Dumb Science: Cinematic Pseudoscience


Science is truly at its dumbest in cinema. Now science fiction is, of course, just that – fictional science. But good science fiction films are convincing. On the other hand, “The neutrinos are mutating!” is probably the seminal moment out of all records of fantastically nonsensical science jargon in films. The mutant neutrinos proceed to cause the inner core of Earth to boil, which naturally causes skyscrapers to fall down and “Arks” to narrowly avoid collision with Mount Everest (rather than simply baking Earth, which would be unacceptably less dramatic in cinema).

Self-proclaimed nonsensical science jargon can be redeemed if it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The infamous Treknobabble – Star Trek’s deliberately incomprehensible astrophysics lingo, rumoured to be computer-generated – is both entertaining and extremely cleverly structured, considering that it is in actual fact total rubbish. However, the propensity of diehard Trekkies to memorise said Treknobabble and regurgitate it with the reverence one might normally show to Scripture is at best adorkable, and at worst a symptom of the way society is becoming accustomed to listening to (and pretending to understand) pseudoscientific linguistic garbage.

Fantasy films that lay unnecessary claim to science are the worst. Stephanie Meyer could probably have weaselled out of the whole “werewolf imprinting on impossibly-conceived vampire/human baby hybrid” thing if she had written it as though it was just magic. But no: vampires, for no particular reason, have 50 chromosomes where humans have 46, and werewolves have 48, because why not. The vampire-human child has 48 chromosomes, presumably because (human 46 + vampire 50) divided by 2 = 48, allowing the 48-chromosome werewolf to fall in love with the crossbreed. That’s just how it works in Biology.

To clarify, I’m all for a bit of magical escapism. Harry Potter flies on a broomstick (and in a car) and moseys into other people’s memories via a bowl of silver goop; Sauron pours his life force into an indestructible ring; a whole cohort of Disney animals calmly conduct conversations (not to mention songs) in the English language. These films make no attempt to ground their plotlines in science: it’s magic, and we suspend our disbelief. By contrast, it is the scientific veneer pasted onto other indulgent magical fantasies that is the Dumbest Science of all.

-Sarah Gashi