683: Science Montage
Title text: The rat's perturbed; it must sense nanobots! Code grey! We have a Helvetica scenario!
This comic makes fun of the artificially dramatized and simplified depiction of science in movies. The unstated premise seems to be that the scientists are trying to get information about a murderer based on a sample obtained from his clothing. The movie version of events involves the characters doing exciting things with a computer display, lab rats, a laser, and a complicated chemical apparatus. The characters quickly arrive at the firm conclusion that paint on the clothes is from an "antimatter factory" in Belgrade, Serbia.
The actual science version shows the scientists putting a sample into a machine (perhaps a mass spectrometer). The machine takes an hour and 20 minutes to analyze the sample (according to the clock on the wall). At the end of this process, the only thing learned is that there is likely no barium or radium in the sample. This conclusion is not very helpful, and is not even very certain.
There are several major concepts about science and technology that movies tend to distort for the purposes of a more exciting plot, both illustrated here. One is that the work involves a lot of different exciting-looking gadgets. Another is that the analysis can be done very quickly, and results in very certain and significant conclusions. Besides this, the scientists often seem to have access to a database full of trivial information from around the world. In reality, a scientific analysis of some sample or data often only requires a single boring-looking machine, takes quite some time, and provides a limited result that must be interpreted very carefully to have any meaning at all.
The title text illustrates movie science by observing a lab rat and deducing the presence of nanobots. The Helvetica Scenario is a fictional experiment, presented in Switzerland (Helvetica), which assumes that removing only the nucleus (the center of an atom) of a calcium molecule in one's skin, but still leaving the electron shell at its position, would cause a massive reaction ending up in heavy mutations. The Helvetica scenario was made up by the BBC comedy show Look Around You in the pilot episode, which can be seen here (at 6:29).
- Movie Science Montage
- [One scientist passes a test tube to another, who's sitting at a machine. They're both wearing lab coats and goggles. Lights and screens are shining, and there's a hamster ball and a Newton's cradle on a shelf behind them.]
- [There's a glowing sample next to a rat in a cage. One of the scientists is holding a glowing implement; she has another rat in her hand and one on her head. The other scientist is on the phone.]
- Caged Rat: Squeak!
- [One of the scientists pulls levers on another machine, which is shooting some kind of ray downwards a a sample.]
- [The other scientist is operating a machine with a scope, flasks, coils, and bubbles.]
- Scientist (in panel): Paint flecks from the killer's clothing match an antimatter factory in Belgrade!
- Scientist (off panel): Let's go!
- Actual Science Montage
- [Two scientists in lab coats and goggles place a sample into a machine. There's a clock on the wall.]
- [Time has passed.]
- Machine: ...whirrrrrr...
- [Time has passed. One of the scientists has removed his goggles.]
- Machine: ...whirrrr...bing!
- [They examine the sample.]
- Male Scientist: Okay, we've determined there's neither barium nor radium in this sample.
- Female Scientist: Probably.