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Science on the ‘Fringe’

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 22, 2008

Earlier today I wrote an entry on the new Fox show, “Fringe”. I find it entertaining but not very much correct either in its science or portrayal of skeptics. LiveScience has this article about the “science guys” in charge of coming up with the ideas about the “fringe science” being portrayed in the show. Here’s some of what it says:

Sometimes science fact is actually stranger than science fiction.  As the “science guys” behind Fox television’s new scientific thriller, FRINGE, Rob Chiappetta and Glen Whitman, know that better than anyone else.

“For example, in episode three one of the characters was receiving messages in his brain telepathically and the Monday before the show aired, we saw an article on the CNN website that explained how the U.S. Army was developing a helmet that uses brain waves to help soldiers talk to each other

Which is not quite science, which it would need to be in order to be qualified as fringe science. Just because a CNN headline says that the army is trying to develop a helmet that uses brain waves to help soldiers talk to each other, that does not make it science. How many hypotheses don’t pan out? How many R&D projects die out with not an ounce of success?

Whitman and Chiappetta are “media consultants,” not scientists, and while they’ve been advisors on several TV shows, they note their expertise comes from curiosity and researching science journals and the popular press, not formal training. Chiappetta has a law degree from the University of Texas, and Whitman has his PhD in economics from New York University.

Well that explains a lot.

“A lot of times we have a scene where something will happen and we have to figure out how this can be justified scientifically, Whitman said. “So we will come up with three ideas and the writers choose.”

I wonder how do a lawyer and economist come up with plausible scientific explanations of how these fringe ideas can be explained? And then not one, but three scientifically justified hypotheses? Something’s smells fishy!

One of the writers came to the team to tell them about a scientist who was using rat brain cells to control a rat robot via remote control.  While Whitman’s background may have been in economics, mathematics, and statistics, he discovered a strong affinity for neuroscience. “Glen can tell you what part of the brain regulates what function,” said Chiappetta.

This is ridiculous. Are we supposed to be impressed by that? Any old chap can do a little bit of Googling and find the name of the part of the brain that controls some general functions, such as speech, vision etc. That does not make them experts in Neurology, capable of coming up with THREE scientifically plausible explanations. That’s total BS and I must cry fault.

While the ideas on the show may go beyond current science research, these ideas still have to be plausible.  “If it hasn’t happened, it still has to be reasonable,” Chiappetta said. “As long as we give a bit of explanation about the science and show the possibility.”

And the plausibility of such ideas these guys are not qualified to judge.  They don’t give a plausible explanation of how such things are supposed to work, they can’t they’re not experts in all the different fields that the show delves in week in and week out.

My conclusion is that when these guys think of fringe science, what they’re really thinking about is what in the scientific circles is referred to as pseudoscience, you know things like telekinesis and, as portrayed in the first episode, syncing brain waves so a healthy person can talk to a person in a coma, just as they would do over coffee? You decide is that fringe or pseudo science?


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