6 Things TV Teaches Us About Scientists And Engineers

I think we can all generally agree that scientists and engineers are brilliant. You find them on the leading edge of innovation and advancement, and all of the conveniences of modern life are attributable to their hard work!

For the purposes of this article, I will lump the two groups together, with full knowledge that they are different, and with full appreciation for what they do. To make it simple for me, I am inventing a new term for this grouping – Scienteers!

So, what do we *really* know about Scienteers? I mean, unless you live or work with one, can you understand them? Heck, even if you do live and work with on, can you truly understand them? Yes, we can – thanks to the magic of TV! In fact, one of my favorite factoids is one I learned from a fictional TV Scienteer – that most myths have a basis in fact.

1) Multi talented

Scienteers are so brilliant, that they are able to work effortlessly in a field totally unrelated to their degree. Let’s start with Henry on Eureka. Truthfully, I am not sure if he is an engineer or a scientist. He must be both because he seems capable of fixing whatever problem they are having – be it technical, biological, mechanical, whatever, he’s your go to guy!

Then we have the character of Samantha Carter from Stargate: SG-1. She is an astrophysicist by training, and yet at different times in the show she has shown extraordinary skills in many disparate fields. A notable example is the field of genetics. Despite having no formal training in biology, she is able to assist Dr. Fraiser like a pro.

2) Over confident

Were you aware that scienteers don’t mince words when it comes to telling others about what they are capable of doing? Consider Dr. Rodney McKay, in Stargate: Atlantis. Aside from wearing t-shirts with sayings such as “Mr. Fantastic,” he also is in the habit of telling people they are wrong, and why their idea will not work in solving the latest galactic crisis.

Nikola Tesla on Sanctuary is another good example of this. He frequently makes snarky remarks about how brilliant and creative he is when it comes to his science.

3) Carelessly curious

When you watch TV, do you find yourself yelling at the set, saying things such as “Don’t touch that!” and “Don’t go in there!” Too bad they can’t hear us, because I find such advice is usually sound. How many times over the course of ten years, did Dr. Daniel Jackson of Stargate:
get the whole team in trouble because he had to touch, or peek, or go where no man should ever go? He even ended up in an alternate universe once because of this trait.

Dr. Walter Bishop on Fringe also has been known to wander off in the middle of a crisis, pursuing some small clue that gets his attention and piques his curiosity. Of course, the path leads to his being endangered.

4) Socially awkward

Ok, so this one probably does have more of a basis in truth than the others. Scienteers do tend to be socially awkward in real life, but on TV, they take it to the extreme. Consider the delightful comedy The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon, Leonard, Raj and Howard all have their peculiarities and social issues, and yet, they manage to bumble through, with their unique social structure.

Douglas Fargo on Eureka also has trouble navigating the social scene. He frequently says the wrong thing, irritates people, and misses social clues.

5) Singular focus

If you have a true scienteer in your life, you know what I mean when I talk about their singular focus. They get so absorbed in what they are working on, that literally days could pass before they emerge from their lab. Frequently you will see a lab assistant or friend bringing food to them because they missed yet another meal. Or, during a conversation, they don’t hear what the other person is talking about because their mind is elsewhere.

Walter Bishop on Fringe, who is extremely eccentric, shows this trait. When he is working on an intractable problem, he has trouble sleeping and will do strange things.

Helen Magnus on Sanctuary will stay in her lab, working on the latest problem, until it is solved. Luckily she has Bigfoot watching out for her – he frequently brings her meals.

Scotty, in Classic Star Trek, had to be ordered by Captain Kirk to take Shoreleave – otherwise he had planned to use his down time to catch up on his technical journals!

6) Miracle workers

Space ship/power plant/earth about to blow up? Don’t sweat it, the scienteers are on the job and will save the day in the final seconds! Except of course in the made for SyFy channel movie Annihilation Earth, but shh. we won’t dwell on that.

Normally, the scienteer manages to save the day through some technobabble miracle. Just invert the “babble.babble” and all is well. I think all the Star Trek engineers, in all the incarnations of the series, inverted something more than once!

In fact, Scotty in Classic Star Trek saved the day so many times, that in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Relics,” his advice to Geordi was to always over-estimate the time required to fix whatever problem was occurring. “Oh, laddie. You’ve got a lot to learn if you want people to think of you as a miracle worker.” Indeed, Mr. Scott, indeed.