Even 'Rocky' had a montage! MONTAGE!

Last Fridays xkcd:

A scene from 'Big Bang Theory'.

This is why there will never be a movie/reality TV show made about Real Science(TM).

I can make my experiments sound dramatic: Setting up steel-cage death-matches between various variants of HIV-1. Epic gladiator battles where only the fittest survives to fight another day. Everything glows-- red, green. There are lazers involved. I also create mutant swarms of HIV-1 and ask them to do my bidding. The ones that do the job the best survive (well, their babies are allowed to live). The ones that fail are killed.

That sounds AWESOME, RIGHT???

It is, but like, not to just, 'watch'. Me doing flow cytometry all day is not... fun. Extracting RNA and doing RT-RTPCR is not 'fun' to watch. Especially after I hit 'start' on the machine and go read papers for an hour and a half. The most action-intense experiment I do is a 'pulse chase' for 12 hours, and, um, I wouldnt enjoy watching someone else do it. I mean, its all fun to do... but Real Science(TM) just isnt as 'TV friendly' as shows/movies make it out to be.


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Wee! I was wondering how long it would be for a sciblogger to post that one ^_^

Still, as media-unfriendly as Real Science is, I really do wish they'd make an effort to be at least a little less unrealistic. Like, you always have the Bold Underdog Scientist Challenging Dogma and the Old Unimaginative Skeptics opposing him, and, of course, the Bold Underdog Scientist is always right in the end and the Skeptics are always wrong. Can't the skeptics be occasionally right? Or at the very least, can't you show flashbacks showing how the Bold Underdog Scientist was wrong a bunch of times in the past, even if he happens to be right this time?

X-Files was probably the worst at that. Was Scully *ever* right? >_<

By Christina (not verified) on 03 Jan 2010 #permalink

Real life is never as sexy as television. I can only imagine what would happen if they tried to dramatize software development.

By Tyler DiPietro (not verified) on 03 Jan 2010 #permalink

I still say the better the science is, the more interesting the show. I like the premise of Fringe (and boy howdy, do I love me some Anna Torv! Rawr!), but the show has completely lost me with it's ginormous spiky grub worm viruses and ridiculous chalkboard scribblings.

@ Tyler DiPietro
What about swordfish where he is programming the worm? As he programs, these little cubes try to fit together, and then they start falling apart while he is in the middle of writing code. IT IS INTENSE!

TV won't show how any job really really is. What job is TV friendly? The mechanics of all jobs are boring to watch, except maybe for sportspeople and porn actresses.

That said, you read papers while the machine is working, so the "actual science montage" by xkcd isn't really so actual. I'd watch a footage of you setting things up as you tell us what you're doing, pressing start and then going reading and using pubmed in your pc- it doesn't have to be the entire hour and a half, just 45 seconds to let us know what you do while the machine is working. They did that in House 1x03 (occam's razor) and it was good.

We don't need to watch every mechanic detail since we're not going to do your job, but we can get to know a fair enough deal (fair enough for Average Joe) about what it's like to do your job. I'd say all you need is a clever editing. Maybe some eye candy 3d computer simulated viruses killing each other and reproducing furiously would help as well.

The IT Crowd is pretty much my daily life :-)

My favorite TV/Movie bad science, hands down, is when someone is looking at a file on a computer, and someone else hacks into that computer, and deletes the file, and then the file on the first person's screen goes away. Classic fail.

Some time back in the 90s or whenever, some computer hardware company (HP?) ran a TV ad in which they did their best to make RAID mass storage devices look exciting: a red light flashes on the front panel of a rack-mounted system (in an office where the background sounds are about right for a subway station during rush hour), and an IT tech pulls the panel off and says in a hurried, TV-show-operating-room whisper, "Drive's down! What do we do?" Tech # 2 hands him a new hard drive and whispers back, "Hot swap!" like it's the COOLEST thing anyone could ever do. It was short -- maybe ten or fifteen seconds, but you could FEEL the TENSION, you could HEAR the DRAMA, you could TASTE the URGENCY, and more than anything, you could SMELL the BS.

I think it was the first time I saw that ad that I realized just how utterly pointless it was expect to anything resembling real life on TV or in the movies.

By TotallyUncool (not verified) on 03 Jan 2010 #permalink

Was Scully *ever* right?

No. That was the point of the show.
It was made by and for people who repeatedly expressed devout belief that "there is something out there". It was intended (after its primary purpose of cheap entertainment, of course) to defame skeptical thinking of all sorts, and it was extremely successful. X-Files and its ilk are the enemy.

Hey my job doesn't even get a montage.


I always wondered why television lawyers even have desks since they don't write or read anything. They seem to use their office space exclusively for sex and violent confrontations.

They should have padded benches with a lot of plastic sheeting instead.

I noticed the library is just so you can lean up against Corpus Juris Secundum and bitch furtively about fellow attorneys.

Easy on the books guys they are the backdrop for our yellow pages ad.

Them scriptions are spensive, don't get spit on mah Corpus Juris Secundumses!

or spray tan:


By Prometheus (not verified) on 04 Jan 2010 #permalink

I was hoping someone who's a maths or physics nerd would comment on those equations, or as holywood would have it, some aspergers kid will phone in with the solution.

Most of what I do in the lab requires TIME but not ATTENTION. The exceptions are building equipment in the shop and setting up diamond anvil cells.

Using the FTIR spectrometer or the confocal microscope usually takes 10 minutes of actual work with an hour or two waiting for the measurement to be done.

By Gabriel Hanna (not verified) on 04 Jan 2010 #permalink

Oh, and I think X-files had the laziest writers ever. Really, Scully never learns ANYTHING from one week to the next, and whatever supernatural nonsense it is this week is never so obscure that Mulder doesn't already know all about it.

There was a show with the same sort of premise as X-files in the 60's, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Critics called it "monster of the week" and people quit watching it becuase it was too implausible that there would be ghosts AND vampires AND werewolves AND aliens all running simultaneously. Shows how much dumber people got.

By Gabriel Hanna (not verified) on 04 Jan 2010 #permalink

ERV, what do you mean running flow cytometry isn't exciting? The wailing and gnashing of teeth are very exciting. Next summer (when the park BBQ pits open again) we're going to sacrifice a goat. That should be super exciting, and tasty.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 04 Jan 2010 #permalink

Twin Peaks was much better than X-Files (And Duchovny was much better as Denise). It didn't even try to set up a straw-man contest between skepticism and credulity -- it openly abandoned reason, and the characters simply accepted whatever insane things happened as normal.

The thing I found the hardest to take about X-Files was that slogan: "I WANT TO BELIEVE".

I understand wanting something to be true -- there are any number of things which I don't believe, but would like to be true. I also understanding believing something that you don't want to be true -- that's a depressingly common experience. I can also understand the passing urge to want to believe or disbelieve something, but only as a temporary reaction: "Oh, I wish I could believe that, but..."

But making a slogan (or worse yet, a philosophy of life) out of "I WANT TO BELIEVE" is too much like opening the top of your skull and placing a note on your forehead: "Feel free to tinker with my brain -- I don't really care what happens to it!"

A thought experiment: consider the proposition, "I want to believe in the Easter Bunny."

Pro: You'll get a warm fuzzy feeling inside every year as Easter approaches.
You'll think that Easter candy is magic.

Con: It's probably going to take quite a lot of mental acrobatics to maintain your belief in the face of so much negative evidence.
You'll have a crisis of faith every time you see easter candy on sale in stores, because the bunny is supposed to bring it!
If people find out about your belief, they may not take you seriously as an adult.
They may, in fact, suspect that you are more than a little bit "off in the head," which can impact such things as employment, relationships, etc.
You can still eat plenty of Peeps and chocolate eggs even if you don't believe in the Easter Bunny.

To Mulder, of course, the "pro" items would far outweigh the "con," but then again, that's how Hollywood usually operates.

By TotallyUncool (not verified) on 04 Jan 2010 #permalink

Two words: Time lapse.

(And a funky soundtrack.)

It's even less exciting if you are doing numerical work.

0001. Set model up, looks cool since I am typing into a black and white unix terminal, all movies love that shit
0002. Run model
0003. Read papers, or do paperwork for several days
0004. Realise the model didn't do anything interesting, you made a typo, or it became numerically unstable.
0005. Set model up again ...

... ??? ...

1824. Get phd

Hollywood and pretty much fiction in general does this to pretty much everything. From science, to police investigations to working on a car. Things in real life are not as dramatic as they are in fiction.

I really must be odd man out. At least a couple times a year I'm out on stage running wires, the orchestra is practicing in the pit, the corps is running routines in their leggings and sweat tops, and some gal is on top of a ladder swinging a light around.

Not a montage, but you could film up to thirty seconds of it before you realized that for all that frenetic activity (with it's own backing tracks!) nothing is getting done very fast.

About a year ago four of us were standing around the basement, after a dull meeting. We got on the subject of lab work on TV vs lab work in reality, and noted that on CSI everyone is so busy and intense, and in real life people stand around in the basement doing anything but work.

By Gabriel Hanna (not verified) on 05 Jan 2010 #permalink

Kind of reminds me of one of my SF characters: He loves space travel, but doesn't get to do it often. He compensates by treating every tiny little spaceship procedure as if it were preparations for epic battle/exploration.

NPC: "Geeze, what's with all the drama? We're just leaving spacedock on a routine dilithium delivery!"

Well it's obvious init; you're assuming the scientist always has to be the good guy, rushing to the rescue and saving the world. Now what would be more interesting would be if the scientist was the BAD guy (or girl) trying to wipe out all bankers with a vial of genetically tailored ebola disguised as a tube of polo mints? It's got drama, it's got tension - its got moral justification...

Bring back mad scientists I say. Or at least moderately irate ones.

By Carl-not-that-one (not verified) on 13 Jan 2010 #permalink