Biochemical Soul Musings on Nature, Science, Evolution, Biology, and Education


J.J. Abrams New TV Show “Fringe” is a Hunk of Crap (and Bad for Science)


Okay, so let me first state upfront that I am a scientist throughout every level of my psyche. I do not believe in Gods, the paranormal, homeopathic remedies, astrology, magic, UFOs, immortal souls, the chupacabra or any other such nonsense.

That being said, from an entertainment standpoint, I am a huge fan of nearly all science fiction, fantasy, and literary and cinematic portrayals of pseudoscientific and paranormal ideas (at least the good shows/stories).

In fact, I'm not embarrassed to admit that one of my favorite TV shows is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Cool demons, magic, and truly amazing character development, mixed with brilliant examinations of our shared cultural and human's got it all. Also, I should mention that I was a fan of both "Alias" and "Lost".

That being said, I just watched the pilot episode of J.J. Abrams new TV show "Fringe" and I must say that it is a steaming load of shite on multiple different levels. And on top of all the things that make it horrible entertainment, I think it's bad for science as well.

I'd like to first tackle the reasons I think it's bad for science.

Reason 1: The main "scientist" character is a clinically insane old guy in a white lab coat that gets yanked from the loony bin to do his scientific deeds.  He's the stereotypical "mad scientist". And he's not the only one. Another mad scientist who used to be buddies with the other mad scientist turned himself into Bill Gates and now runs an evil science corporation (at least they strongly imply the corp is gonna be evil).

Reason 2: Just as an example of how science is portrayed in this show - one of the characters in the corporation says (paraphrased) "Science and technology have grown at such an exponential rate for so long, it’s now beyond the control of regulation." This seems like it will be a major theme of the show - giving a run-down of every possible way imaginable that science can go wrong. FEAR science! It's out of control!

Reason 3: This is basically the same as #2, but it comes not from the show but from J.J. Abrams himself as quoted in this interview (no longer available):

The show is coming out at a time when every week we read or see some kind of potentially horrifying scientific breakthrough … We are at a time where science is out of control,” Abrams told reporters during a conference call [emphasis mine]. He pointed out that recently scientists talked of having some success in attempting to develop an invisibility cloak device after creating two types of materials that can bend light the wrong way.

“The stuff you would never in a million years think is actually possible, is happening every day. It is pushing what we all thought was that comfortable quaint version of what sci-fi is, to a very different place, and that is where ‘Fringe’ lives,” Abrams said.

Obviously, Abrams knows exactly jack shit about actual science. The cloaking device is cool, but still a far cry from the science fiction incarnations that have been dreamed of for decades. If anything, I would argue that science is far behind most science fiction visions of our technological possibilities, and it certainly isn't producing "the stuff you would never in a million years think is actually possible". Despite this reality, Abrams now gives watchers more fears to ruminate on.

Reason 4: Despite the fact that Abrams himself has said that much of the show will at least revolve around real modern science, most of what I've seen in the pilot is nothing but moronic caricatures of real science. One quick example: When mad scientist guy is given back his ancient underground laboratory at Harvard from many years ago, he asks for a bunch of lab equipment, including "a microorganism detector".  What the hell is that? A microscope? Maybe a PCR machine for sequencing DNA (which he's never heard of because he's been in the mental clink for years). I've been in many many labs, but somehow I missed out on being trained to use the microorganism detector.

Which brings up the main reason I hate this show - The plot setup is so retarded that I simply cannot suspend my disbelief.

You see, good shows dealing with the paranormal or pseudoscientific do one key thing that makes all the wierd stuff perfectly alright - they give you a good reason to suspend your disbelief. Buffy, for instance, simply tells you "magic is real, demons are real, and she's the chosen one to kill evil".

Alright, I can accept that - now bring on Spike...

As another example, Heroes, X-Men and The 4400 simply said "There are people with superhuman or paranormal gifts. It's tied to biology or genetics. That's all you need to know." Alright, I accept your scene - on with the cool acts of derring-do.

"Fringe", on the other hand, makes its own setup utterly unbelievable and stupid almost from the very beginning. Fifteen minutes into it, we're told that there's some crazy disease melting people or turning their skin clear, and only one man can save the now-infected FBI agent. The savior is non other than the mad scientist who's been in the Nut Hatch for years.

So they pull him out, muttering, stuttering, and acting generally crazy, and they give him his lab. He immediately begins prepping a few electrodes and a massive tank full of saline or something, into which he puts the girl of the show. He hooks her up to the FBI dude so they can "share consciousness".

Never mind the fact that science and technology has in fact progressed far enough that the ten-year-old scientific knowledge of an insane man would be almost completely obsolete.

The problem is that the show doesn't set itself in the future or couch the strange happenings in a simple way that allows you to disregard the unlikelihood of its events. No - instead it takes itself MUCH too seriously and tries to make you believe that our technology, as we know it and understand it right now in 2008, already contains such things as transmogrification, teleportation, and connecting minds (through the rhythm of "brain waves" no less, ignoring anything about real neuroscience or brain structure or neurons). Not only that, but the crazy scientist many years out of practice is light years ahead of the real scientists.

In summary, don't waste your time with "Fringe". From the pilot, I saw no redeeming interesting plot elements or particularly intriguing character development. Perhaps it will get better, though I doubt it.


Call for submissions – Carnival of Evolution #2

Jason Rosenhouse, the eloquent ScienceBlogs writer over at EvolutionBlog has graciously offered to host the 2nd edition of Carnival of Evolution.

So get those intelligent fingers a tappin' and send your posts to him (deadline for this edition is September 14th). There's a world of evolutionary change out there to discover, and I for one want to know about it.

While you're at it, if you feel so inclined, offer yourselves up in Darwin's name and volunteer to host a future edition.


A Taste…

Chapter 1

Strength to Psythid

Fein Renji Zoar, leader of the Psythe and Commander of the Psythid war fleet, gazed at the screen before him, his eyes steaming with pleasure. The air sac below his three blue eyes expanded, drawing in a healthy breath of the acrid smoke drifting lazily through the room. The black star-studded depths of outer space covered the cabin’s screen, and a charred hunk of metal floated across it, as a million similar pieces lay scattered throughout the distance beyond. Though Zoar could not read it, he clearly saw the symbols printed onto the side of the chunk of spaceship as it meandered through the empty space outside. Most of the primitive language had been blasted away. Only the symbols “...nited Stat...” lie stenciled across the gray metal amid a patch of smeared red, white, and blue paint.

Fein Zoar croaked, “I’m surprised the puny creatures managed to lift this thing through their atmosphere, much less get it to fly through space. I feel like we’ve done nothing more than step on a harmless Garlack. What did they expect to do in this heap? Escape? I doubt they could have made it farther than a couple of planets out. They certainly couldn’t have traveled across the galaxy.”

Fein Zoar’s rumbling voice emerged like a can of rocks rolling across the ground. But to Fin Ilzeko, Fein Zoar’s Overseer and second in command, he sounded ecstatic. Zoar rapped Ilzeko’s shelled back with a long whip-like tentacle in a sign of camaraderie.

“You have done well, Fin Ilzeko, and you will most certainly be rewarded for it,” said Fein Zoar through a muscular slit running upward between two of his three eyes.

“Yes, my Fein. The prisoner is well secured, and it seems that he may have useful intelligence.”

Zoar’s air sac collapsed into a mass of wrinkled folds, sending out a jet of smoke through the vertical slit mouth. “And what of the expendables? Have they been eliminated?”

“Yes, my Fein. They have been jettisoned out through the air lock. There,” said Ilzeko waving his whip toward the screen, “you can see one of them now.”

A white space suit spun helplessly in the distance, its arms and legs waving madly to no avail.

“Filthy creatures, polluting our sweet air,” muttered Zoar, taking in another large breath of smoke.

“I can’t imagine that we’ll find anything useful from this forsaken planet, which is fine by me. I can almost smell its stench from out here.”

“I know what you mean, my Fein. I have to close my bulbs every time I get near the prisoner. His odors seem to penetrate straight through my containment suit. And I hate having to wear that thing.”

Fein Zoar scratched at the soft brown fur protruding from his underbelly as he watched two hunks of the obliterated spaceship collide into one another beyond the window.

“Fear not, Fin Ilzeko. As soon as you have gathered everything you can from him, you may reunite him with his frozen companions in oblivion. Tell me, what has your crew been able to gather from the pink one?”

One of Fin Ilzeko’s eyes telescoped inward into his face, rewetting itself. “Well, my Fein, he is definitely acquainted with his region’s military. The prisoner has not yet revealed any details, but he will surely break soon. The difficult part is trying not to kill him. Theirs is a squishy race, easily punctured and broken. Their bodies tend to leak red fluid every time you touch them.”

“No matter. If that junk out there is any indication of their technological abilities, we could probably toss down a few furry Garlacks and kill everything on the planet. I almost feel sorry for them. But orders are orders, and we will do whatever is handed down to us.”

“My Fein, do you think the small one, the youngling, will be of any use?”

“Probably not, Fin Ilzeko, probably not. He seemed much too scared and feeble to accomplish anything, though the boy may yet surprise us. At the very least, however, that escape pod and shaken youngling will certainly serve as an excellent warning to Dralahn Las. And they will still have no idea what’s coming.”

Fein Zoar’s slit clapped open and shut, sending puffs of smoke and grunts into the air. Ilzeko joined in his superior’s laughter, but then trailed off.

“My Fein, may I be so bold as to ask you a question?”

Zoar tilted his wrinkled purple head forward, looking at Ilzeko through the bright blue third eye above his mouth. “You may ask two questions, Fin Ilzeko, and I am counting that one as your first. What is your second question?”

Ilzeko grunted at his leader’s attempt at humor, if that is what it was. “Well, my Fein, do we really know what’s coming?”

Zoar’s slit narrowed as his air sac deflated. He tilted his head back again, now glaring at the soldier through all three eyes, and spoke seriously. “Fin Ilzeko, it does not matter what we do or do not know about the Kre’losth. All we need to know is that they are coming, and that we will be going the way of the Earthlings if we do not obey orders. Understand?”

Ilzeko brought his hulking body into rigid formation, both whips lying flat against his back and hi arms akimbo. “Yes, my Fein. Strength to Psythid,” said Ilzeko raising his tentacles into a figure eight.

“Good. You may be excused.”

Ilzeko exited the bridge, leaving Fein Renji Zoar to survey the Earth ship’s remains tumbling into the cold blackness of space.

It is too late for us to turn back now, Ilzeko my friend. We have built our nest and now we must lie in it. The deal has been made, for good or ill, and we can only hope that the Kre’losth are good to their word. All else is doom.

Fein Zoar rolled back into his cushion, gulping a massive breath of the life-giving smoke, and hoped that his trust was right. In his hearts, however, he knew that it was probably wrong. Dead wrong.


Where did 2007 go?

You may notice a complete dearth of activity in this blog throughout 2007. This is because I spent most of the entire year working on my first novel:

The Sil'thurian Threads
Book 1
Secrets of the Psythe

Look for it on bookshelves...oh...maybe never. Or maybe when I can get a publishable draft done.
At least I finished it though. I spent about 30 minutes to 1.5 hours a day during lunch for about twelve months, with occasional weekend/night writing.

Now it needs some good hack and slash work. Right now, in standard manuscript format, it is about 133,000 words and 550 pages. Too long....