Bad Science on TV & in Movies

1.      Sherlock Holmes (2009)…fun film in spite of the questionable chemistry!

One can argue that we never actually see the actual antidote to the cyanide poison derivative work. Holmes, Watson and Adler stop the release of the poisonous gas, presumably HCN, the gaseous derivative of the cyanide salt. But since all the other dubious chemistry in the film worked to a charm, we have to assume that they are proposing that such a thing as a cyanide-antidote existed or could have been discovered in the 19th century.

Hydroxycobalamin/sodium thiosulfate has been used in France since 1970. The first compound forms a strong bond with cyanide, converting it to Vitamin B12, which can then be safely excreted from the body. The so-called Cyanokit is in fact an injection given after exposure to cyanide. In the film, however, Blackwood has select politicians unwillingly drink the antidote at least a day before the attempted poisoning. According to a 2007 research paper,

some animal tests do show that an oral antidote administered 30 minutes prior to cyanide exposure can serve as an antidote.


2..       “Snorkasaurus episode” of the Flintstones (1961)

In the Flintstones a snorkasaurus (fictitious type of dinosaur) falls from a tree and lands on Barney and Fred.

Bad Science: Cavemen and dinosaurs never coexisted, but if they do in some other universe, you hope it’s with the kind of harmony portrayed in the Flintstones! According to the fossil record, the last of the dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, as a result of an asteroid impact and other factors. Our genus Homo, which includes our present species and those that never made it, only evolved about 2 million years ago.


3.        Around the World in 80 Days (2004)

Towards the end of the movie, as Fogg completes his journey and returns toLondon, Lord Kelvin says,”This is the Royal Academy of Science. We don’t need to prove anything.”

Bad Science: It is true that towards the end of his career Kelvin was not open-minded towards new developments in physics.  But he never would have made a statement that would contradict the experimental foundations of science. Throughout his career Kelvin was actually the type of scientist that Phileas Foggsupposedly is in this version of the movie. Kelvin patented a telegraph receiver called a mirror galvanometer used on the Atlantic cable which made communication possible between Europe and North America. He also improved the mariner’s compass, invented new types of sounding gauges and a tide predictor. Theoretically, he was the first to propose that -273 is absolute zero, the temperature at which the volume of a gas is zero because its molecules possess no kinetic energy.


  • Simov, Isaac. Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology Second Edition. Doubleday. 1982

4.       King Kong (2005)

In 1933 New York, an overambitious movie producer coerces his cast and crew to travel to mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who is immediately smitten with leading lady Ann Darrow.

Bad Science: A creature 30 feet in height cannot have the same proportions as a 6 foot gorilla and maintain its strength and fluidity. If Kong is 5 feet times taller, he’ll also be 5 times thicker and 5 times wider, making him 125 times heavier. But the cross sectional area of his muscles would only be 25 times as large and would make it difficult for him to move around. Also Kong is presumably a prehistoric creature living on a small island, where the area would not be able to sustain such a large beast.


5.       Spiderman (2002)

Nerdy high school student Peter Parker is bitten by a genetically modified spider, and his body chemistry is altered mutagenically. Suddenly, he can scale walls and ceilings; he has superhuman eyesight, strength and reflexes, and he develops a precognitive sense that warns him of approaching danger.

Bad Science:

We know of chemicals that are mutagenic and that cause visible changes to organisms, but it is a bit far-fetched to have so many positive changes occurring so quickly and in such a coordinated fashion. A fair amount of protein is needed for him to grow the extra muscle and clinging hairs that he acquires in less than 24 hours. Where did it come from? Even the most spectacular and unimaginable mutations cannot violate the conservation of mass principle. In addition, Parker’s newly found muscle-power and uncanny reflexes are based on the misconception that a spider scaled to the size of a human will retain its muscle-strength to weight ratio and its quick responses.


6..Batman episode The Penguin Declines (1967)Joker and Penguin collaborate in a series of crimes inspired by signs of the Zodiac. The Joker’s moll, Venus, turns from her evil ways to assist Batman and Robin, but all three are chained in a shallow pool, about to be eaten by a giant clam.

Bad Science:

A giant clam does exist. Tridacna gigas  may weigh over 500 lb (225 kg) and attain a length of over 4 ft (120 cm). But they are filter feeders using algae as their main source of food. Stories of people being trapped in clams have never been substantiated.


7. Star Trek Episode 26 The Devil in the Dark (1966 )There’s an emergency on Janus VI, a seemingly uninhabited planet rich in metals and rare minerals crucial to Federation operations,, but there’s a swift-moving, unseen monster roaming the snaky tunnels of Janus’s interior, turning miners into acid-drenched goo. Fifty men have died, and Captain Kirk Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy) beam down to initiate the detective work. Spock surmises that silicon-based life is behind the mystery.

Bad Science: Although silicon has the same valence number as carbon, Si’s chemistry is different enough to make silicon-based life highly improbable. Carbon can catenate: it can make chains with itself. Life’s key molecules (proteins, lipids, nucleic acids carbohydrates) all involve carbon chains.  Catenation with carbon is facilitated by the strength of the C-C single bond (356 kJ/mol). In addition, carbon can form C=C double bonds and C≡C triple bonds through sideways overlap of atomic p orbitals. The combined effects of catenation and multiple bond formation allows the formation of cyclic aromatic compounds such as adenine, which is found in ATP, DNA, RNA and other molecules. Silicon can also catenate but far less effectively due to much weaker single bonds (Si-Si 226 kJ/mol). Multiple bonding for silicon is also highly unstable due to poor π overlap of its 3p orbitals because of interference from empty 3d orbitals. Silicon instead loves to catenate with oxygen (as Dr. McCoy points out) to create sand. Oxygen is a common atom in the universe, and it is a very efficient electron-mugger and energy-liberator. Life without it has arisen and still exists, but it is very difficult to have multicellular life without it.


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