Science in Media (or lack thereof): 12 Monkeys

Borrowed from timeinc.net

Confession. I only managed to force myself to watch the first half of the first episode of 12 Monkeys–which sucks, because I was really looking forward to two STEM female characters in a show (given how I kinda relate to that). I can’t even tell whether 12 Monkeys is good or not, because it keeps shattering my suspension of disbelief.

Within the first five minutes of the show, scientist co-protagonist Cassandra is giving a lecture, and this comes out of her mouth: “I know this is a controversial thing to say in front of a room full of doctors, but…we’re not God.”

Wow. So many reactions running through my head simultaneously.

1. Why on earth would that be a controversial thing to say in front of a roomful of doctors?
2. Yes, because there’s nothing like not being able to help a patient to make you feel like God.
3. Does the show actually understand the difference between a doctor and a scientist? This would be a completely ridiculous thing to say to a bunch of scientists too, but it’s even more ridiculous to say it to doctors. (Irrespective of whatever the religious beliefs of these doctors/scientists might be–and yes, both professions encompass people of a wide variety of beliefs).
4. No one in the medical field talks like this. And no one is more aware of the current limitations of medical knowledge than the people working in the medical field.
5. Clearly, there is a segment of the public who thinks doctors/scientists are like God, and one of them wrote this episode. This is deeply, deeply disturbing. Also a tiny bit flattering, but mostly disturbing.

If some random person said this, it would be one thing. But the character who said it was herself a scientist. Or doctor. Again, I’m not sure the show understands the difference. So that was immediately very jarring, and took me right out of the story. This was followed by another mention of “playing God” in the same episode, this time with respect to a scientist rather than a doctor.

There’s this article a friend recently sent me, The Fermi Paradox. It lists an assortment of theories for why we might not have found life anywhere other than Earth. Obviously, we don’t have enough information to narrow down an explanation, but given how little we know, there are a lot of possibilities. I think this might be a good reference to check out to get an idea of how scientists might think when we’re in the early stages of dealing with something we don’t understand (and we’re always dealing with something we don’t understand–otherwise, why study it?) And it’s a nice way of pointing out how humbling science can be, and how no one who works in the scientific field could possibly think they have all the answers. After all, if we had all the answers, we’d be out of a job.

This isn’t the only weird thing to crop up in the show. The supposedly intelligent Cassandra…isn’t. Intelligent, I mean. And the show claims that “in all currently known science, time travel is impossible.” I’m not a physicist, but isn’t time travel considered at least theoretically plausible at this point?

But I’m not sure I’ll ever have the energy to dive back into this show, for any reason. Maybe it’s good, but it is exhausting to have to watch a show that is so dependent on science when it doesn’t know the first thing about the topic.

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