Star Trek science
I've seen a couple of people complain about the new Trek movies not being very scientific, which led me to write the following in a comment thread. Figured I might as well turn it into a blog post.
I think a lot of Trek fans misremember the degree of scientific accuracy in the original series. I was really really annoyed by the Red Matter business in ST09, but I had to admit it was no worse than a hundred other sciencey things from all of the Trek series. Scientific accuracy has never really been a goal of Star Trek.
The first seven broadcast episodes of TOS (which I recently rewatched and took notes on) included, among other things:
- A telepathic creature that can shapeshift and can near-instantly suck all of the salt out of a human body.
- A beam weapon (phaser) that can cause people to fall unconscious, without causing them any lasting harm, but can also be set to kill them or even vaporize them. It can also cut through bulkheads.
- A truth serum.
- A warp drive.
- Sound in space.
- Aliens who look basically like humans.
- Force fields.
- At least two different kinds of basically omnipotent people who can use mind power to do things like teleporting themselves and others (apparently across interstellar distances), creating solid objects (such as gravestones) out of thin air, and using (essentially) Force lightning to attack people.
- Interspecies reproduction.
- The galaxy having an “edge” and weird things happening when you get too close to it. Also, sitting at the edge of the galaxy and seeing stars ahead of them.
- Artificial gravity.
- A planet that's getting smaller and less massive by the minute, so they keep having to fly closer to it to remain the same distance above the surface.
- Stuff based on polywater. (Which, to be fair, at the time was believed to be real science.)
- Suddenly going backwards in time. “Since the formula worked, we can go back in time, to any planet, any era.”
- A transporter accident splitting Kirk into Good Kirk and Bad Kirk.
- A way to briefly pinch someone's shoulder/neck that causes them to immediately fall unconscious.
- An asteroid belt in apparently interstellar space.
- A ship's computer that can detect lies by listening to people speak.
- A pill that causes women to look beautiful: “the Venus drug.” According to one of the characters, the drug gives you more of whatever you have: Men get more muscular and aggressive, women more rounded (or maybe he said curved?) and feminine.
- Sentient androids, the ability to create exact-looking android duplicates of a person, and the ability to transfer a human's “soul” into an android. (Though arguably the person who said the soul thing was deluded, and it was really “only” the person's memories and such that got transferred.)
And so on.
It's not that all of those things are scientifically implausible; I can imagine that some of them might be feasible with less-than-magic-level tech. It's more that I don't feel like Trek ever took the science seriously as science. That wasn't what they cared about; they set out to make (iIrc) Wagon Train in space. TOS was, imo, primarily an adventure series with science fiction trappings, and some investigation of philosophical/moral/political issues that gave it some depth.
This isn't really a criticism. There's a long tradition of popular adventurey science fiction that doesn't especially care about scientific accuracy. But it does mean that I think criticisms of Abrams on grounds of scientific implausibility are failing to take into account the history of the show.