How Can We Solve Our Problems? (Science, Technology, and Society)

  • Barry B. Luokkala
Part of the Science and Fiction book series (SCIFICT)


More often than not, science fiction movies involve crisis management. A serious problem arises—alien invaders, natural disasters, or unforeseen consequences of some new technology, to name just a few—and a solution must be found urgently. The solution requires the best scientific minds and the latest technology, often preceded or followed up by military intervention. Indeed, much of real science is devoted to problem-solving. Natural curiosity, in response to puzzling observations, leads to all sorts of interesting questions about how the world works. The goal of basic research is to answer these fundamental questions, while applied research is aimed at solving specific, practical problems. But there are problems of a different sort, not all of which are solvable by science or technology.


Public Perception of Science

  1. 1.
    The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, Warner Brothers 1951). Obsession with dangerous scientific research [DVD scenes 14, 17, 18]Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Absolute Zero (Robert Lee, Marvista Entertainment 2006). Following a totally nonsensical explanation for global climate change, a scientist asserts that “Science is never wrong” [DVD scenes 1, 2]Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Dunlop, D.J.: Magnetic recording in rocks. Physics Today, June 2012Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 20th Century Fox 2008). The lead character, a high school science teacher, clearly doesn’t understand the difference between a scientific theory and an opinion [DVD scene 4]Google Scholar

Methodology of Science

  1. 5.
    Woman in the Moon (Fritz Lang, UFA 1929). Scientific experiments on the Moon, followed by pseudoscience [DVD scene 15]Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    The Andromeda Strain (Robert Wise, Universal 1971). A satellite crash brings a deadly microbe to Earth. Almost the entire movie is devoted to the use of the scientific method to prevent the spread of the infectionGoogle Scholar

Reasonable Uses of Science to Solve Our Problems

  1. 7.
    Target Earth (Sherman A. Rose, Allied Artists Pictures 1954). An invading army of robots from Venus are disabled by resonance frequency sound waves [DVD scenes 16, 18]Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” (YouTube video, featuring Ella Fitzgerald).
  3. 9.
    Star Trek (the Original Series) – “The Trouble With Tribbles” (Joseph Pevney, Paramount 1967). High-yield grain consumed by rapidly reproducing furry critters [DVD vol. 21, ep. 42]Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Freedman, D.H.: Are engineered foods evil? Sci. Am. 309, 80–85 (2013)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 11.
    Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (Leonard Nimoy, Paramount 1986). Time travel back to the 20th century to find humpback whales. [DVD scenes 5, 6]Google Scholar
  6. 12.
    “Ozone Hole: How We Saved the Planet” (Jamie Lockhead, PBS 2019). Documentary of the effect of CFCs on the ozone layer, including the influence of the TV series All in the Family to stop the use of CFCs in aerosol spray productsGoogle Scholar
  7. 13.
    NOAA Fisheries website regarding population of humpback whales.
  8. 14.
    Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (George Lucas, 20th Century Fox 2005). A robotic midwife delivers Luke and Leia, while elsewhere in the galaxy, robotic surgeons convert what’s left of Anakin Skywalker into the cyborg Darth Vader [DVD scene 45]Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 20th Century Fox 1980). A robotic surgeon replaces Luke’s severed hand with a cybernetic hand [DVD scene 49]Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    RIBA, a robotic nurse for elder care.

Misplaced Faith in Science

  1. 17.
    Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Rightful Heir” (Winrich Kolbe, Paramount 1993). Clone of Kahless created to restore order and stability to Klingon Empire [DVD season 6, disc 6, scene 7]Google Scholar

Misunderstanding of Science

  1. 18.
    Shermer, M.: What is pseudoscience? Sci. Am. 305, 92 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 19.
    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 20th Paramount 2008). Archeologist Indiana Jones is pressed into service by a Soviet psychic researcher, in search of a powerful alien artifact. Early studies suggested that the artifact was strongly magnetic, but it becomes obvious that the interaction can’t possibly be electromagnetism [DVD scenes 2, 7, 8]Google Scholar
  3. 20.
    Van Till, H.J., Young, D.A., Menninga, C.: Science Held Hostage, p. 41. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove (1988)Google Scholar
  4. 21.
    James Randi Educational Foundation.
  5. 22.
    Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Chris Columbus, Warner Brothers 2002). Phoenix tears have healing powers [DVD scene 33]Google Scholar
  6. 23.
    Data on helenalin, the toxic substance found in the flowering plant Arnica.
  7. 24.
    Definition of the “law of infinitesimal dose” in homeopathic medicine.
  8. 25.
    Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Irwin Allen, Twentieth Century Fox 1961). The Van Allen Radiation Belt has somehow caught fire, and threatens to incinerate all life on Earth. The proposed solution (worked out on a slide rule): explode an atomic bomb, in hopes of blowing out the fire [DVD scenes 6, 9]Google Scholar
  9. 26.
    All Things Considered – “The Bomb Watchers” (Robert Krulwich, NPR July 1, 2010). Starfish Prime nuclear testing in the ionosphere, 1962.
  10. 27.
    Singer, P.W.: Wired For War, p. 163. Penguin Press, New York (2009)Google Scholar
  11. 28.
    Davidson, K.: Beam me up, Scotty? Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 17 Oct 2005, p. A-6 (originally reported in the San Francisco Chronicle)Google Scholar
  12. 29.
    Davis, E.W.: Teleportation physics study. Air Force Research Laboratory, Aug 2004.
  13. 30.
    Star Trek: The Next Generation – “The Measure of a Man” (Robert Scheerer, Paramount 1989). Data’s storage capacity and processor speed [DVD season 2, disc 3, scene 7]Google Scholar
  14. 31.
    The Outer Limits – “I, Robot” (Leon Benson, MGM 1964). A robot, suspected of murdering its creator, is eventually proven innocent [DVD vol. 3, disc 2, episode 41]Google Scholar
  15. 32.
    Camilli, A., D’Emilio, F.: Italy convicts 7 for failure to warn of 2009 quake (Associated Press, reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 23 Oct 2012, p. A-1)Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Gilligan’s Island – “Pass the Vegetables, Please” (Leslie Goowin, United Artists 1966). The castaways eat vegetables grown from experimental radioactive seeds, and acquire unusual powers [DVD season 3, episode 3]Google Scholar

How Can We Know What Is Real?

  1. 34.
    An Honest Liar (Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom, Flim Flam Films 2014). The career of James “The Amazing” Randi as a stage magician turned debunker of claims of the paranormalGoogle Scholar
  2. 35.
    Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, MGM 1973). Advertising products that are not what they claim to be [DVD scene 2]Google Scholar
  3. 36.
    Wong, K.: The first cookout. Sci. Am., Sept 2013Google Scholar
  4. 37.
  5. 38.
    Star Trek (original series) – “The Changeling” Written by John Meredyth Lucas, Paramount 1967). A space probe mistakes Captain Kirk for its “Creator” and struggles with the resulting logical inconsistencies [DVD vol. 19, episode 37, scenes 6, 7]Google Scholar
  6. 39.
    The Matrix (The Wachowski Brothers, Warner Brothers 1991). Morpheus asks Neo, “What is ‘real’?” [DVD scene 12]Google Scholar
  7. 40.
    Alexei Efros, as quoted by Brooke Borel. Clicks, lies and video tapes. Sci. Am., Oct 2018Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhysicsCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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