Friday, June 17, 2011

Stargate SG-1 / Atlantis - Blastr: 7 TV scientists that even real scientists approve of

Source: Blastr [follow link for complete article]


STARGATE SG-1 - BLASTR: 7 TV scientists that even real scientists approve of

By Phil Plait
on Jun 15, 2011

Phil Plait is an astronomer and major sci-fi geek. He writes the Bad Astronomy Blog for Discover Magazine and is also the host of the Discovery Channel's science show "Phil Plait's Bad Universe." You can follow him on Twitter at @BadAstronomer.

In previous articles for Blastr, I've mentioned how hard it can be to be a scientist and watch science fiction. It can take years to get over the urge to hurl heavy objects at the TV screen when science is so carelessly trashed on your favorite show. I've gone through my share of TV sets ...

But with summer reruns upon us, there's time to reflect. After all, the good news is we're getting science and scientists shown in these programs. Maybe it's a caricature of scientists and the work they do, sure, but they're there. TV scientists can be pretty one-dimensional, usually either mad or dashing (or, rarely, both), but the scientists I know in real life run the gamut of funny, nerdy, smart, oblivious, socially awkward, socially ambitious, layered, shallow and complex. They are fat, thin, white, black, men, women, and every conceivable mix of all these traits. And sometimes we see that on TV, too.

That's why I thought, as an astronomer myself, I'd list my favorite TV scientists. My criteria for inclusion are not necessarily the science they do, but how they do it. Maybe it's because they influenced me in some way, or they make me laugh, or make me care. You may not agree with me; it's my list after all and there's always some degree of arbitrariness to any list.

But don't disagree too strongly with me, or else I'll drop you into a black hole/supernova/Stargate/antimatter stream/time vortex/parallel universe. If I've learned one thing from TV science, it's that these things are always handy for disposing of irritations...

... #2 (tie) Dr. Samantha Carter/Dr. Rodney McKay (the "Stargate" franchise)


Amanda Tapping as Dr. Samantha Carter and David Hewlett as Dr. Rodney McKay

McKay and Carter are actual, bona-fide (if fictional) scientists: classically trained and possessing Ph.D.s. Bonus: They're both astrophysicists! It would've been easy for the writers of Stargate to make them one-dimensional plot devices, but somehow over the years the characters grew. Carter became more confident, more of a leader (literally, in the case of Atlantis), and yet still struggled to maintain a personal life. She didn't always succeed, and it tortured her. I was never happy with her unrequited love for O'Neill (as a plot line, that is), because I thought it leveraged on stereotypes of women, but her ability to actually have relationships that were relatively stable was a plus. She had a balance between strength and vulnerability that I found interesting and charming.

McKay, on the other hand ... well, let's just say I know more than one scientist like him: arrogant, awkward, self-centered and irritatingly possessing the intellect to back all that up. I initially worried when watching Atlantis that McKay would be their Doctor Smith, but like Carter, McKay also had the seemingly contradictory traits of cowardliness and resolve that was fun to watch (no doubt due to the skill of actor David Hewlett, yet another science geek IRL). He also sometimes showed flashes of real humanity (like staying by the bedside of a sick woman he cared for, or his "talk" with Carson Beckett at the end of the episode "Sunday"). I suspect his motivations for studying science were his way of showing his superiority over the rest of humanity, but, in his defense, he is pretty damn smart.

Honorable mention: Daniel Jackson, who dies every single season of the show in the name of science...

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