- Some science-fiction shows are more realistic than others.
- Artificial gravity, as seen on “Space: 1999” and “Star Trek,” isn’t possible.
- We’re centuries away from creating the organic robots of “Westworld.”
Some science-fiction series are more realistic than others. But even those that emphasise technology, such as “Star Trek” and “Westworld,” don’t necessarily take reality to heart.
Here are 10 sci-fi shows that experts say got the science wrong. Keep in mind that these shows are science-fiction and take more than a few liberties, so this is just for fun.
“Battlestar Galactica” has only one “official” scientific error.
The original “Battlestar Galactica” aired from 1978 to 1979 and subsequently spawned a miniseries, a reboot, and several spin-offs (including made-for-TV films). Its premise is that a human civilisation has reached a distant part of the universe and inhabited a group of planets called the Twelve Colonies.
Patrick Di Justo, who coauthored the book “The Science of Battlestar Galactica,” told Wired that the series has often been labelled a “science fiction show without the science.” For example, the show doesn’t dwell on how the jump drive, called the FTL Drive, works. The physics of how the drive operates vary from episode to episode for the sole purpose of dramatic effect.
There’s only one “official” scientific error.
In the final episode of the reboot, one scene suggests that the character Hera is “mitochondrial Eve,” the ancient maternal ancestor of all humans. However, the series’ creators conflated that with another genetics term: the most recent common ancestor, or MRCA.
The MRCA is the ancestor of all people on Earth, while mitochondrial Eve is the most recent common ancestor along the maternal line. In short, within the mythos of “Battlestar Galactica,” it’s unclear if Hera is the MRCA or Eve.
“Space: 1999” takes liberties with its lunar setting.
“Space: 1999” centres on a colony of humans who are stuck on the moon after it leaves its orbit around Earth. In his review of the series in 1975, science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov critiqued the show’s various scientific mistakes, many of which pertain to its lunar setting.
One error concerns the nature of gravity. Although Asimov praised the series’ accurate depiction of the surface effects of lunar gravity, the gravity inside the moon base was incorrectly depicted as being the same as it would be on Earth. Additionally, when the moon is blasted out of orbit (a phenomenon explained by nuclear waste that combusts), the show’s writers didn’t take the moon’s mass into consideration.
“Star Trek” tests the limits of what’s scientifically possible.
From the original series from the 1960s to the 2017 reboot, “Star Trek” has always emphasised science and technology. While some of the show’s futuristic innovations are realistic, others stretch the limits of what’s scientifically possible.
In an interview with Space.com, David Allen Batchelor, a member of NASA’s radiation effects and analysis group at the Goddard Space Flight Center, examined the plausibility of space tech on “Star Trek.”
While cloaking and deflecting technologies exist in real life, at least in rudimentary forms, other inventions are much less feasible.
“Artificial gravity is not about to provide the normal environment of weight that the Enterprise crew experience,” Batchelor wrote. “Specially designed magnetic fields could do a similar, weaker job, but they would play havoc with metal equipment. … Generating artificial graviton particles is imaginable, but there’s no way to say how it might be done.”
He added that warp interstellar drives violate known properties of physics because they “involve huge discharges of energy and subspace fields that aren’t understood in today’s science.”
Despite what happens on “Doctor Who,” we can’t alter the past at will.
For fans of “Doctor Who,” journeying through space and time aboard the TARDIS would be a dream come true.
With his theory of special relativity, which dictates that the laws of physics are invariant for all nonaccelerating observers and that the speed of light in a vacuum is identical for all observers, no matter the motion of the light source, Albert Einstein examined the feasibility of time travel.
However, quantum physics and philosophy both deem it impossible to alter the past when and how we feel like it.
Some gizmos on “Red Dwarf” are semi-plausible.
Blending sci-fi and comedy, the British series “Red Dwarf” first aired from 1988 to 1999 and returned in 2009. It tells the story of a technician travelling on a mining ship in suspended animation who wakes up 3 million years in the future to find out he’s the last human in the universe.
“Red Dwarf” introduced viewers to a fascinating array of fictional devices. The DNA modifier, for example, can transform any living creature into another by changing its DNA.Gene editing is a real technique that scientists employ, but it can’t do that.
It’s used to treat diseases by targeting and altering malignant genetic mutations.
Similarly, escort boots, which guide the wearer to a pre-programmed destination, don’t exist yet, but aren’t so far-fetched. Innovators are developing digitally connected footwear, minus the autopilot function.
The organic robots of “Westworld” are centuries away from existence.
Artificial intelligence is central to HBO’s “Westworld,” a sci-fi Western set in a futuristic amusement park where guests interact with android “hosts.”
According to Victor Adamchik, a professor of engineering practice at University of Southern California, the robots on the show are simply too advanced to be within the realm of possibility.
“We are about to have robots in our day to day life, but to have organic robots will take time,” Adamchik told CNET. “We need perhaps hundreds of years to understand a single cell, and thousands of years to understand our brain. The show is unrealistic.”
The titular hero on “The Flash” would need extra powers to survive super-speed.
On CW’s “The Flash,” the titular hero is known for his super-speed. But without additional powers to safeguard his body, Barry Allen would be ripped apart.
James Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota and the author of “The Physics of Superheroes,” told Business Insider that Allen’s arsenal of powers would need to include abilities such as super-healing and superhuman reflexes in order to survive the amped-up acceleration.
“Maniac” features real psychological concepts, but its drug trial wouldn’t be up to FDA standards.
The mind-bending “Maniac,” a Netflix original series starring Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as participants in an experimental drug trial, incorporates real psychological concepts such as cognitive behavioural therapy and defence-mechanism testing (like Rorschach tests and picture-word association).
However, real psychiatric-pharmaceutical trials operate differently than how they’re depicted on the show. The drug sequence being tested in “Maniac” is said to be the 73rd iteration. But in reality, a trial that failed so many times would likely lack approval from the Food and Drug Administration, which requires clinicians to submit safety and progress reports as tests progress.
Time travel happens too slowly on “Timeless.”
The issue with “Timeless,” the canceled NBC sci-fi drama about a soldier, a professor, and an engineer who team up to recover a stolen time machine, is that time travel takes too long. Physicists estimate that it would happen faster in reality – at the speed of light, rather than in a number of seconds.
Science is exaggerated on “Fringe.”
On Fox’s sci-fi thriller “Fringe,” science is made up or exaggerated. Children who take a certain drug can see into other dimensions, and thoughts are transferred from one person’s mind to another.
That being said, many concepts explored on the show have been adapted from scientific advances.
“We start by finding ideas right out of the headlines from a science magazine or the announcement for new research grant and we think, ‘What is the next step or how can we push the boundaries?'” Glen Whitman, one of the series’ writers, told Live Science.
“For example, in episode three one of the characters was receiving messages in his brain telepathically, and the Monday before the show aired, we saw an article on the CNN website that explained how the US Army was developing a helmet that uses brain waves to help soldiers talk to each other.”
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