683: Science Montage

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Science Montage
The rat's perturbed; it must sense nanobots! Code grey! We have a Helvetica scenario!
Title text: The rat's perturbed; it must sense nanobots! Code grey! We have a Helvetica scenario!

[edit] Explanation

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 (likely a centrifuge, but perhaps a mass spectrometer). The machine apparently takes about 2 hours 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 probably 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 further illustrates movie science, depicting one deducing the presence of nanobots simply by observing the behavior of a lab rat. 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 6:10). "Code grey" may refer to Grey goo, a hypothetical doomsday scenario involving nanobots.

[edit] Transcript

Movie Science Montage
[Male scientist passes a test tube to a female scientist sitting at a machine. Both are wearing lab coats and goggles. Lights and screens are shining, and a hamster ball and a Newton's cradle stand on a shelf behind them.]
[A glowing sample next to a rat in a cage. Female scientist is holding a glowing implement; she has another rat in her hand and one on her head. The male scientist is on the phone.]
Caged Rat: Squeak!
[Female scientist pulls levers on another machine, which is shooting a laser beam of some sort downwards onto a sample.]
[Male scientist is operating a complicated-looking chemical apparatus with a scope, flasks, coils, and bubbles.]
Male Scientist: Paint flecks from the killer's clothing match an antimatter factory in Belgrade!
Female Scientist (off panel): Let's go!
Actual Science Montage
[Two scientists in lab coats and goggles place a sample into a machine. An analog clock on the wall reads 9:05.]
[The scientists are still standing in front of the machine. The clock now reads 10:10.]
Machine: ...whirrrrrr...
[The clock now reads 11:25. The male scientist 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.
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Discussion

'Code grey!' may also be a reference to Grey Goo involving nanobots.
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