NOTICE: Posting schedule is irregular. I hope to get back to a regular schedule as the day-job allows.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The fight against "Stupid Movie (Brain) Science"...
[Please excuse the link above and "FT" code at the end, it is provided for use by FuseTalk email clients.]

So, what do I mean by "Stupid Movie (or TV or book) Science"?

I mean scientific misstatements - not to simplify the science, not to fit the plot - but inaccurate science simply because the producers/writers or consumers/viewers/readers don't bother to check the facts and get it right.

My son had a Physics class where the teacher ranted on about Stupid Movie Science in the form of cars that explode at the slightest impact, guns that never run out of bullets, explosions in space, objects falling more than 30 feet and landing unharmed.

[For clarification: cars seldom explode. They *burn* but explosions are very rare. Most guns can hold 10-30 bullets, even without fully automatic fire, it can take less than a minute to shoot them all. Space is a vacuum, there is no sound, no flame, and no smoke. The acceleration of gravity is 32 feet per second. By the time an object falls 32 feet, it will have been falling for *more* than a second, since the average speed is 1/2 the acceleration, and will therefore experience a deceleration equivalent to more than 1 gravity - in addition to the normal 1 gravity experienced at rest. 48 feet and the stopping force is 2 G's, 70 feet and it's 30 G's, etc. That's a pretty hard shock.]

It can be argued that Stupid Movie Science persists because the *consumers* don't know any better. That may be true, but then the burden is on teachers to educate their students to eliminate ignorance.

But for brain science it is even worse. The general population doesn't understand the brain, it is not part of the basic science curriculum in schools. Thus we have several of my "favorite" examples of bad TV and movie brain science:

Star Trek: The Original Series, episode "Spock's Brain." The Vulcan's brain is removed and put in a computer. Doctor McCoy brings Spock's body along, using only a little handheld remote and some Lego's on Spock's forehead to control the body. Kirk outwits the computer (of course), they rescue Spock's brain, and McCoy has to put it back in the body - with Spock's help once he "reconnects the vocal cords."
Do I need to go into all of the reasons why this is ridiculous? Can I just leave it at the fact that McCoy would have to have been nearly done with surgery (attaching 12 cranial nerves, spinal cord, eyes, ears, etc. before Spock could speak?

Star Trek: The Next Generation - just about any episode where Dr. Crusher opened her mouth to speak. My favorite examples: "The engram has wrapped itself around his cerebellar cortex!" or any time she mentions hippocampus. It's wrong, wrong, wrong. Engrams are patterns, not physical entities that can "wrap themselves" around anything. Besides, she was pointing to the *cerebrum*, not the cerebellum!

The Matrix. OMG. The brain connection probes would leave no room for *brain* inside the skull! There was a time when middle school and high school biology students did experiments with the leg muscle of frogs. To prepare the frog, it was necessary to "pith" them - disconnect the brain, but leave the spinal cord and reflexes intact. The technique required putting a steel probe that was *smaller* (in relative size to human brain) than the Matrix probe into the base of the brain, thus destroying the neuron connections between brain and spinal cord. I *cannot* watch the Matrix without thinking of pithed frogs.

Any movie or TV show with "brain bugs"... yeah.... No. Sorry, the brain is very sensitive, and as stated before with the Matrix, and intrusion into the skull is going to do a lot of damage. A bug, worm or snake crawling around in there? Nope, that victim will be comatose and brain dead *very* quickly.

Any military adventure or SF book that postulates "combat drugs" and refers to them containing "methamphetamine" when they *really* mean amphetamine. [Yes, John Ringo, I'm looking at you!]. It's true, methamphetamine was initially developed as a more potent, hopefully less addicting alternative to amphetamine. Didn't work, and althought the military had some trials with the drug 20+ years ago, those were abandoned. There are much more effective (and safer) alternatives.

Soap opera - total amnesia. You know the scene, subject sustains a blow to the head (usually the top or back) and has total amnesia. 20 years later they sustain another blow and wake up with a 20 year gap and a whole second life. No. No. and Hell, No! First, the location of the blow to the head is usually wrong (top and back produces sensory damage, forehead or temple area and most associated with amnesia. Second, total retrograde amnesia (memory of past events) is rare, and when it does occur, lasts only hours or days. *Anterograde* amnesia - loss of memory of the accident, and a few hours either direction - is more common with a head injury. Fugue states lasting 20 years are a sign of seriously messed up neurochemicals or deep rooted psychological problems, a blow to the head is not going to trigger it.

So that's a few of my "favorite" examples. What are yours?


1 comment:

  1. "We only use 10 percent of our brain's capacity." Right. Like we're packing around all that energy and oxygen consuming nerve tissue up there - doing nothing much at all. (Though that might be true for most politicians and Hollywood 'personalities'!)


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