They even go so far as to blow up the first machine.

    There do seems to be a theme going on that using science for amoral purposes always leads to disaster. Although the do not meddle in God’s affairs isn’t that blatant anymore, the some things you shouldn’t meddle with is still very much there.

  • Kyle Kallgren

    Here’s a couple theories…

    1) Science is the enemy because we no longer believe in magic.

    Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”, is found in all of the Abrahamic religions, the reasoning behind it stemming from the fear of harnessing divine power for personal gain. The use of divine power by mortal men was seen to cheapen the power of the Creator, diminishing His glory. For this reason figures who studied magic were often mistrusted. Faust, a learned man, makes a deal with Satan for personal gain. Macbeth, made into a tyrant in Shakespeare’s play, gains the courage to take the throne by beings who can see into the future. Even Prospero, a good man, is forced to abandon his magical ways at the end of The Tempest in order to remain noble in the eyes of the audience. Nowadays we tend to be of the more secular sort, but we still have an intrinsic fear of the unknown, especially when used by those at the cutting edge of discovering that unknown, i.e. the scientific community. One of the first sci-fi novels, Frankenstein, has a man essentially damned by his own disocvery. Scientists are dealing with forces beyond the intellectual capacity of most human beings who don’t know quarks from quasars, and that is rather terrifying to the average Joe or Jane. Consider the panic surrounding the opening of the Large Hadron Collider and how everyone thought the planet would be sucked into a black hole.

    2) Science is the enemy because it’s an easy plot device.

    The best science fiction explores the possibility of new discoveries. The problem is that simply discovering a new scientific doohickey doesn’t make for interesting storytelling. You know how Iron Man 2 ground to a halt when Stark had to synthesize a new element? There has to be conflict in any story, and in a story exploring scientific possibility, that conflict usually comes from science itself. Jurassic Park and Splice are pretty big offenders, but even the best sci-fi writers are guilty of this. Arthur C. Clarke, a talented mathematician and physicist, still chose to put in an A.I. gone mad subplot into 2001: A Space Odyssey, to the overall benefit of the story. Even older sci-fi has done this. Jules Verne explores the possibility of undersea travel in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but even there Captain Nemo uses the technological prowess of The Nautilus to become, essentially, an unstoppable terrorist. But on the plus side, wrapping discussions of theoretical science in a narrative package still generates discussion of that science. Sure, Jurassic Park ends with people dead and the island overrun, but the film and the novel still sparked popular interest in the possibilities of genetics and cloning.

    3) If you’re using the phrase “Science!” in your blog and you’re planning on doing a video about science-as-antagonist, PLEASE tell me you’ll get Noah to do a cameo as Dr. Insano.

  • Veljko

    @Danny

    Playing God is an interesting phrase, and how it’s used depends heavily on the dominant social mores of wherever (and whenever) you are when you use it. There was, I kid you not, opposition to vaccines on the grounds that it interfered with God’s domain. And, really, how can you say that it isn’t. It’s essentially hacking our own immune systems into greater awesomeness. An example of mortal hubris if there ever was one. And yet, they are a necessary part of our modern world.

    It depends on your outlook. If you believe that there is a caring superintelligence somewhere in the cosmos that wants us to be okay, then yes I can see how tampering with things that may be dangerous is merely annoying this benevolent overmind. However, if you are a carrier infidel (like, say, yours truly) then the situation looks a good bit different. The universe is a big cold place. Alternatively too cold, too hot, too empty or too dense for anything to survive. Even here on Earth where the circumstances are immeasurably more clement, everything seems on an unending quest to kill us. From this perspective, anthropogenic apocalypses are small fry compared to what the universe itself will do to us if it only gets the chance. It seems bleak, this somewhat Lovecraftian view: “The universe is vast. You are a tiny speck. Prepare to die.” but, really, it’s quite mitigated when you realize that, for the moment, humanity is winning. And being the inveterate optimist that I am, I think there’s some chance we’ll come out on top.

    The thing is, you can’t say: “Oh that’s enough science and technology, thank you very much, I shan’t have any more.” We depend on further breakthroughs in agricultural science if we are to feed Earth’s many billions. We need our Norman Borlaugs. We depend on new sources of energy being developed. Stasis would kill us.

    Also, there is a peculiar shortsightedness in the position that science and technology simply need to stop. That they have given us all that we truly need. It reminds me of the initiative to close the patent office in the USA (somewhere around 1900 if memory serves)[1]. For instance, I don’t see technology having reached anything like its full potential until I have my jetpack. And flying car. And food pills. I don’t especially want to use food pills, being rather fond of eating, but I want them to be there.

    @AlbiCamb

    What you need to look into are pocket protector protectors. You can’t be too careful these days, and they make some quite tasteful models in titanium and asbestos.

    @Everyone

    I am writing this instead of my thesis. Damn you all for being too interesting. Thus, behold my revenge:

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ScienceIsBad

    Consider your day wasted. 🙂

    [1] The story is almost certainly apocryphal but too good not to tell.

  • dm

    This is a very interesting topic. But I don’t agree with your interpretation of Jurassic Park. It’s hard for me to believe that Crichton wished to “demonize” science, especially since he was in fact a scientist. The movie may tend toward this type of thinking, but the book is clearer on his intentions. Crichton was more interested in the ways in which arrogance on the part of humans leads to disasters (which may be what Malcolm’s diatribe is hinting at). Much of his work is based on the difference between perceptions of how equipped we are to deal with things that can go wrong and our actual capacity to do so.

    Focusing on advanced scientific concepts is a good way to center on this theme. Overconfidence becomes much more of an issue when we talk about game-changing scientific discoveries (and trying to systemically manage them). When you’re in unfamiliar territory, your natural response is to set up guidelines and contingency planning. But when something completely new, and in many ways unpredictable, is involved, the limits of this become evident. The variable in question isn’t so much the science as it is the hubris of individuals who are so sure that they can control something foreign which they’ve reintroduced to the world. The assumption of these individuals is that they can anticipate and deal with any problems that arise out of this system. The assumption of Crichton, I believe, is that they’re not as able to do so as they think. But I hardly think this is anti-science or saying “x is God’s domain.” Maybe the lesson is more about humility ?

    I’m also not convinced that Hollywood chooses science for disaster-themed films more than any other subjects. Many subjects are fodder for the exploration of the “disaster” concept (natural disasters themselves, war, government corruption, the mind), which is really just an exploration of how things can go wrong in general. Frankly, I think when you talk about topics where you have the most free-rein for imagination, they’re likely fantasy films and science-fiction films. I think it leads from there that some of the most compelling plots are “things gone wrong” motifs. Otherwise, where’s the conflict or plot ?

  • I think of Contact, based on Carl Sagan’s novel, in which science is depicted with the same passion and fascination you would usually see devoted to things like faith and love. But maybe it doesn’t count, I think it feels more like an expression of Carl Sagan’s own voice than Hollywood’s, as it were (if you have seen Cosmos, you know it when it is Sagan speaking through his characters in Contact).
    And on the other side, I think the most extreme example of science portrayed as immediately available for the advancement of evil is the famous opening scene in 2001. It’s like a completely pessimistic view of basically the very first technological leap ever made by anyone lol

  • Scott

    Don’t know if it’s been mentioned before, but Night of the Living Dead is actually an exception to this – the literal night of the living dead is caused by a meteor crashing to Earth, rather than some human cause.

  • Excuse me if I sound a little brainy here, but…

    Giambattista Vico, in his book “New Science,” pointed out that most modern historians look back at the people of the past, and chortle to themselves at how backwards they were. They had no books, no advanced philosophy, no technology, and, hence, must have been dumber. They defined the universe in terms of Gods and myths, and not observable, recorded data. How silly, right? Vico lambasted this attitude, and tried to coin the phrase “poetic wisdom” to describe what the anciets possessed. They knew about the universe, were just as wise, just as content with their lot, and looked at the universe as a vast poetic extension of a massive imagination, rather than a mass of recorded numbers and physical manifestations.

    Vico was one of the first to point out the dichotomy of humankind’s yang-like need for rational ordering, and their yin-like poetic, emotional interpretation.

    Which is where, I think, the true root of such science fiction tropes of “tampering in God’s domain” truly come from, and not merely out of run-of-the-mill Judeo-Christian religious hysteria (although that is surely part of it). Not the balance of nature vs. Science, nor of God vs. technology, but of the rational mind vs. the emotional mind. If a mad scientist starts poking his needles into cells and growing wacky creatures like in “Splice,” we see that the need to manipulate has overwheled the considerations of poetry. We can create a mutant, but what would a mutant feel?

    There are countless examples in science fiction writing, film and television where mankind creates (accidentally or on purpose) a revolutionary new being, machine, weapon, and it goes horribly awry. The implication being that mankind has lost control of their own powers, lost sight of piety and gentlness and humility, and nearly comes about to ruin. (“Frankenstein,” “Splice,” “Godzilla,” anything with a genetically engineered animal, or a race of super-soldiers)

    There are, however, just as many examples of how mankind’s creations are indicators of his enterprising spirit. “Star Trek” has humans living with androids, etc., but still struggling with the things that make them human. Oddly, “2001: A Space Odyssey” (and all the works of Arthur C. Clarke), despite the antispetic wrath of HAL, indicate that technology will betoken humankind’s next step in evolution.

    (Incidentally, I wrote about that film here: http://witneyman.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/2001-a-space-odyssey/ )

    The android in “Metropolis,” is, I think, the finest example of the two-sided coin of villified science. One the one side, she is seen as a wonder of modern science, and a logical extension of advancing technology. And a way to fill an aching loneliness in the hearts of the two men who created her.

    But then she is utilised to spread discord among the working class. She becomes a manifestation of a very human’s need for greed, for destruction.

    I guess, ultimately, if it’s done well, science is never the villain in such a story, but it all boils down to that wonderfully tragic and poetic facet fo human nature: our own personal demons. Humans may make demon-like monsters in labs, “without reckoning upon God,” but it’s always the mad sceintist, the sad, awkward, brainy loner with too much smarts and not enough friends, who enacts their pain. The sci-fi monster is an extension of acting out. The robot Maria was a tool for a scheming ploutocrat. The creature in “Frankenstein” was bourne of obsession and childlike inconsideration for the life being created. Dren in “Splice” (on of the best films of 2010, mind you) was created by a damaged person.

    “They all called me mad! Well, who’s mad now?!” is a familiar line in the mad scientist universe (although, for the life of me, I cannot locate its original source), and gives away something subtle in its wording. They. There was once a “they.” a “they” who rejected our mad scientist, who is now, with a lonely heart and wounded pride, going to win approval back, or, failing that, exact revenge.

    Sorry to be so long winded. If you, Ms. Ellis, or anyone has bothered to read the whole thing, I hope it offers some insight.

  • Stimulating lecture, althoug it can be argued both sides. A bit like talking love spells in the heart of a well-ordered paper.

  • Elly

    You may be interested in reading (if you haven’t already) Malcolm Gladwell’s essay on the development of the birth control pill.

    http://www.gladwell.com/2000/2000_03_10_a_rock.htm

    The way he described “the haphazard nature of science, which all too often produces progress in advance of understanding” came like a sock to the gut.

    I love science. I love the new appreciation for the otherwise hidden dimensions of nature that it’s given us. I love that it’s core philosophy at least requires humility enough to admit that all we know now may be debunked with the next development. I enjoy the conveniences of technology.

    But.

    When what we know can be proven merely thought, but what we have done (back when we thought we knew) cannot be undone… it’s haphazard and dangerous.

    I don’t see many better paradigms to live by, though. Or a more interesting way to provide dramatic conflict.

    P.S. The title of your blog reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s short story “Changes”: a cure for cancer in pill form has the side effect of sex-changing its patients. It’s more about gender being a mess than science being evil, but it does raise a few questions. How could anyone have predicted that effect or selectively prevented those changes? Or taken responsibility, if that’s the key to keeping the haphazardness in check? Or undo the damage done, if they had no reason to believe it would cause suffering at all?

  • Hollywood as (as you’ve proved) and always will be in love with the story of a scientist who takes things a little too far and steps on God’s toes.

    We do have real life examples of scientists taking things a little too far. Let’s reflect on the situation in the Gulf. We used science and technology to allow ourselves to conduct off shore drilling. We’ve advanced so far that we can cut deep into the Earth from far distances. (While this example isn’t along the “curing humans” line, the thought behind it is the same.) We have the technology to this, but should we be doing it? Look at the risks we took with off shore drilling. Look at how many people, animals, and ecologies were negatively effected. The risks always need to be considered.

    The truth is this: science will never be silenced. We need it for understanding the way things are and the advancement of our species. Risks are what need to be considered when determining how far one should take science. John Hammond, creator of Jurassic Park, never considered the risks of creating dinosaurs. He only saw the fascinating, romanticized end result of the experiment.

    Now, who should determine the value of risks? That is a completely different topic with a much harder answer. However, I will say that someone like John Hammond would not be a prime candidate for a job as a risk evaluator.

    Flog Out – Gotoffs

    http://www.gotoffs.wordpress.com

  • SamBamKablaam

    I always found movies that try to blame science for whatever horrible catastrophe that occurs to be accidentally ironic. Like you pointed out, science didn’t do shit in Jurassic Park, it was that stupid fat guy. I always walked away with the message of “wow, humans are really good at finding something great, and then fucking it up royally. Maybe if people weren’t such stupid shits the world would be a better place.” Anything is dangerous in the wrong hands, and humans just have way too many faults tied in with emotions/being idiots/whatever else motive, and the ones that could actually handle using awesome dino-making science are just too outnumbered by the damaged ones. Science simply can’t be evil because it has no reason to be. It’s just a tool that can go either way depending on who’s in charge, which to me makes those films more a commentary on human nature than anything else.

    Also, though I’m sure you have a million examples of God > Science movies by now, I feel the need to throw in Deep Blue Sea because I had the unfortunate experience of watching the last half of it today. Near the end the Token Black Guy survives by stabbing the evil science-fueled shark in the eye with the big ol’ silver cross he was wearing the whole movie. This is after he lead our heroes in a prayer session for morale or some shit. I kinda wanted to stab myself in the eye, too.

  • One more thing…

    In “The Terminator,” it’s said that, in the future, the machines will have risen up in anger against their human oppressors. It’s never explained why the machines revolt. We’re simply to accept that once machines become intelligent, they’ll resent humans enough to kill them off.

    O.k. Now I’m really finished.

  • Jack

    What about representations of science as the tool overreaching, dangerous women use to usurp God’s domain, for which they are punished by having their eyes burn out of their heads (Raiders of the Lost Ark), fall into a bottomless pit (Last Crusade), or get immolated by transdimensional saucer men (kingdom of the crystal skull)? It seems like Sarah Polley’s character in Splice is a good example of this too, where I guess maybe she would be ok if she was just happy making babies and thinking about shoes instead of trying to use that big brain of hers–which turned her into a sadistic child-abuser instead of the nurturing caregiver she was meant to be because she turned her back on the role god/nature gave her.

    I swear I’ve seen better examples of this trope, but it seems like sci-fi has this thing about turning smart women into Eve and punishing them for thinking they can learn and stuff.

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  • Oni

    I’m suddenly reminded of ‘Deep blue sea’ with that theme, which the morel of the story was just ‘Don’t play with Science and mess with Sharks Brains, or else the Sharks will becomes super smart and Eat Samuel L. Jackson. ‘

  • bob

    Maybe it’s just me, but I see this trope as less anti-science and more of a cautionary tale for humanity — doesn’t have to be science, that is.
    Marlowe’s Faust didn’t dabble in science, he dabbled in magic.. and wound up getting dragged down to hell for his troubles. Sure, there’s all kinds of lines you can draw to the Enlightenment.. sure is, tons of them! At the center, though, it’s not about science but good old human fallibility, short-sightedness and hubris leading to our own destruction.
    Throw that into a modern world, and pretty much any huge disaster is going to involve science. Not because SCIENCE! is evil, but because.. we don’t have magic outside of magicians and their tricks and we all know that’s not gonna happen.
    I mean there’s just really not a whole lot that’s going to happen if people are too arrogant in their, uh, quest for more faith? You can’t pray up a zombie virus, you can’t play fast and loose with your services and wind up creating a monster with neat special effects.. well, no, I suppose that’s sort of where Silent Hill went actually, but SCIENCE! can’t save the day when that happens. ’cause woah that shit be crazay. It’s gotta be people doing it. If it’s SCIENCE! that saves the day, it’d just be some wacky MacGuffin referred to as “The Device” that they must find / escort at/to the proper location or something.
    Science is a tool. It’s easy to make a story about a tool being misused, but pretty tough to make a story about a tool being used properly. No one cares to read about the dude who made a bitchin’ cabinet with a hammer, but if he killed a bunch of kittens with it? News at 11!

  • MisterBibs

    The reason why the Science Is Bad trope is so common is that Science cannot understand good or bad. It can tell you objective things, but not subjective things like good, bad, should, or should not.

    Jurassic Park a great example of this. The science can say its possible to clone dinosaurs. The science can say how to do it. But it takes the non-scientific people in the story to say that they SHOULDN’T do it.

    Science Is Bad tropes happen for this very reason, because if not restrained, it IS bad.

  • Heather

    It’s not so much that science fiction has always been totally anti-science or anti-technology. I think it’s more that technology is often rushed into production and distribution without regard for the consequences, and fiction (not just science fiction) has often taken up those issues. Hell, that was essentially Dickens’ shtick: the Industrial Revolution completely fucked the poor. Technology matters– the printing press, the mechanized loom, the railroad, the automobile, the airplane, the atomic bomb, chemical pesticides– they’ve all had consequences, good and bad. I don’t think it’s bad to explore those, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a cop-out to not end with some kind of solution to the problem, or suggest that maybe there are some places we shouldn’t go, since it’s entirely possible that that is the case in reality. I think Crichton’s Jurassic Park is not very satisfying mostly because it’s a very ham-handed, black-and-white (and, as many people have pointed out, dumb) criticism.

    I took a class on criticism of technology post-World War II this Spring, and while there were some people who truly believed that technology had become an autonomous power that directed our lives and made us its slaves (see Jacques Ellul in particular), I think most of science fiction is not always a critique of science itself as inherently bad, or even a critique of humanity for being all full of hubris (although it’s not like that’s not a theme in literature outside of science fiction), as much as it is a criticism of our lack of foresight and our refusal to take responsibility for the things we’ve created. Frankenstein, I think, fits into this category. Splice, maybe not so much, but then it seems they’re commenting more on just how scary the prospect of parenting is– you create life, you try to raise it, but you really have absolutely no idea what they’re going to do; they could grow up and cure cancer, or they could become a rapist and serial killer. So, parenting = science. That doesn’t mean we should stop (or will stop) doing either. Up until the ending when it goes all beyond-freudian. Then I have no idea what the message is other than get your tubes tied and hide in your panic room for the rest of your life.

    I would argue that the Batman series is actually very pro-technology. Comic book movies tend to feature people who acquired unasked-for powers, usually in some kind of horrible accident (Daredevil, Spiderman, X-Men), and who, for one reason or another, feel called-upon or anointed to use those powers for the protection of the public. Batman isn’t some mutated being or an alien from outer space– he’s just a guy with a shitload of money and an incredible amount of discipline. He chooses to become a superhero and he uses technology to help him do the job that the city needs done, and he can do this job and not get arrested or go insane because he has that incredible discipline and seldom-erring sense of right and wrong.

    I think the Star Trek series is pretty pro-science, though I suppose you could make an argument about the Borg– but again, I think that’s less a criticism about science than it is about humanity and conformity.

    I hate the film “I, Robot.” It basically pillaged Asimov’s book (as well as a few of his other works) and Colossus: The Forbin Project, but didn’t have the balls to make the ending in the least interesting like either one of those. The book is, I think, pro-technology and much more interesting.

  • LN

    Here’s my intellectual blah-blah.

    I didn’t see science in “Splice” as the tool of the devil; it’s human ambition and the drive to make money. If the company supported and let Brody and Polley continue their research instead of cutting them off and going into Phase 2, Brody and Polley wouldn’t have had to conduct the research in private. But what’s interesting is how Brody and Polley kept Dren to themselves, perhaps due to ego. Both Brody and Polley wanted to control Dren, and both Brody and Polley aren’t having a power struggle between each other as man and woman, but scientists. We did see Brody and Polley’s characters go through 10 stages of bi-polar disorder and I think the movie did touch on “this would be bad if it fell into the wrong hands” concept, especially once Brody and Polley became the “wrong hands”.

    But I don’t necessarily think Brody and Polley were playing God. Polley pushed on because she knew how close they were to that next step, hence her staying on board at the end of the film. She makes a good point when she said how she spent years putting effort, sweat, and time into research and how unfair it was to have it suddenly taken away, leaving her to rummage through pig shit for the rest of her career. Wouldn’t you feel the same? To want to push forward, no matter what it took if you had the chance to make the most out of what you’ve been doing the majority of your life?

  • AgentK

    I think the “don’t play God” lesson is really just a variant of the “Respect Nature” trope. When you get right down to it, these themes are simply trying to make the point that humanity is not as powerful as we think we are. That if we get it into our heads that our stewardship over the earth as it’s dominant species = we’re better than everything else therefore we have a free license to screw around without a healthy respect/fear for other living organisms, we’ll suffer the consequences.

    That’s not necessarily a moral I disagree with, although the movies that seriously argue we should abandon medicine and technology all together to go live in the forest ~in harmony~ because TEH MACHINES IS EVOL are completely insipid.

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  • emerson999

    Bit late to the party on this one. But it’s one of my personal pet peeves.

    To start, I’m crippled. Not nearly as bad as a lot of people. I can still get around. It’s just that every second of every day of my life since the car accident that began it has been one I spend in agony.

    And every time I see someone with no scientific background bitching about “you am play god!” I can’t help but think that people like them are partially to blame for it.

    The reason I haven’t killed myself comes down to two things at this point. Medical science has advanced far enough to make the pain tolerable, and it’s advancing in enough new directions to give me hope that this isn’t a life sentence.

    The whole sentiment of “god loves man kills” is so backward. Pain and suffering is the natural order. The only thing that’s begun to dig us out of that horrible condition is science. Yes, humanity has used that to some bad ends. But know how often nature has decided to just create a miracle cure and instruction sheet on how to use it? Never.

    Bring on the science, and three cheers to the first one to give me a robot leg that would work as well as my old one.

    And seriously. I think anyone with a fully functional body just needs to shut up when it comes to telling us what the limits of medicine should be. It’s not possible to grasp what it’s like to be in the amount of pain some of us are in without having been there. I thought I understood what pain was, what suffering was. I had no idea, none. The worst pain in my life was insignificant to what it feels like just to brush my teeth in the morning.

  • Simon

    I think a lot of the demonisation of science simply springs from the fear of the unknown. Being a scientist myself, I often notice that surprisingly few people have an actual idea of how science actually works. This ignorance is amusing in filmmakers, but annoying in most other folks.

    Worst in this respect are adherents of religion or alternative medicine, who often bring forth the “god’s will” crap already mentioned by many here.
    They seem to think of science as an alternate religion scientits pursue, a complete world view with fixed beliefs and disbeliefs. Consequently they treat their religious dogmas as comparable to scientific insights.
    Would they still do this if they were completely aware that the only fixed paradigm of science is the emiric method, i.e. a set of logical rules about how to test facts.

    Still, the dual-use nature of most technologies is a fact, and there’s a lot of debate in science wether and how a scientist should take it into account in her/his everyday work. Good science fiction also reminds us of this a lot.
    Sometimes, seemingly innocent research turns up technology with great potential for harm, but mostly dangerous technologies are developed because people mean to. The nuclear bomb did not just fall out of the sky.

  • It’s really more of a ” with great power comes great responsibility ” thing, dating back at least to Icarus getting cocky, flying too close to the sun instead of respecting the wings’ limits, and falling to his death. Jurassic Park could be seen in the same vein, as it was ” You have the technology to bring back extinct species from fossils, and you use them to make a god-damned amusement park?! “. See also; Victor making a giant super-man simply because he could. They aren’t trying to cure cancer or solve hunger, they’re just showing off how smart they are.

    And this isn’t even getting into when science is used for war. Take the Iron Man films and comics; the reason Tony Stark doesn’t allow anyone else to use the technology in his robot hero suit is because he can’t trust that they wouldn’t use it to cause harm. Sure, the heart could power the world for free, but what good would that be if the technology destroys civilization first?

    Oh, and Lindsay, I love the nostalgia chick segments! Utterly hilarious and extremely intelligence.

  • John

    I saw a movie called “Stealth” the other day and it was an ass-hat of a movie to say the least. It was all kinds of horrible. But, it did follow in the tradition of the old ’80s TV show “Knightrider”. AI computers with some measure of autonomy. In “Stealth,” the airplane acts much like a child and tries to make decisions for itself all the while saying “EDI (Eddie) is the whole point.” I would call this scientifically neutral because yes he did kill innocent people, but 1) it was following orders and 2) it had this childish attitude that was devoid of malice. He wasn’t ‘evil’, just stupid and spoiled.

    As far as where science is good and helpful, how about Star Trek. The entire premise of the TV show is science will make us grow out of our infancy. I remember an episode of the Next Generation where the Enterprise meets 3 people from the 20th century who were frozen. Jean Luc actually said, “Humans have grown out of their infancy.” That one line had so much behind it. He summed up an end to war, poverty, and want with a single sentence.

    I’m making this way too long, aren’t I?

  • Beery

    One quick thing: Ian Malcolm was talking about digging, paleontologically and archaeologically, I would also assume oil drilling to be on his list, when he made his rape of the natural world comment. Not that I agree, just anally pointing out your blog’s shortcomings to make myself feel smart.

    Movies where Science! is good: Sunshine, Inherit the Wind, Medicine Man, Mass Effect (but that’s a game, albeit a very cinematic one) . . . I’m runnin a little dry here. Maybe the recent Creation, I guess, though it’s more a character study.

  • John McNally

    I think Science! is simply a plot device that facilitates an alternative state of affairs through which we examine our humanity. One could use history to achieve the same ends, to examine the manner in which social values shift as do the means by which we veiw ourselves. However I don’t think 300 would sell as many tickets if it referred to some of the aspects of ancient Greek culture that are irksome to modern values. Its far easier to transplant Americans to different historical epoches to fight for individualistic romantic notions or some flavour of “Freedom!” (even if that is the kinda freedom one can enjoy living under a monarchy -hell I guess it’s *our* monarchy, therefore not philosophically or ethically problematic). Anywho, I digress -back to Science!

    I get annoyed by the oft knee-jerk reaction to science that seems to be expressed in these kinds of movies. However I think the anti-science attitude is most obvious in those stories which lack any real nuance or complexity. An example of what I’m trying to drive at could be found in Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Science is the means by which we can conceptualise a world in which what we currently consider to fundamentally define our “human qualities” differs significantly from what we experience within our own social context.

    I think Science! is perhaps more adept at doing so than history because with science we can alter, augment or diminish the corporeal, the real. However history deals far more with ideology -which has as great (if not in some regards greater) an effect on our concept of the world in which we inhabit and the manner in which we view ourselves. It seems though, without the superficial trappings of a body, or reality, altered by external physical forces it is hard to empathise and consider the perspectives of those who are so different. In other words science is an explicit alteration of the human being, wheras ideology is far more nuanced than can perhaps easily be expressed through a film medium; Science! takes you or me, and places an alternative reality upon ourselves -ideology would ask you to do that for yourself.

    Its worth noting that Science! is never the focus of the film’s narrative (more often than not it is just lazy plot devices thrown in to save our heros in a tight spot) when it is not a film asking pseudo-existential questions about “what is it to be human?!” (pick your flavour: Satre, Camus, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche -they’re all there 😛 ).

    With regard to the discussion of should we keep a check on science? I think an important thing to ask is whether we conflate truth with meaning. Establishing truth (in whatever manner you wish to do so) is in my mind a good thing, I think it might be hard to argue otherwise (if only by virtue of the fact that to argue is to estalish your particular ontology/epistemology as truth). However meaning IS distinct from truth and I think those films that have a real issue with Science! are those that fail to make that distinction, in how we can seek truth but create and understand meaning. failure to understand the distinctive (albeit oft inextricable) nature of the two makes for some fairly unenlightened story telling. I think the guy who most concisely establises this distinction is Edmund Husserl in his work on “The Mathematization of Nature” -although like all philosophers he is not concise enough for me to get a nice soundbite of a quote from.

    I’m sure there were other things I was going to say but I am knackered right now and I’m sure its a relief to those reading that I’ve come to an end. Sorry if it rambles, but then again so do I.

    Nighty night.

  • Crichton-ite

    Late to the discussion but as a huge Crichton (RIP, your genius will live forever) fan I have to weigh in on the subject. Crichton’s thoughts were never that science was bad. In all of his science-technology-run-amok books it was never the science! that was bad but it was the arrogance of the people who were in control of it. Spoilers ahead.

    “You wield it like a kid who found his dad’s gun.”

    Jurassic Park: Hammond refused to believe even in the face of hard evidence that the animals couldn’t be contained. One of the book’s main points that was lost in the movie was his hostility towards powerful weapons being imported to the island to deal with the dinosaurs should something happen. He also wanted to make sure that the park could function with only 2 dozen people at a time. I’ve been to a wildlife safari in my native Oregon, and there were about 12 security guards around the lion exhibit alone.

    Prey: The nanite company never made sure that the fan & vents were installed properly. What’s the worst that could happen? Chaos erupts when the nanites escape.

    Airframe: The pilot of the plane panicked due to a mechanical error. He tried to correct the error but didn’t know the plan already had a failsafe to deal with the situation. The auto-pilot and manual-pilot got into a fight over who would control the plane and an accident was caused.

    Next: A researcher named Winkler accidently exposes his drug-addicted brother to a ‘maturity gene’ (ignoring his lab’s procedure he kept the gene’s containment device in his car) and the brother ends up dying due to rapid aging. Instead of dragging his brother back to the lab for testing or just dealing with procedure.

    Sphere: Crichton echoes Frankenstein here with the incredible power of the human mind, but showing the destructive power of the mind if left unchecked.

    Who among us hasn’t said “I know what I’m doing” when we only thought we did?

    Not trying to tirade, I’m just a Crichton-adict.

  • Crichton-ite

    …So to answer your question, in all of these except really for Jurassic Park, science is indeed our friend. It’s just man’s arrogance and impatience that make things hit the fan.

    Prey: The nanites were being tested for use in surgery, medical imaging, and could theoretically be used to battle cancer. Problem was that they weren’t properly tested and understood. Science! was used to kill them at the end

    Airframe: The airplane was great, and worked great, it was just human error that threw a wrench into the whole thing

    Next: Winkler’s story is just one of the book but the maturity gene showed great promise, it’s just that his brother was exposed 1. By accident 2. Before any long-term effects of the gene could be figured out. The company was originally performing tests on rats.

    If you want to look for a real-world example of this happening, look at (I doubt you’re a military-gun person but bear with me) the M-16 rifle. It was deployed to the field before it could be tested under various circumstances and it was a disaster. Jammed constantly, broke constantly, etc

  • dadler3

    Wow, you got to read Dinosaur in a Haystack for class? You are awesome!

    Also, I don’t think Frankenstein the book was quite as anti-science as later adaptations. Jurassic park is, but then so is all of Crichton’s work.

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