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"The advance of science does kill some romance. In 1950, it was still possible to think of a barely habitable Mars. There was still the possibility of canals, of liquid water, of a high civilization either alive or recently dead -- at least there was no definite scientific evidence to the contrary."
Isaac Asimov, on A.E. van Vogt's Enchanted Village

Speculative Fiction often uses the real-world scientific knowledge that was actually available when it was written. There is nothing wrong with that, and indeed powering and justifying your world with Hard Science is, to many people, preferable to Applied Phlebotinum and Techno Babble. Basing your fictional science off of real world science is an excellent way to create Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

There's one problem with this approach, however: Science evolves. Five hundred years ago, some cultures thought that the sun revolved around the earth. One hundred years ago, there still were scientists who openly questioned the existence of photons. As recently as the turn of the century, the existence of dark energy, and the corresponding fact that the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than slowing, was not widely known in the scientific community. And many of our current assumptions about Life, the Universe, and Everything will inevitably be questioned or disproven in the future. Therefore, when a scientific theory used widely in speculative fiction gets Jossed by new scientific discoveries, it's because Science Marches On.

Scientific terminology is also subject to change, and it can be particularly jarring if a story set Twenty Minutes Into the Future uses names that were widespread a few years ago, but are obsolete now, and are likely to remain so. For example, the word "atomic" has been mostly supplanted by "nuclear".

As a result, what seems like Did Not Do the Research in older fiction (in particular Space Does Not Work That Way and Artistic License Biology) is actually this: They did do the research; it's just that said research is now outdated. Technology Marches On is a subtrope. Zeerust may be considered a sub-trope of this, as the old ideas of "futuristic" look dated now due to new advances in unforeseen directions. For instances where the change is in the historical record, see History Marches On; when it's in society itself, see Society Marches On.

This can also include cases where writers predicted an advance in engineering that never happened for practical reasons, such as having our entire civilization powered by nuclear reactors by 1990, or having cities on the Moon in 2000. It's at least conceivable that such a thing could have happened in hindsight, but it would have been so expensive and unrewarding that it seems as absurd as things that have been actively contradicted by new scientific discoveries.

See also I Want My Jetpack.


This trope can look like Edit

Examples of Science Marches On include:


Astronomy Edit

Jupiter Edit

Film Edit

  • When Stanley Kubrick moved 2001: A Space Odyssey from Saturn to Jupiter, he did so because he couldn't pull off the special effects for a realistic depiction of Saturn. Then the Voyager probes in 1979 discovered that one of Jupiter's moons, Europa, has a huge amount of ice, and eventually found a subsurface ocean that makes Europa more likely to harbor life than Mars. This inspired Arthur C. Clarke to eventually write three more novels, making Europa the central setting of the series.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • In the Doctor Who story Revenge of the Cybermen, the Doctor refers to Jupiter having 13 moons (including the asteroid Voga, which was captured by Jupiter's orbit fifty years before the story's setting). Many more moons have since been discovered. In fact, Leda was discovered in September 1974 whereas the story was broadcast in early 1975, meaning Science Marched On between recording and transmission!
    • One of the novels attempts to Hand Wave this by saying that in the future the extra ones were destroyed as part of an effort to feng shui the Solar System in order to attract foreign investment.

Saturn Edit

Film Edit

  • In Gattaca Vincent claims that no one knows what the surface of Titan is like due to its dense cloud layer, and proudly states that his mission will be the first to discover what's really down there. Unfortunately he's a few decades too late as the Huygens probe landed on Titan in 2005 and photographed the surface.

Literature Edit

  • John Varley's Titan starts off a trilogy with the characters' excitement at having discovered the twelfth moon of Saturn. Today it's known that Saturn has at least sixty-two moons, not counting hundreds of "moonlets" embedded in its rings.

Mars Edit

Comic Books Edit

  • Current versions of the DC Comics character the Martian Manhunter establish that he was brought to Earth from the distant past, when it's just barely conceivable Mars might have been inhabitable.

Film Edit

  • As an example, the movie adaption of My Favorite Martian had the Mars Rover stop, just inches before going over a ridge that would have exposed a massive martian city. It is implied that we just suck at finding things.
    • Which is odd since the orbiter would have definitely detected that city.

Literature Edit

  • Vacuum cementing occurs naturally on the moon: fine dust particles from lunar impacts are converted to rock over time since they lack a layer of adsorbed gas. Larry Niven cunningly extrapolated from this discovery to Mars, which does have an atmosphere. In Protector (and other stories) Mars is covered in a deep layer of dust so fine it acts as a liquid, since vacuum cementing can't occur. Since this story was written, Mars landers and rovers have conspicuously failed to disappear with a "gloop."
  • Any number of stories, beginning with The War of the Worlds and continuing into the mid-'60s, featuring intelligent life on Mars, were effectively scuttled when the Mariner 4 probe revealed Mars to be a barren desert. Since then, most Speculative Fiction featuring Martians has been more tongue-in-cheek (see Mars Attacks (Film)) than previously. Subsequently, many stories now say the Martians simply spoof the probe's sensors, just to maintain the facade.
    • In some stories (also beginning with The War of the Worlds), Mars' inhospitable conditions are used as the reason why Martians are invading. Their world is used up, they want a fresh one.
  • Mars in Dan Simmons' 2003 novel Illium has all the "classics": Giant water-filled canals as well as Little Green Men. This works because it is the terraformed Mars of the future.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's A Time Odyssey, there was once life on Mars. The barren land we see today was a result of original surface blown off by the Q-bomb.
    • Sir Arthur is pretty much made of this, in addition to being way ahead of his time on the guesses he got correct. He wrote so much science fiction (most of it well-grounded in whatever science was current at the time) as well as predictive articles, that it'd be impossible not to hit Science Marches On a few times.
  • The 1960 book Lost Race of Mars by Robert Silverberg told the story of two preteen siblings whose parents were taking them to Mars to spend a[n Earth] year, starting in the middle of 2017. This story predicted a city, their host city, having been founded in n 1991, and a manned spaceship reaching Mars in 1970. Well...
    • And later he wrote a book called Worlds Fair 1996, which featured Martians being put on exhibit at the titular fair, which was built on a massive rotating space station. Later in the same book, the protagonist then takes a nuclear powered rocket to Pluto (two weeks at a constant 1G thrust!) to get even more exotic specimens to display...
  • A Martian Odyssey, a short story penned in the 1930s, combines this with a sort of reverse Politics Mess Up. In it, four men (an American, a Frenchman, a German, and a Russian), blast off to Mars through the miracle of atomic explosions and find it teeming with life and a miracle cancer cure.
  • Robert Heinlein was a little overoptimistic about the prospects for life on Mars in Stranger in A Strange Land.
    • And many others. RAH actually admitted that he had an a-rational conviction that life would turn out to be ubiquitous in the universe, in an article in which he clung to the hope as late as 1965. His intellectual side suspected he was wrong by then, but he called it a 'religious conviction' that he would not let go of absent thorough exploration of Sol IV.
      • For a science that has no data to work with, exobiology swings back and forth from extreme optimism about extra-terrestrial life (Sagan, Drake, etc) to pessimism (currently, there's a growing tendency to suspect that life may actually be very rare, possibly restricted to Earth). The pendulum will no doubt swing again.
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.
  • The valleys of Malacandra (Mars to us Earthlings) in Out of the Silent Planet were meant to be the cause of the canals detected by Percival Lowell. Alas, even at the time that the book was published, evidence was mounting that what Lowell saw was just an optical illusion.

Live Action TV Edit

  • A few classic Doctor Who serials featured a race of reptilian humanoids called "Ice Warriors", who are in their first appearance explicitly stated to be natives of Mars. By the time they were revisited in the Third Doctor's run, the idea of Mars supporting a native population had become laughable, and subsequent appearances have retconned it either by saying that they originated on another planet and had colonies on Mars, or that they come from a completely different world outside our solar system the name of which is analgous to "Mars" in English.

Newspaper Comics Edit

  • A recent Non Sequitur comic strip had a visiting Martian who took this a step further, claiming that his people are actually living on "the other Mars", which is always on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth.

Web Original Edit

  • In Genius: The Transgression, when it was proven Mars was uninhabitable, the resulting wave of Mania made a Martian Empire. The resulting war was long and bloody. (This actually happens every time science marches on in a big way, but this was the most recent incident.)

Real Life Edit

  • In the late 1950s and 60s, one of Mars's moons, Phobos, was thought to be hollow, for esoteric scienc-y reasons (basically, the moon was/is falling toward Mars). President Eisenhower even went on record, saying, "Its purpose would probably be to sweep up radiation in Mars's atmosphere, so that Martians could safely operate around their planet."

Mercury Edit

Literature Edit

  • Since Isaac Asimov wrote The Dying Night (and "Runaround," and Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury...), it has been discovered that the tidal locking of Mercury's rotation does not in fact result in a permanently dark hemisphere: Mercury actually rotates 3 times per 2 local years, rather than 1 per 1.
    • In one reprint Asimov includes a very tongue-in-cheek note saying scientists should get things right in the first place, and he's not going to change things over their whims.
  • Larry Niven used the same faulty Mercury data in his first published story, The Coldest Place. To his credit, he offered to pull it when scientists inconveniently announced this discovery just after he mailed the story to the publisher.
  • According to Ray Cummings in Tama of the Light Country, Mercury has an atmosphere and several civilizations, and the American astronaut (something of a Mighty Whitey) who tells the story was trying to get to the moon, but overshot.
  • In fact, The Other Wiki puts "Old Mercury" and "New Mercury" in separate sections.

Pluto Edit

Literature Edit

  • Amusingly, some stories predicted Pluto's demotion long before it happened; Larry Niven's "The Borderlands Of Sol", despite containing quantum black holes (see below), demoted Pluto to a loose moon of Neptune.
    • Similarly, Havalina's "Pluto" referenced its status as "Not quite a planet and not quite steam, / Pluto's caught right in between," about four years before Pluto was officially demoted.
      • Truthfully, even in elementary school, kids were taught that Pluto was an "oddball planet," so mentions of it being "not exactly a planet" from older sources might depend on the context.
      • Pluto's status as a planet had been challenged by astronomers for a long time before the "official" demotion. Theories suggesting the presence of other, similar trans-Neptunian objects began to appear shortly after Pluto's discovery, but proof of this by direct observation only came with the Hubble Space Telescope. Also, while Pluto was originally thought to be larger and more massive than Earth, it shrank steadily over time. In actuality it's much smaller than even our Moon.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode, "Brain Storm", Rodney goes to a meeting of scientists. The real Neil deGrasse Tyson (i.e. the guy largely responsible for Pluto's demotion) played himself as Rodney's enemy at University. Rodney sneers "Way to make all the little kids cry, Neil. Does that make you feel like a big man?"
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Distant Origin" features a race of dinosaurs who escaped Earth prior to the K-T Event millions of years ago. The few things that they remember of the Solar System were the "nine moons" which is a reference to what, at the time of airing, were our nine planets. Less than ten years later, Pluto received its official demotion.
    • Fridge Brilliance at work: there is no reason another race's method of classification should be the same as ours, or that another, larger body couldn't have existed beyond Neptune 65 million years ago (it wouldn't be the first time Star Trek has fudged science, or even the worst example).

Video Games Edit

  • Pluto got demoted during the development of Mass Effect 1, and Bioware never really got to fixing that. Mass Effect 2 corrects this by calling Pluto an "ice dwarf" and not showing its orbit. It's still more important in-universe than even the regular planets because it's orbited by the Charon Relay.
  • In Fallout 2, there's a puzzle to which the answer is to pick options in order of which planet is furthest from the Earth (Plutonium, Neptunium, etc). Pluto's still the furthest on the list, but it's now the only non-planet. Justified Trope as the Fallout-verse runs on SCIENCE! rather than actual science.
    • Especially amusing since Pluto's orbit is such that it is not always the furthest out. There are lengthy portions of time where Neptune is further out than Pluto.
      • Furthermore, at the time Fallout 2 was released, Pluto was closer to the sun than Neptune was.
  • In Star Control 2 the Sol (i.e. Earth) system includes Pluto (complete with a regular, "flat" orbit) as the ninth planet. Fwiffo mentions that it's as far away as he could get from Earth while still technically keeping his post in the system, when in fact there would be plenty of more distant Kuiper Belt objects on which to park his ship.

Multiple Edit

  • The Great Astronomy Mess Up, namely the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status (and the lesser-known promotion of Ceres and Eris from asteroid to dwarf planet status), dealt quite a blow to stories in which Pluto was still called a planet in the future, such as Star Trek. (It also caused countless jokes about Sailor Pluto getting fired or demoted.) Please note, however, that not all astronomers are happy with the classification; it's quite possible that it might change back at some point in the future. This is scant comfort to Twenty Minutes Into the Future shows, though...
    • Interestingly, Nicholson Hall at Louisiana State University (home of the school's astronomy department and the Landolt Astronomical Observatory) has a stucco medallion above the south east entrance which depicts the eight "official" planets and their symbols. The building was built in 1937, seven years after Pluto's discovery, but while it was still languishing in categorical limbo. Luckily, the dwarf planet's reclassification in 2006 rendered the contemplation of changing the mural moot (although unfortunately, renovations have made that particular entrance rather inconvenient and unnoticed).
    • Not to mention the countless discoveries of the "tenth planet" in various works of fiction, which would now be only counted as the ninth (and the existence of such a planet is now considered very unlikely anyway). Sailor Moon (where it's called Nemesis), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Persephone, to go with Pluto, but more commonly referred to as Rupert), ALF (Alvin), Doctor Who (Mondas, the Cybermen's home planet), and many, many others.
      • In fact, the issue of Pluto's classification was forced by the discovery of an object that was both larger and more distant and was thus immediately labeled by the media as the solar system's tenth planet.
    • The Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Before Dishonor hung a lampshade on this; two characters discuss how Pluto has been promoted and demoted ten times in three hundred years, and one of them asks, "can't they make up their damned minds?" They then note it's no longer an issue after the extra giant Borg cube FREAKIN' EATS PLUTO!.
    • One interesting thing to come out of the Pluto demotion is that the number of planets in The Planets by Holst is correct again. Not that people haven't tried creating a movement for Pluto.
    • The Pluto-as-dwarf-planet debate got lampshaded late in Super Robot Wars W. Towards the end of the 11 Planetary Masters of Sol plot thread, the members of Neue Waerter are talking about how many planets there are in the Solar System and Pluto is initially left out of the count.
      • Waaay before that, the character discuss how there's 8 planets but there used to be a 9th one. However, nobody can remember Pluto's name. However, Pluto gets the last laugh, because it's right next to it where the Original Generation villains have parked their hideout. You even get to see Pluto on the second to last battle's map.
    • Lexx identifies Pluto as a planet, but, in its defense, it does have to think about it for a second, and qualifies its final planet count with a "maybe".
    • In Ben 10 Alien Force, the episodic villain blows up Pluto cause he could. Ben shows shock at them destroying Planet Pluto, only to be corrected by the alien power he's supposed to be using (long story) that it's a dwarf planet.
    • Of course, we can't forget depictions of Pluto that not only portray it as a planet but as one that is completely and utterly different from the big ball of ice we know it as today, Yuggoth from The Whisperer in Darkness being one of them.
    • Although the confusion is primarily a result of reclassification rather than actual new data, one of the reasons why it got called a planet when it first was found was that it was thought to be a fair bit bigger than it actually was. Its size got down-graded several times over the decades.
    • They tried so hard to make the Pioneer plaque timeless and universal, but oops, they showed nine planets. It'd be a bit hard to go back and fix it now. (It also only shows Saturn with rings. Within ten years of its launch, it was discovered that Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune have rings as well, though less visible ones.)
    • There was a wave of Sailor Moon fanart depicting Sailor Pluto being angry at the reclassification, or dismissed from the Sailor Senshi because of it.

Venus Edit

Literature Edit

  • Also, any number of stories in which Venus is Terrestrial-habitable (usually a jungle, swamp or ocean planet, as the cloud-covered sky suggested high humidity). This is particularly relevant because Venus is closer to the Earth than Mars, and if it were even as habitable as Mars really is, would probably be the main target of our current plans for trans-Lunar interplanetary flight. Instead, as we now know, Venus is the least habitable terrestrial planet—even Mercury is a friendlier environment!
    • The result of the above is that writers are starting to posit the idea of terraforming Venus, such as in Arthur C Clarke's 3001, the final book in the series that started with 2001: A Space Odyssey (itself a great example of this trope).
      • Terraforming a hostile Venus is far from a new idea in science fiction, though. The idea is central to The Space Merchants, published in 1952.
  • Perry Rhodan has Venus as a thriving jungle planet as do Edgar Rice Burroughs' Carson Napier stories.
  • Robert Heinlein indulges in a swampy jungle Venus in Between Planets, Podkayne of Mars and Space Cadet.
  • Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus plays hard-to-get with this trope before giving in. When it was written, well before space probes, it was already suspected that Venus might be a waterless planet since spectroscopic analysis of its atmosphere showed no water vapour. The encyclopedic Asimov went as far as mentioning this in the book... Then added that 20th century scientists were wrong after all, and Venus was an ocean planet.

Live Action TV Edit

  • One scene in Disney's Mars and Beyond was about the other planets in our Solar System, and when we focus on Venus, the narrator says "There may be life on Venus...", but that film was made long before spacecraft had actually discovered the fact that Venus is actually too hot to support life.

The Moon Edit

Anime and Manga Edit

  • Osamu Tezuka did a couple of Astro Boy stories featuring the title character visiting the moon in the 1950s. One of which featured the moon having a breathable atmosphere in the daytime that froze solid when the moon was facing away from the sun. Tezuka admitted in one of his introduction comics that he just pulled it out of his ass because he thought it would make a good story. In the TV series the story was set on an asteroid, which makes even less sense. Another story featured a deposed Russian aristocrat trying to conquer the moon because it was rich in diamonds created by the heat and pressure of the countless meteorite impacts that have blasted its surface. This was based on an actual scientific theory of the time which is briefly summarized in the manga itself.

Film Edit

  • The opening narration of Forbidden Planet, which was released in 1956, predicted that humans wouldn't land on the moon until the end of the 21st century. The first manned landing on the moon happened a little over 12 years later.
    • This makes Forbidden Planet the rare example of a case where the writers predicted science would move slowly—most science fiction writers figured we'd have moon colonies by the end of the 20th century.
    • Substituting the word colonization for land on, one could argue that they were remarkably right on the prediction (or if one discards the Apollo program as a propaganda crazed accident, and not the product of a normal historical process).
    • The narration says that "men and women in rocketships" landed at the end of the 21st Century. No woman has ever yet set foot on the moon, so it's still possible for this to be literally true if we progress too slowly.
  • In A Trip to the Moon, the "astronauts" are launched to the moon in a big hollow bullet which is shot at the moon using a gigantic ctannon (see the first part of the page pic). A spaceship launched in that manner would quickly kill all its crew due to excessive G-forces. That's why real manned spaceflight is done with staged rockets, which weren't developed until decades after the film was released.

Literature Edit

  • In an H. G. Wells novel, First Men in The Moon, the moon actually has air and food, and is actually richer in oxygen than Earth.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's novel A Fall of Moondust assumed that the alternate heating and cooling of the dust on the moon, due to the stark contrast between lunar daylight and lunar night, would eventually result in a miles-thick layer of dust so fine it acted like a liquid. The actual lutnar dust that the Apollo astronauts observed was only a few inches thick, and behaved more like ... well ... dust.
    • Also, in Clarke's novel 2001, it's stated that samples of moon rock and dust apparently proved that the Moon was never part of Earth. In fact, real world Moon samples provided proof that the opposite was true.
  • In Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold the Moon," the first manned expedition to the Moon discovers uranium and diamonds.
    • Heinlein also made several wrong predictions regarding human exploration of the moon. In an introduction to the short story collection featuring "The Man Who Sold The Moon," Heinlein stated he would be very surprised if men walked on the Moon before the end of the 20th Century. He must have been very pleasantly surprised on July 20, 1969. He didn't seem to have any compunctions about writing stories involving men landing on the Moon earlier, however, as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress mentions that the Moon first became a colony some time in the 80s.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • Space: 1999 is a particular example that, at the time of its release, didn't seem ridiculously far-fetched, at least in terms of there being such a thing as a Moonbase (and just the one, at that).

Other Astronomy Edit

Film Edit

  • Avatar put its fictional world, Pandora, beyond the well-charted regions of the solar system yet within reach with mostly realistic technology in the movie's timeframe - it's a moon orbiting a fictional gas giant Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri system. Of course, being so close to the cutting edge means that it doesn't take long for science to march on - as of now, the evidence points to the absence of any gas giants, and if there are any planets there at all, they're small rocky ones.

Literature Edit

  • The climactic scenes of another Asimov novel, The Stars, Like Dust, take place on a type of planet (breatheable atmosphere and Earthlike gravity, but no organic life or liquid water) which later science determined was extremely unlikely to exist in the real world. Later editions of the book contained an afterword by Asimov, apologizing to the reader for the error and stating he hadn't been able to find a way to correct it without rewriting the entire climax.
  • William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land is built around the premise that the Sun would cease to shine sometime in the distant future. This idea was actually accepted as scientific fact at the time the book was written-based upon the idea that the Sun got its luminosity from gravity, and that said source would run out in a few million years. Then came along the idea of nuclear fusion...
  • As already noted above, Asimov's Lucky Starr books were juvenile novels written to teach kids what the solar system is like. Since they were written, almost everything in them has been revealed as incorrect. In newer editions, Asimov included a preface to each story which gave the currently correct information. Some of which is wrong again by now.
  • Another Asimov example: the plot of The Currents of Space was based around a theory that stars go nova as a result of runaway nuclear fusion catalyzed by clouds of carbon atoms. Like many of his other stories, when this was proved incorrect Asimov included an afterword explaining the error, as well as the science behind the new scientifically accepted theory, but pointed out that he could not change the story without re-writing the entire plot..
  • Some Larry Niven stories include mention of the Moon's gravity "skimming off" some of the Earth's atmosphere, without which it would be as inhabitable as Venus. This was later discredited, and is noted in his collections.
    • Larry Niven (among many others) used “quantum black holes” (microscopic black holes) which seemed a perfectly reasonable idea until Stephen Hawking showed that they will instantly completely evaporate into radiation (for example, if the LHC would create black holes with a mass of 14 Tera-electronvolts, they will evaporate in about 10−60 seconds into Hawking radiation).
  • Solaris uses science and technology that was cutting-edge when the book was written, but which has since become either incredibly outdated or has been outright contradicted.
  • The hypothesis that the Asteroid Belt was the remnants of an exploded planet was not disproven until the late 1960s (when it was figured out that adding up all the asteroids would still make something smaller then our own moon). Hence a lot of authors such as Asimov, Heinlein, etc. presented this as fact, even having characters find physical evidence in the Belt of a civilization that once lived on it.
    • That's lifted almost exactly from a series of books written in 1977, 1978 and 1981 by James P Hogan called Inherit the Stars, The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, and Giants' Star. Minerva was the planet, the Lunarians were the survivors of a nuclear war that blew it apart. The big chunk became Pluto; the rest formed the Asteroid Belt.
    • Jennifer Fallon's Tide Lords series also makes use of this trope despite being published in 2008.
    • Also used in Robert Rankin's The Brentford Triangle (“Where's the fucking planet gone?”) - this being Rankin, it's justified by Rule Of Mind Screw.
    • In Doctor Who, the Fourth Doctor once faced off with an alien menace from the Fifth Planet. It was explained that this race was so dangerous that the Time Lords “time looped” the planet, making it never have existed. But an alien survived.
    • Similar to the asteroid belt theory, Varley's Titan suggests that Saturn's rings are the remnants of a moon that shattered because giant living space stations kept using it as a nursery.
      • And in more science marching on, although it wasn't because of living space stations, a recent paper has modeled the origin of the rings as the breakup of a large moon which had its ice layers stripped off as it plunged into the planet.
    • Robert Heinlein's Stranger in A Strange Land has the fifth planet being blown up in the distant past by the otherwise generally peaceful, slow to act, but decisive Martians, who deemed its inhabitants a threat to them. Oh, and the main character is their unknowing envoy to Earth, so they can decide what needs to be done with Earth.
    • The idea still pops up every now and then (one of the entries above mentions a 2008 novel, the early 90s Empire From the Ashes series establishes that there used to be another planet rather than an asteroid belt there, and so on). If nothing else, some of the examples can be handwaved as the event that caused the shift from planet to asteroids being far more destructive to the planet then merely blowing it apart in macro-scale chunks.
    • The idea even pops up in Final Fantasy IV, of all places, where the Lunarians are said to have originally inhabited the now-obliterated planet that orbited between "the red planet" and the "Great Behemoth". The original English translation explicitly calls these planets "Mars" and "Jupiter".
    • There is supposed to be research that indicates that if you could get an energetic enough explosion to blast apart a rocky planet, it would probably leave only about 1% of the original mass in the same orbital area. However, models of planetary accretion that assume a gas giant near the inner edge of the zone where water ice can exist (about where Juupiter is) show that a planet would be unable to form in the region of the asteroid belt in the first place. Of course, in this age of copious of extrasolar planet discovery, accretion models see constant revisions, considering the inherently chaotic nature of the many-body orbital problem. Time will tell as Science Marches On.
  • Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain" uses the fanciful premise that unscreened radiations present in space would leave space travelers in unbearable pain, such that only condemned criminals whose sensory nerves had been cut could function there. Turns out it doesn't take much more than a sheet of gold foil to block such potential threats.
  • In Melisa Michael's Skyrider, the protagonist lives in the Belt and is constantly dodging rocks, requiring excellent flying to get through rocks and hiding from the patrol in a dense patch of rocks. Unfortunately the asteroid Belt is just not dense enough. Even in the densest part, if you were standing on one rock you wouldn't be able to see a single other rock.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • When the DVD edition of Carl Sagan's documentary Cosmos was released, it included an epilogue to each episode along with commentary explaining each point where the science discussed was not quite up to date or supplanted by new research. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the series stands the test of time.
  • The British quiz show QI. To explain, Stephen Fry hosts, with Alan Davies playing...some kind of straight man, or as straight as you can with four other comedians. A variety of questions are given to the panel, usually in some kind of conjunction with the letter of the season and topic of the episode, with points given for both correct answers and those that Stephen finds the most humorous. But the highlight is when somebody (usually Davies as the Butt Monkey) answers a question with what is considered the correct but is actually just the most well known, not correct. The most well known (and an example of this trope being used to humorous effect) is the question, "How many moons does the earth have?" Davies answers (rather resigned, knowing such an easy question can only be a setup) "One" and gets flashing lights, klaxons, and Stephen with "Sorry, that is incorrect. The correct answer, of course, is 2": Luna and Cruithne. The following season, Stephen asked pretty much the same question, which Davies then tries with the previous given correct answer. Incorrect. The answer had changed in the time between episodes: either it's "5", because they found three new Cruithne-like moons, or "1", because none of them count.
    • Cruithne is not gravitationally bound to the Earth, so it's genuinely not a moon despite displaying some interesting orbital behavior. QI was deliberately interpreting the word "moon" very loosely just to mess with its panelists.

Music Edit

  • They Might Be Giants' recent edutainment CD Here Comes Science includes Why Does The Sun Shine? (The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas), Their popular cover of a similar product from the 1950s, because it is a damned catchy tune and likely to capture kids' attention. In the interest of this trope, however, it is now followed by an updated version, Why Does The Sun REALLY Shine? (The Sun Is A Miasma Of Incandescent Plasma). As for the rest of the songs, only time will tell...

Video Games Edit

  • Most works of fiction depicting the Milky Way galaxy portray it as a regular spiral galaxy, a shape taken for granted given our understanding of it, however, recently there has been evidence discovered of (what we currently believe is) its true shape. Mass Effect is one of the recent examples that portrays our galaxy as a barred spiral galaxy.
    • Speaking of Mass Effect, they also managed to avert this by making the player unable to visit the Solar System's nearby stars (like Alpha Centauri or Sirius), giving the Hand Wave that "Mass Relays allow to colonize more suitable systems that are much farther", since it's very likely that in the next few years we will discover whether those stars have planets or not.
    • However they recently also fell into this when they show several planets orbiting blue giants, which were recently discovered that their enormous energy output would practically "evaporate" any large chunk of matter, inhibiting planetary formation.
    • One recent work that gets this right is the video for Insane Clown Posse's "Miracles".
    • Halo 3 also got this right, when showing a view of the Milky Way in the sky of the Ark.

Other Edit

  • Originally, scientists thought that the universe will end when gravity finally stops the universe from expanding and making it collapse back on itself in a Big Crunch. However, recent observations show that the opposite is true: the universe is and will eventually expand forever, and its expansion is actually accelerating due to the presence of dark energy, which gradually weakens gravity as it accumulates over time.


Biology and Medicine Edit

General Edit

  • Any discussion of "pack dynamics" in wolves (Julie of the Wolves comes to mind.) Modern research has shown that wolf packs are more or less nuclear families, with the "alpha" male and female simply being the parents of the rest of the pack.
  • Any depiction of dolphins or other whales mating for life. A nice romantic notion in its day, but it turns out they're promiscuous breeders at best and into sexual harassment or gang rape at worst.
  • The dynamics of various animal groups are far too complex to go into here, but suffice to say that none of them fit the antiquated view of herds as roughly mirroring human social groups, with an alpha male leader who calls all the shots. In many polygynous species the "alpha male" is (in effect) nothing more than a walking sperm bank.

Anime and Manga Edit

  • Mew Zakuro of Tokyo Mew Mew, for a short time, faced the same fate as Sailor Pluto: as of February 2008, the grey wolf (Canis lupus) was removed from the Red List, but sadly for it and luckily for her, it came back in October of the same year.
  • The Medical Drama Iryu Team Medical Dragon revolves around the Batista procedure, which reduces the size and volume of an enlarged heart. While the procedure may have been considered promising when the original manga was written (mid-1990s), by the time the Live Action Adaptation came around in 2004 the procedure's effectiveness had been largely discredited.
  • Gundam X has a scene in which the protagonists meet an extremely intelligent dolphin, and Jamil says that dolphins have no concept of killing their own species. Well, this was a popularly-believed theory, but it turns out that it couldn't be more wrong...

Comic Books Edit

  • In Camelot3000, Sir Tristan's constant angsting about having been reincarnated as a woman seems bizarre in a series set a thousand years in the future. Apparently, doctors in that Verse were too busy finding ways to turn dissidents into Neo-Men to bother developing gender-reassignment surgery.

Film Edit

  • Parodied as long ago as the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper, a Rip Van Winkle comedy in which the protagonist wakes up in 200 years to discover, among other things, that wheat germ is bad for you and deep fat, steak, cream pies, and hot fudge were health food and cigarettes were the healthiest thing on the planet.
  • In the 1950's scifi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, two doctors sit and discuss Klaatu's race's amazing health care - as they both smoke cigarettes inside the hospital.
  • In UHF in the restaurant scene at the very beginning, you can see a sign saying that they cook all of their meat medium with a pink center unless otherwise specified. This was in 1989 and not a joke, as it was before the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E coli disaster in which four children died and hundreds of others became sick in the Seattle area as well as California, Idaho and Nevada, after eating undercooked and contaminated meat from Jack in the Box. These days all meat in fast food restaurants is cooked well done, while in dine-in restaurants, the menus have mandatory warnings against eating undercooked meats. This way no one eats undercooked meat unless they ask for it (and many restaurants have a required minimum cooking temperature as well), thus keeping the restaurant from being sued.

Literature Edit

  • Isaac Asimov wrote a short story titled "Pâté de Foie Gras", which scientifically analyzed the goose that laid the golden eggs, and asked readers to find solutions to the problem that since golden eggs can't hatch, there's no way to get more geese. In a comment years later, Asimov pointed out that advancing science caused there to be a better solution than the one he had originally intended.
    • For the curious, Asimov's solution was to feed the goose water with Oxygen-18 instead of the more common Oxygen-16, which due to the way he determined the gold production worked would cause the goose to produce gold at an accelerated rate until it was unable to continue, at which point it would produce regular eggs. The simpler solution which came later, of course, is to just clone it.
  • L. Frank Baum's Oz book The Patchwork Girl of Oz features a subterranean race called the Horners who attribute all the wonders of their society and long-lasting good health to a miracle substance called radium. Made all the more tragic by the many, many real-life cases of anemia and cancer due to people actually believing radium, a radioactive element, was a cure for everything—some people even brushed their teeth with radium-laced toothpaste.
  • The Dracula Tape, Fred Saberhagen's savage send-up of Bram Stoker's Dracula, hangs a lampshade on the fact that Lucy Westenra receives blood transfusions from four different people. The initial scientific discovery of blood type groups came four years after the original novel was published, so Saberhagen's Count—as something of an expert on matters of blood by necessity—turns her into a vampire only to save her from immediate death brought on by the inevitable complications, of which van Helsing's companions, if not necessarily the doctor himself, were blissfully unaware. (It's actually implied that van Helsing, a rather less heroic figure in the retelling, may have inadvertently killed other patients in this fashion before.)
  • Multiple sci-fi works have used the theory of memory RNA to justify one character getting the memories of another. The experiment that supposedly proved the theory has since been discredited.
    • More than just memories in some cases. In several episodes of The Invisible Man series, the protagonist's invisibility gland takes over his personality with RNA injected in it. He essentially becomes that person.
  • A good portion of the 15th book of Ovid's Metamorphoses has Pythagoras giving a lecture on the fundamental role played by, well, metamorphoses in nature. In a matter of speaking, Ovid has laid the entire epic poem's thesis on this section. Naturally, almost all of Pythagoras' examples, pulled from science of the day, are complete bunk. For example: if you watch a horse's corpse a hornet will (always) come out of it (ostensibly because it turned into one).
  • Robert Heinlein again. In Starship Troopers the planet Sanctuary has very low radiation level and colonists supposedly risked to "stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them", but "it's a bit safer -- leukemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there". While "more advanced" Terran wheat beats local weeds. There are problems. First, usual set of bugs with Evolutionary Levels. Second, while major radiation poisoning causes particular forms of cancer, there's no compelling reason to tie most cases to the normal radiation background. Third, a result of the previous two: conditions for evolutionary adaptation include gamma rays just like everything else, so modern radiobiology pulled the low end of the scale out of Oven Logic.[1] E.g. rats grown (not even born) in a low radioactive background have health and development problems, thus some background seems desirable. Sanctuary's choice could boil down to "eat radioactive isotopes or slowly die out".
    • Stars!, on the other hand, got it: whether gravity, temperature or radiation on a planet are out of the species' acceptable band to either side, you're in the same amount of trouble.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Slithering Shadows", gems fused with radium glow—except that the light can be turned on and off by rubbing them.
  • A curious example of this comes from Juvenal's satires, which brought us many still popular phrases and concepts such as 'Bread and Circuses' to keep the masses happy, wishing for 'a sound mind in a sound body' or asking 'Who Watches the Watchmen??'. He also coined the phrase of a 'rare bird in the land' such as 'black swan' meaning to him a nonexistent thing. For many centuries afterwards and in many languages the phrase meant something that did not exist until somebody discovered a black swan in Australia. The phrase changed its meaning and nowadays is used to describe an idea based on a hypotheses that can be disproven by a single counterexample or are extremely hard to predict or anticipate events that throw everything into chaos.
  • Alan Dean Foster's Midworld, from 1975, makes ample use of the then-popular notion that a rain forest's ecosystem was sharply divided into "levels", top to bottom. This concept is now downplayed in ecology, as it's turned out that very few species are actually restricted to one "level", and this mode of thinking had ignored numerous other factors of topography and microclimate that can impact a forest's environment just as much. (Note that the 1995 sequal, Mid-Flinx, makes almost no mention of "levels", indicating Foster has Marched On along with the science.)
  • In Edwards Le Comte's autobiographical work In and Out of the University and Adversity, Edward, who had brown eyes, was told in 1934 by someone looking at a color photo of his mother that he must have had a brown-eyed father. When he asked why, the woman said because two people with blue eyes cannot conceive someone with brown eyes, and that "Biology doesn't lie. People may." She seemed to have noticed his alarm because the next time she saw him, she informed him that he actually had hazel eyes. Nevertheless, in the following years he would from time to time ask people he met what color his eyes were. However, he seems to have come to terms with the question by the time the book was written (in 2001), writing that, "Half my heredity is a blank. At eighty what matter?"
    • Of course, we now know that two people with blue eyes can produce a child with brown eyes, as eye colour is not determined simply by one gene. It's actually quite common for a blue-eyed person to carry a gene for brown eyes that can be passed on to his or her children.
  • In James Blish's novella "Surface Tension," the protagonists are genetically engineered humans the size of large protozoa (one hundredth of an inch), living in a puddle of water. In the introduction setting up the story, we hear one of the genetic engineers say that the people can be so small and still be intelligent because their cells are the size of viruses. When the story was written, we did not realize viruses are not cells.
  • In Cherry Ames: Cruise Nurse, a little boy shows Cherry his stuffed panda. She pities him, because he had asked for a "teddy bear", and his grandmother had given him a panda, which "isn't even a bear." Of course, since the 1940's, during which the book was written, DNA tests have proven that pandas are in fact bears.
  • In Prince Caspian, CS Lewis writes that Reepicheep wanting his tail back was mainly a matter of mouse pride. This book was written in the 1950's- before it was known that mouse tails helped regulate body temperature.
    • Then, with their greater size, talking mice probably had to have their temperature regulation jiggled a bit too.
  • In a Dorothy L Sayers short story a left/right inverted man is experiencing mysterious circumstances. Finding that the man in inverted Peter Whimsey infers that he must have a opposite (literally an Evil Opposite) twin who is causing all the mystery and cites experiments with salamander eggs tied off with threads. The experiments were real and important in understanding how the left/right gradient is formed. However, while left/right inverted twins do exist they are vanishingly rare. Most twins are not left/right inverts and most left/right inverts are not twins.
  • In The Tar-Aiym Krang, Flinx's adoptive parent Mother Mastiff is said to resemble the Terran canine, both in appearance and in her irascible, unfriendly personality. While this may have been the stereotype for the breed back in 1972, when Krang was published, breeders already saw this as a negative trait for mastiffs even then, and most mastiffs today are calm, good-natured, and easy-going animals.
  • In the Ring World series, Chmee the kzinti is de-aged by a variant of boosterspice, then confronted with the fact he won't be able to prove his identity if he returns home. Larry Niven, of course, wrote this before DNA testing had been established as a legally-valid means of identification. (And yes, kzinti must have DNA, as all organic life in Niven's Known Space series evolved from the same strain of yeast.)


Live-Action TV Edit

  • A recent example concerns the discussion of anti-bacterial hand soaps, which carried over onto episodes of ER, Scrubs, and even House. When the soaps came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s, nobody bothered to do the research to see if they worked better at killing germs than regular soap. It turns out that various studies have suggested little relative benefit. Additionally, it has been suggested that overuse of anti-bacterial soap is promoting resistance to Triclosan, the active ingredient, and has the potential to promote development of resistance to similar antibiotics.
    • And now there are environmental concerns due to studies suggesting that triclosan may affect the endocrine systems of bullfrogs and rats.
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Violations Geordi and Data are discussing human memories, and explicitly state that memories are stored as RNA molecules in the brain. Although we still do not know exactly how memory functions, we can by now fairly safely say that our memories are not stored as individual strings of RNA.

Stand Up Comedy Edit

  • In his 1983 comedy show Delirious, Eddie Murphy expresses fears about having a girlfriend that spends time with homosexuals, worrying she might kiss them and get AIDS, and then give him AIDS when she kisses him. Scientists have long since disproved the idea of getting AIDS by kissing, barring circumstances like a sore or bleeding inside the mouth. Not to mention the difference between contracting HIV and getting AIDS.

Webcomics Edit


Chemistry Edit

Comic Books Edit

  • Tom Strong references this trope and uses it in a Post Modern sort of way: Tom comments that scientists proved that “liquid heat” could not exist after his nemesis Paul Saveen had successfully created it. The wink at this trope seems like Alan Moore making a statement about how everything is fair game in a story until science disproves it, and writers need not be ashamed of using a cool idea that was later discredited.
    • Which is supported by similar events in his run on Supreme, where Billy Friday points out various scientific or logical flaws in Supreme's past adventures, seemingly ignorant of the fact that they still happened just the same.

Literature Edit

  • In an H. G. Wells novel, First Men in The Moon, gravity is said to be travel as waves that can be blocked by a Phlebotinum alloy of metals and helium called “cavorite.” This is how they get to the moon.
    • Jules G. Verne complained about the gravity blocking metal, calling Wells a hack for not taking science seriously enough. On the other hand, there is a book from as late as the 70's calling Wells' conception of time as a fourth dimension ridiculous, and, though Wells himself couldn't have known it at the time, relativity and quantum physics have since given credence to the idea of gravity waves and a graviton particle. We still haven't found any Hive Minded alien insects on the moon, or gravity-repelling metal alloy, though.
    • His complaints about cavorite were particularly unjustified; Captain Nemo's Nautilus was built with antigravity rays in prow and stern to keep the huge lump of metal neutrally buoyant (and very detailed dimensions are given; he could have achieved the same goal by merely increasing the ship's length by ten feet across the middle).
      • Also, Verne had to hand-wave away a basic problem with the physics of his moon-shot launching system (the acceleration required to reach escape velocity within the length of a gun barrel would reduce the passengers to chunky salsa).
  • The original Buck Rogers novelette had a form of antimatter called "inertron" that flew towards the nearest vacuum rather than explode.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • New radioactive elements are being synthesized, which may only last as much as a millionth of a second before they decay. They have been granted official names and chemical symbols, causing at least one incident of an inaccurate periodic table of elements being portrayed in Star Trek.
    • Lampshaded in Tom Lehrer song "The Elements", in which Lehrer sings the names of the different elements of the periodic table (at the time the song was written). He ends with the following: "These are the only ones of which the news have come to Harvard, and there may be many others, but they haven't been discovered" (sung with the Boston accent (dis-kah-vd)).
    • An in-universe case of this happens in Singularity; when the Russians discover a unique element with properties that put most Phlebotinum to shame, they classify it as Element 99, or "E99," and you can even see some periodic tables in the labs printed shortly thereafter with E99 in the correct place, and highlighted. Despite this, the research is very secretive, and the discovery is made before Einsteinium, the element that actually goes into that spot. Shortly before the discovery of Einsteinium is made public, the research into E99 is shut down and completely buried, so the rest of the scientific world has Einsteinium as 99 in their periodic tables.
  • In both the Star Trek episodes "The Naked Time" and "The Naked Now", both episodes' versions of the Enterprise comes under the influence of polywater, a syrup-like form of water created from massive compression of normal water that has a lower freezing temperature (which allowed it to stay fluid despite the environmental controls on the space stations the substance was on being set to freeze everyone onboard to death) and the ability to convert any other water it touches into more of itself (leading to the "drunken" states of anyone "infected" with it). Thing is, while polywater was debated as a viable substance in the 1960s (when "The Naked Time" was made), by time "The Naked Now" was shot, it has since been proven to be bogus (forcing a rather awkward change of the term used to describe the substance from a water to a virus).

Real Life Edit

  • Not SF, but an Older Than Radio example: Dr Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and surgeon general of the Continental Army, was also a temperance activist. In 1784, he published An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and Their Influence upon the Happiness of Society, describing the negative physical and social effects of distilled liquor such as rum and whiskey ... but fermented drinks like beer were good, because they didn't have the same type of alcohol as distilled drinks. (To be fair, Rush couldn't exactly do a chemical analysis to see that ethanol is ethanol. He was having to go off the way people acted after a few mugs.)
    • Keep in mind also that clean, safe water is a relatively modern thing. Beer is boiled as part of the production process, killing off (then unknown) germs and bacteria in the water, and contains enough alcohol to keep it sterile long enough to be safely consumed.
    • The same idea was expressed decades earlier by William Hogarth in two prints. The better-known one (and likely Hogarth's best-known work) is "Gin Lane", and shows the very real horrors brought to London by the trade in cheap gin. The lesser-known print, "Beer Street", shows the benefits of good English ale. This being Hogarth, of course, nothing is quite as clear-cut as it seems; some critics believe that aspects of the prints point to Hogarth blaming the despair and poverty seen in Gin Lane on the smug and self-satisfied inhabitants of Beer Street.
  • Look no further than old chemistry texts for good examples of this. General Chemistry by the great Linus Pauling and a former standard first-year text has Element 104 on its periodic table as Khurchatovium; you might perhaps know it as Rutherfordium. (A number of transfermic elements suffered from dueling names for decades during the Cold War; for instance, Element 105, now called dubnium, was referred to as "hahnium" and "nielsbohrnium" by American and Soviet chemists respectively, and many periodic tables simply called it "unnilpentium" until a consensus was achieved.) For fundamental particles, it makes reference to there being eight each baryons and antibaryons (there are considerably more), eight mesons and antimesons (again, more), eight leptons and antileptons (there are twelve, six each), and lists the graviton, which is entirely theoretical. In many other respects, however, it's entirely accurate to a modern understanding.


Geology Edit

Film Edit

  • The film Crack in the World, whose creators prided themselves on scientific accuracy, had the extreme misfortune to be released in 1964, very shortly before the phenomenon of tectonic plates was confirmed. This instantly made the film's premise of the Earth having a completely solid crust which is endangered when it develops a crack quite laughable.
  • Total Recall. Mars having an ice core was pure fiction when the film came out, but later studies proved it to be partially Truth in Television. The latest research and pictures taken from satellites have proven that there actually is ice right under the surface in some areas of Mars.

Literature Edit

  • H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness got it right by going against conventional scientific belief when he uses continental drift at a time when most geologists didn't accept the idea. Subsequent scientific marching, of course, has proved the story mostly right on this point. But he got it wrong when he wrote about continents rising and sinking from the ocean. He also wrote that the Pacific ocean had been created when to moon was separated from Earth, and that parts of the Antarctic had remained unchanged for almost 4 billion years. And the aliens in the story (as well as in Whispers in the Dark) could travel between planets by flying through æther. Later Cthulhu Mythos stories typically retcon the Elder Things' space flight as their wings being biological solar sails.
  • In several of his novels (Around the Moon, The Mysterious Island), Jules Verne states through his characters his conviction that the Earth is getting colder as its core is dying, and that in a few hundred thousand years it will be as cold as the moon. Notwithstanding global warming, it also ignores the fact that the Earth is eventually going to be engulfed by a dying sun and will thus melt rather than freeze.
    • Earth's core is indeed getting colder, as the heat is at least partly produced by decay of radioactive material. However it would take longer than the current age of the universe for it to cool down completely (assuming there are no other processes that would keep the core at least somewhat heated after the radioactive material has run out).
      • This isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds, considering that while most theories place the universe at 13.7 billion years old, they also peg Earth itself at 4.5 billion.
  • In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Watson ponders the Neolithic stone artifacts of Dartmoor and feels a bit sorry for their builders, whom he presumes had been forced onto such poor land by aggressive neighbors. It's now understood that millennia of human agriculture created the acidic soil conditions in Devon, which had previously been covered in forests.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • The earthquake episode of Spike TV's Surviving Disaster takes place in a city along the New Madrid fault line, a fault in the midwestern US that the host claims scientists were predicting was far overdue for a big shake (it hasn't had a big shake since 1812) and would receive one in the next couple of years. It aired in late 2009, but it's clear that it took its info from an assessment made in 2008, because in 2009, two studies were made (one on the same month that the episode aired) that gave convincing evidence that the fault line was shutting down, and would hence never have the kind of devastating quake predicted by the episode.
    • That's still up for debate. Another possibility mentioned in the same article is that the strain is accumulating elsewhere, perhaps in another local fault that hasn't been discovered yet. The USGS has also said that ten years of direct measurement isn't enough to persuade them to ignore the 4,500 year history of large earthquakes in the area.


Geography Edit

Literature Edit

  • L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz is particularly noteworthy, since (if you piece together the clues) it appears to be in the deserts of the American Southwest in the first books, but as the series went on, it got shifted to a Pacific Island of some kind, within the author's lifetime, to escape this trope.

Multiple Edit

  • The Lost World—even Magical Land—is situated just outside the bounds of known geography. Geography tramples all over these and has for millennia.
    • The Trope Namer, The Lost World, whilst falling afoul of this trope six ways from Sunday in most other aspects of its plot, actually manages to just barely dodge this one through the narrator being intentionally vague about its location and geography.
      • It used to be common knowledge that the world was flat. Saying that today will likely get you odd looks.

Mathematics Edit

Literature Edit

  • Martin Gardner's short story The Island Of Five Colors is about the - then unproved - Four Color Theorem being proven false. Since the theorem has been proven true in Real Life, the story is no longer included in recent collections, and Gardner claimed that "the tale is now as dated as a story about Martians or about the twilight zone of Mercury".
    • Actually, it was dated when it was published already because: 1) It was already known that you can't achieve the effect mentioned with just five patches (it was proven for at least 30) and 2) the story states the island actually disproves the Five Color Theorem as well (all five territories border the ocean), the proof of which is somewhere on the high school level. Both are lampshaded in the story.

Live-Action TV Edit

  • A 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation refers to Fermat's Last Theorem, a then-350-year-old unsolved problem in mathematics, as being still unproven in the 24th century. Five years later it actually was proven.
    • This was referenced in some dialog from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, probably to address the earlier gaffe.
    • Fermat's Last Theorem was indeed proven in 1995—but it was done using advanced mathematical techniques invented in the 19th and 20th centuries of which Fermat could not have known. Fermat's original "truly marvelous" proof remains a mystery—though there is reason to believe that if he had indeed discovered a simple proof, he later realised that it was flawed, abandoned work on it when the flaws proved irreparable, and then disposed of the workings some time before he died.
    • The same is true in an even earlier Russian children's book series about a teen-sized android named Elektronik. A young math whiz in class proves Fermat's Last Theorem for 600 different cases over the summer break and presents it to his teacher. His 8th grade teacher is skeptical but agrees it looks promising. The notebook with the proof is then put near a flashlight supposedly run by a perpetual motion device and forgotten. The boy who wrote the proof later takes the notebook and destroys it.


Paleontology and Anthropology Edit

Film Edit

  • It wasn't established that Dromeosaurs weren't scaly when Jurassic Park came out in 1993; but it was already considered quite dubious among paleontologists. Likewise, swamp-dwelling sauropods and “kangaroo stance” tyrannosaurs persisted in fiction long after they were proven incorrect, and they still show up sometimes.
    • More recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs suggests that some dinosaurs probably did have feathering (most likely for insulation, not flight) instead of the standard scaly, reptilian skin. However, skin impressions from a number of larger dinosaurs (such as Hadrosaurs, Ceratopsians, Stegosaurs, Ankylosaurs, Sauropods, and big Theropods such as Abelisaurs, Allosaurs and large Tyrannosaurs) show that most of them were scaly. Birds are dinosaurs, but not all dinosaurs are birds.
    • Amber does not preserve DNA. So there goes Jurassic Park's premise.

Literature Edit

  • H.P. Lovecraft made frequent references to the Piltdown Man in his works.
    • Coincidentally, he always made those references in first person narrative with a protagonist who has no reason to disbelieve this widely accepted theory of the “missing link.”
    • The Piltdown Man was welcomed at the time rather than the actual Australopithecus because it fitted better the stereotypical thoughts about human evolution held at the time, many of which went back way before the publication of the On the origin of the species and sank their roots in Creationist ideas. It was assumed then that since what obviously separates humans from other animals is intelligence and tool-making, that these had appeared early in human evolution, and thus the first hominids should be just like apes but with big brains, with bipedality appearing later as an effect of having free hands being better for tool making (and thus a secondary result of intelligence). The Piltdown Man was, thus, the first in a long list of pioneers that would culminate in the turn-of-the-century (Western) scientists and explorers using the marvels of progress to conquer Nature and... uh... all those less advanced savages that had dropped from the way at some point. However, as more fossils of early hominids began to show up from the 1960s on, it was evident instead that our first ancestors had brains no bigger than modern chimpanzees and could not make tools, with bipedalism being the real first motor of early human evolution.
  • Related to the above, the horrors of World War Two made many anthropologists of the 50s drop the idea that Humans Are Special, intelligent, tool-maker conquerors of Nature (see Literature section) and switch to Humans Are Bastards instead, the only primate that is a carnivorous, egotistical, weapon-making killer beast that loves violence and is doomed to destroy itself. The influence of this idea can be noted in Pierre Boulle's novel La Planete des Singes, which would later inspire the Planet of the Apes movies, as apes were then regarded as what "we" should be before becoming homicidal beasts: peaceful leaf-eaters sitting in the rainforest, and that once we've wiped us out ourselves they'd built an real harmonious civilization. However, when primatologists actually began to study ape communities in the wild in the 1960s they found that apes (and specially chimpanzees) weren't that peaceful in reality and actually had their share of hunting, fights for supremacy, stealing, rape, infanticide, war and even cannibalism. As Jane Goodall once declared (paraphrasing): "I came thinking that apes were better than us, and I discovered that they were just the same".
  • Despite having Shown His Work, author and illustrator James Gurney fell victim to this with the earlier Dinotopia novels. The latest book showing up-to-date dinosaurs is evidence of this.

Live-Action TV Edit

Western Animation Edit

  • One strange example and correction of this is the designs of the Dinobots in Transformers. In the original designs their alt-modes shown many inaccuracies to fossil records that their Animated counterparts corrected: they're no longer bow-legged or sluggish and Grimlock is no longer in the "kangaroo stance" but the proper bent-over position.
  • At the time of its creation, The Land Before Time actually took several pains to be accurate (disregarding a few temporal mishaps). Now, a large portion of its portrayals—its elephant-footed sauropods, single-horned infant triceratops, Ptero-Soarer Pteranodons and swimming duckbilled dinosaurs—are outdated.
  • Disney's Fantasia not only featured inaccurately-drawn dinosaurs, but at the very beginning of the "Rite of Spring" segment, we actually see the Earth being formed from material thrown out from the Sun, the Sun itself being made of fire instead of hot gas, and at the end, the dinosaurs go extinct as a result of a global drought caused by climate change rather than by a meteorite impact.
    • The global drought caused by climate change extinction scenario does resemble the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, however.
    • Meteor impact near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is one theory used by Creationism to explain The Great Flood, with the extinction of dinosaurs happening a short while after the Flood. Not due to a subsequent drought as depicted by Fantasia, but due to climate change wiping out a lot of the plants that dinosaurs were accustomed to eating. They simply couldn't adapt to a radically altered world, which favored warm-blooded animals and smaller reptiles.
      • Which makes more sense when you consider that such and impact and rupture of highly pressurized underwater reservoirs all around the world would have carved new landscapes dramatically enough in a short while, and erupted violently enough, to affect the Earth's tilt on its axis. Even a slight alteration of tilt can radically alter seasonal patterns, as was feared would happen in 2004 during the volcanoes and subsequent tsunami.
    • Interestingly enough, the film was originally going to have an accurate (for the time) Tyrannosaurus Rex. Paleontologists hired as consultants for the film insisted that the T. Rex be portrayed with only two fingers. Walt Disney stated that the T. Rex should have three fingers in the film because he believed that audiences wouldn't be able to recognize it otherwise.
      • Recently, it has been discovered that T.rex does have three fingers. The only problem is that said third finger is vestigal and would not be visible on the hand.
  • Dinosaur Train does its best to stay on top of current discoveries, but sometimes it finds itself the victim of this. For starters, Eoraptor probably isn't a theropod after all, but a sauropod ancestor. On a related note, Brachiosaurus never lived in Africa; that was Giraffatitan. Also, Stygimoloch may not represent a distinct creature after all, but the subadult form of Pachycephalosaurus. Whether or not it is different, young pachycephalosaurs probably had flat (if somewhat knobbly) heads, growing domes as they aged.

Real Life Edit

  • Inversion: in 1879, paleontologist Othniel Marsh misidentified an Apatosaurus skeleton as a new genus, which he named "Brontosaurus". The error was pointed out in 1903, but the newer name proved more persistent in pop culture; even when the more proper term is discussed, it's often related as if Science only recently Marched On. (E.g. this Sheldon strip.)
    • There is a loophole in the form of a grandfather clause: "The prevailing usage must be maintained" when "the senior synonym or homonym has not been used as a valid name after 1899" and "the junior synonym or homonym has been used for a particular taxon, as its presumed valid name, in at least 25 works, published by at least 10 authors in the immediately preceding 50 years". Looks like Brontosaurus missed by only a few years, but thank goodness Tyrannosaurus Rex slipped in, otherwise we would be calling him "Manospondylus gigas"... Or Dynamosaurus.
      • Not to mention Scrotum humanum for the megalosaur.
    • The Science of Discworld defends “Brontosarus” as being a much better name.
    • The Brontosauri in the recent King Kong were consciously called Brontosaurus as a homage to the old use of the name and (in associated in-story material) because the name was recycled for the newly discovered creatures.
    • Brontosaurus wasn't just a misidentified Apatosaurus, it was a fake creature made of parts of real ones (much like the famous Archeoraptor). The skeleton Marsh found was complete except for the skull, which was entirely missing. He just stuck on a skull he had found in a different location and called it Brontosaurus.
  • In the late 19th century, a sculptor named Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built massive statues of what the current science thought dinosaurs looked like, as they had only been recently discovered and rarely in complete skeletons, most of which run contrary to modern science's view. His most famous mistake was the Iguanodon that walked on all fours and whose thumb was placed on its nose. These sculptures still exist, and can be seen in Crystal Palace Park, London, UK.
    • After finding complete skeletons, Iguanodon reconstructions for a long time also suffered from the "kangaroo stance"-fallacy. Later it turned out that they were indeed at least capable of walking on all fours. The most recent reconstructions are nevertheless still a far cry from Hawkins' rhino-lizards.
    • One of the greatest differences between old and modern models is that up to a point in time, it was believed that the legs of quadruped dinosaurs were bound exactly like crocodiles' (since they're also reptiles, right?). This is also linked to the "kangaroo stance" theropods mentioned above.
    • And the long-held view that dinosaurs dragged their tails along the ground. It wasn't until the late 80's that this began to change, considering the structure of the hips and tails wouldn't have allowed it. Also the "swan neck" many sauropods were depicted in (with the exception of the Brachiosaurs, sauropods couldn't lift their necks more than 30 degrees above the horizontal).
      • And in yet more Science Marches On, there's now paleontologists arguing that the thinking on sauropod necks went too much the other way: that many were actually flexible enough to make an S-bend, and probably were held in that position normally.
  • Kennewick man. Nobody actually believes in "race" per se anymore, and American Indians were only considered "mongoloid" for phylogenetic, rather than anatomical, reasons. Finally, even creationists acknowledge variation within a species. Despite this, these errors were deliberately made "in the interest of science" during the Kennewick man debacle. That the media repeatedly misstated that until then human habitation in the Americas only went back some 8000 years, when it had been known since the 1920s that humans had been in the Americas for at least some 12000 years, only made it worse.
  • Oviraptorosaurs are apparently still portrayed as "egg-stealers" even if scientists now know that Oviraptorosaurs do not even steal or eat eggs at all! (It does not help that Oviraptor literally means "egg-stealer.")
  • As more and more studies are made about the bone structure of dinosaurs, how their bones connected and just how flexible the joints were, the smaller details of the way we perceive how the animals might have looked and behaved changes so fast, media and the public have a tough time keeping up. One of the more "radical" findings that frequently gets overlooked when it comes to depicting dinosaurs is the revelation that most dinosaurs couldn't rotate their hands the way humans can, and that their palms were almost permanently stuck facing inward. Thus the classic (and to most people, standard) way of positioning their hands the kangaroo-way became as obsolete and incorrect as the kangaroo-stance itself. But it's such a relatively insignificant detail that most pictures/movies/sculptures/toys still get it wrong.

Physics Edit

Literature Edit

  • This happened so often to Robert Heinlein that he decided to stop re-writing his short stories and instead create an Alternate History instead. His editors decided to call the whole "series" Future History.
    • One of the more noteworthy examples appeared in his story "Blowups Happen." The story centered around a nuclear power plant consisting of a solid two and a half ton ball of uranium-235. Blowups don't just happen, but are inevitable when you try to exceed critical mass (in this case, 52 kg). Considering that the story was written in 1940 and Fermi wouldn't even get to the University of Chicago for his famous experiment until 1942, he can probably be forgiven.
    • In another later version of the story, he changes it to 10 tons. It's not exactly a solid ball, though, in both cases the fission reaction is keeping the fuel in a liquid state. There's another error, though: even the ten-ton version simply would not contain enough energy to produce the world-wrecking detonation the story posits, it would make a Really Big Boom, many megatons, but it would not be a world-wrecker, it wouldn't even equal many historic volcanic events. It would, OTOH, release a ghastly amount of radioisotopes into the environment when it blew.
  • In his Lensmen novels, E. E. "Doc" Smith justified both FTL and Constant Thrust Equals Constant Velocity with the inertia-negating "Bergenholm" device. At the time of writing, the negation of inertial mass, though hideously energy-intensive, was believed theoretically possible. Advances in relativity and quantum mechanics have since destroyed the concept's viability.
    • Also in the Lensmen series, the first Triplanetary novel had fish-like aliens (more indifferent to humanity than actively hostile) raiding near-ish future Earth to steal iron to fuel their atomic star drives. Humans rapidly copied their tech and developed atomic iron star drives of their own. The problem is that there are two ways of getting energy out of atoms; fuse light ones together, or split heavy ones apart. As atoms' weights move away from the extreme light and heavy ends you get less and less energy out as you fuse or split them, and in the middle there's an element that's the atomic energy equivalent of a deflated balloon; fusing or splitting it releases no energy, and you actually need to pump energy in to change it in any way at all. That element is, of course, iron - the absolute worst possible choice for a nuclear fuel. At the time the specifics of the nuclear binding energy curve wouldn't have been well known, so there's every chance Smith chose iron simply because we use a lot of it on Earth, making it a good candidate for a material avaricious aliens might want to steal.
  • Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (the early silent film of which provides the page photo) describes the astronauts and their spacecraft being fired from a giant gun. Launching a spacecraft in that manner would thoroughly kill the astronauts from excessive G-forces, which is why real manned spaceflight is done with staged rockets.

Other Edit

Literature Edit

  • A few decades after it was written, in Speaker for the Dead the very bright and well-educated xenologists seem terribly narrow-minded in what might be possible in alien cultures. In some ways, this is actually Science Fiction Marches On, as writers explore more ideas that might be used in the future.
    • One assumption that the story revolves around (and that has been fully discredited) is that piggies have similar biology to Humans. Expressing this view in an actual Xenological situation is considered a crackpot theory at best.


Radio Edit

  • The radio series Tom Corbett: Space Cadet went to some trouble to get the science right as it was meant to educate as well as entertain children. This leads to odd moments such as when a rocketship runs out of reaction mass (as opposed to “fuel”) only to land on Jupiter (which we now know is a gas planet).

Tabletop Games Edit

  • This trope is a major setting element in Genius: The Transgression. A Genius's inventions may very well work on outmoded principles, but that's because it's their inner madness fueling the devices, not any sort of consistent physical principle. Also, there are entire realms of existence where outmoded models of the Universe are the predominant mode, such as a Ptolemaic universe where the planets really are crystal spheres pushed through seas of phlogiston by humongous archangels, or a version of Mars that's a hell of a lot like Barsoom.
    • Similarly, the main antagonists, the Baramins of Lemuria, have a tendency to believe in outdated scientific, philosophical and/or political theories (ranging the Luminiferous aether to still being upset that Aristotle’s organon replaced Platonic philosophy!). They don't realize their inventions are powered by their own madness; they just think something went wrong with human development, and work constantly to “fix” it. Which is a problem if you're one of the people that needs fixing...

Real Life Edit

  • A widely-publicized set of predictions for the 20th century as seen from the year 1900 included the hope that all these annoying flies and mosquitoes, along with their breeding grounds in the swamps, marshes, and other wetlands, would finally be completely eradicated. Now scientists are fighting tooth and nail to preserve these areas in order to combat the loss of biodiversity and the protection these areas provide against flooding and coastal erosion.
    • Meanwhile, wetlands and swamps are still being drained, paved over and polluted with alarming speed; and mosquitoes are killed en masse to this day. The loss of mosquitoes would kill off many animals that eat them and without wetlands serious pollution problems would occur to a lot of water supplies.
  • It was once believed that the third finger of one's hand contained a vein that led directly back to the heart. Thus, wearing a wedding ring on that finger originally symbolized the joining of the married couple's hearts.
  • Racism. Today, widely not PC. 100 years ago, accepted as scientific truth that some races/phenotypes were inherently inferior/superior.
  • A Doctor Who serial toward the end of the Tom Baker era made a big deal about an extraordinarily important, highly-advanced computing facility (torn apart by the villains) having made use of non-volatile bubble memory, which allowed the Doctor to essentially reassemble the system and set it back to work on its interrupted computations without having to start all over. Cool. But bubble memory was obsolete less than a decade after that story was broadcast.
  • A science fiction anthology comic published by DC in the 1960s once printed a story about the end of broadcast television due to some manner of atmospheric problem. The solution? Use the moon as a drive-in movie screen, with three channels separated by polarization. A couple years later Cable TV was invented.

Notes

  1. It's better known for the plants, as their optimums are already orders of magnitude higher, so fallout levels dangerous to humans may still be stimulating to them. For algae, it was known from 1898, the "radiation hormesis" hypothesis appeared in 1981 or so, and at least from 1983 it's about specific numbers for mammals.