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 two scientists Cueball and Ponytail doing exciting things with a control console, lab rats, a device with some kind of beam (perhaps a laser), and a complicated chemical apparatus. The scientists quickly arrive at the firm conclusion that paint on the clothes is from an "antimatter factory" in Belgrade, Serbia.
While not directly used in the study, a Newton's cradle in motion can be seen in the first panel, a device notoriously useless in any serious scientific study, but very often used in movies, for instance as a prop in the office of a professor. There is also a hamster wheel. According to the official transcript it is a hamster ball but it is clearly not a ball as it has spokes, and thus resembles a hamster running wheel, probably for the rats shown in the next panel.
The actual science version shows the same scientists putting a sample into a device (likely a mass spectrometer or a centrifuge). The device apparently takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to analyze the sample (according to the clock on the wall moving from about 10:05 to 11:25). 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 on its own, 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 a movie science scene, depicting someone deducing the presence of nanobots simply by observing the behavior of a perturbed lab rat. The Helvetica Scenario is a fictional experiment, presented in Switzerland (Helvetia is the Latin name for the country), 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. "Code grey" may refer to Grey goo, a hypothetical doomsday scenario involving nanobots. In 1242: Scary Names Grey goo is on the chart and the Helvetica scenario is mentioned in the title text.
Antimatter is also referenced in 826: Guest Week: Zach Weiner (SMBC), 1621: Fixion and 1731: Wrong as well as being the subject of the what if? Antimatter. It was also mentioned in another what if?: Lake Tea.
- [Two columns of four panels are shown below two captions.]
- Left: Movie Science Montage
- Right: Actual Science Montage
- [Below the four rows of panels in the two montages will be described, Movie first then Actual as the two are synchronized in time.]
- [Movie: Cueball passes a test tube to Ponytail sitting at a large control console to the left looking at it's glowing screens at the bottom. At the top there is a flashing lamp. Both are wearing lab coats and goggles. A hamster ball and a Newton's cradle stand on a shelf above them.]
- [Actual: Cueball stand behind Ponytail, also here both are in lab coats with goggles. Ponytail place a sample from a test tube into a small device standing on a table. An analog clock on the wall above them is at five minutes past ten.]
- [Movie: A small glowing sample has been placed next to a rat inside a cage standing on a table. Ponytail, is holding a glowing implement up towards the cage; she has another rat in her hand and also a rat sitting on top of her head. Cueball is speaking into a telephone handset connected by a curled wire leading off-frame as if to a wall/tabletop phone.]
- Caged Rat: Squeak!
- [Actual: Cueball is behind Ponytail standing in front of the machine which is working on the sample. The clock on the wall above them is at ten minutes past ten.]
- Machine: ...whirrrrrr...
- [Movie: Zoom in on Ponytail who pulls on two levers on a machine, which is shooting a beam of some sort downwards onto a sample, possibly the same as in the cage with the rat.]
- [Actual: Cueball and Ponytail still waits for their sample to be analyzed in the small device. The clock on the wall above them is at twenty five minutes past eleven. Cueball has removed his goggles and is holding them in his hand.]
- Machine: ...whirrrr...
- Machine: Bing!
- [Movie: Zoom in on Cueball who is operating a complicated-looking chemical apparatus with a scope, flasks, coils, and bubbles.]
- Cueball: Paint flecks from the killer's clothing match an antimatter factory in Belgrade!
- Ponytail (off panel): Let's go!
- [Actual: Cueball look over Ponytail's shoulder while she examine the sample she has just taken out of the small device. He has put his goggles back on. The clock is hidden behind their spoken text. Presumably this occurs right after the bing.]
- Cueball: Okay, we've determined there's neither barium nor radium in this sample.
- Ponytail: Probably.
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