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More crapy science from Fringe

Posted in Uncategorized by Skepdude on November 2, 2008

I have made my feelings about the FOX show Fringe known already. And, as I previously said I like me some science fiction, so I do watch it for entertainment. Episode 3 rubbed me the wrong way. Why? Because of the following:

-Occam’s Razor! All other things being equal, the simple solution is the best

-And what is that?

-The man is phychic! Theoretically it is quite possible.


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?


PseudoSkeptic Alert – Fox’s new show “Fringe”

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on October 22, 2008

Now I am not a big fan of FOX, and I don’t turn to them for level headed journalism or reporting. Nevertheless, they did earn a tiny little bit of respect from me with “House“, one of my favorite shows. Even though I am sure it was not their intention to promote skepticism, and most likely they wanted to create a character which people loved for his medical genius, but hated for everything else, such as his rationality and atheism, I am still glad that at least we’re having some skeptical main characters that are being portrayed not quite completely as cynical, no-good, know-nothing, deny-everything, nay-sayers that most of the public thinks we are. You see at the end of the day House is always (almost) right. Even though he at times acts like a jerk, at the end his logic and rationality seem to prevail. That must have been unintended by the show’s producers. Either that or they were really slick how they presented the show when they first sold the idea to FOX.

Nevertheless, that tiny bit of respect has been, quite expectantly, completely lost with the introduction of the new show “Fringe“, as in fringe science, science too far advanced for most scientists, except a select few of course. In this show, Joshua Jackson plays what has to be the worst caricature of a skeptic I’ve seen in my few years on this planet (you see in my previous life there was no television!). He’s portrayed as everything the public thinks is wrong with skeptics, and in that regard this character will be accepted quite willingly by the public. He’s arrogant, always denying his father’s “science”, always saying this cannot work, that is not science, this is ridiculous etc etc. Which is all fine.

Nevertheless, in the show he’s always portrayed as being shown wrong. Episode after episode he keeps repeating the mantra that this particular idea can’t work, then he’s proven wrong by his genius father, just to come back next episode and start ridiculing his always right father all over again. Now to be fair, he never says that “I’m a skeptic and I don’t believe that”, but I think it’s quite clear who this person is supposed to be, just like his father is meant to represent the geniuses that are suppressed by big companies and the government who don’t want their revolutionary work to be know. Why, he could very well write one of those “Blah blah blah…they don’t want you to know” books.

Bottom line

Show is quite entertaining, I won’t deny that. But it does feed into the peoples imaginations and it reinforces wrong stereotypes about skeptics and science in general. If someone had made a show about catholic priests and showing them taking little boys in their rooms every episode, that show would have never made it in the air, unless HBO picked it up. Fringe is tantamount to that except that instead of the priests they have a skeptic and instead of the little boys, is rapes reality. Go watch “The Mentalist” instead (even though I haven’t seen anything beyond the pilot and I hope that they haven’t bastardized it or don’t plan to do so in the future)