How Do 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.


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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.
    D.J. Dunlop, Magnetic recording in rocks. Phys. Today, Vol. 65, No.6 (June 2012) pp. 31–37Google 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

Science, Pseudoscience and Nonsense

  1. 5.
    M. Shermer, What is pseudoscience? Sci. Am. 92 (Sept 2011)Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Woman in the Moon (Fritz Lang, UFA 1929). Scientific experiments on the Moon, followed by pseudoscience [DVD scene 15]Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    James Randi Educational Foundation, $1 Million psychic challenge,
  4. 8.
    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 20th Paramount 2008). Archaeologist 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
  5. 9.
    H.J. Van Till, D.A. Young, C. Menninga, Science Held Hostage (InterVarsity, Downers Grove, 1988), p. 41Google Scholar

Problems to Be Solved

  1. 10.
    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
  2. 11.
    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
  3. 12.
    Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Irwin Allen, 20th 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
  4. 13.
    All Things Considered – The Bomb Watchers (Robert Krulwich, NPR July 1, 2010). Starfish Prime nuclear testing in the ionosphere, 1962,
  5. 14.
    P.W. Singer, Wired for War (Penguin, New York, 2009), p. 163Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    K. Davidson, Beam Me Up, Scotty? Pittsburgh Post Gazette (17 October 2005), p. A-6 (originally reported in the San Francisco Chronicle)Google Scholar
  7. 16.
    E.W. Davis, Teleportation Physics Study (Air Force Research Laboratory, Aug 2004),
  8. 17.
    Star Trek, The Trouble With Tribbles (Joseph Pevney, Paramount 1967) [DVD vol. 21, ep. 42]Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    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
  10. 19.
    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
  11. 20.
    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
  12. 21.
    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
  13. 22.
    RIBA, a robotic nurse for elder care,
  14. 23.
    Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, MGM 1973). Advertising products that are not what they claim to be [DVD scene 2]Google Scholar
  15. 24.
    “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” (YouTube video, featuring Ella Fitzgerald),
  16. 25.
    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
  17. 26.
    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
  18. 27.
    A. Camilli, F. D’Emilio, Italy Convicts 7 for Failure to Warn of 2009 Quake (Associated Press, reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 23 Oct 2012), p. A-1Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry B. Luokkala
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhysicsCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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