Academic science in fiction

Being biology and chemistry stupid for the most part, I tend to give movies, books and TV shows a pass when it comes to their science. Those CSI shows? I’m pretty sure those machines don’t spit out results that fast, but won’t quibble about it. The Biochemist, on the other hand, is not nearly as tolerant as I am.

I’d forgotten how much suspension of disbelief was required with respect to the science in Y: The Last Man, and forgot to warn TB. And thus I received this message from her:

Dr. Mann is 31, and she a) already has tenure b) at Harvard teaching “biotech” and c) was using funding obtained via Harvard (b/c universities generally have to sign off on shit, part of the contract, which includes stuff like copyright/patent rights going to the school) to do human cloning? My bullshit meter is PEGGED, okay?

There was more, but it was profane and capslocky, so I’ve left it off. I’m hoping that she’ll like Pride of Baghdad, which doesn’t include any science at all.


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12 responses to “Academic science in fiction

  1. I read something about a gay male professor who was early thirties and a full professor. Pissed me the hell off, so I know of where she speaks.

    • Since my experience in academia has all been as a student, my grasp of the adjunct, assistant and full professorship positions is all vague. I remember youngish instructors, but in college I addressed them all as Professor or Doctor, and in law school either Professor or Mr/Ms or by first/last name alone (depending on the person), without regard to actual degree or position.
      Now, reading about a 25 year old partner in a big law firm? Irritates me, since that is extremely unlikely unless s/he 1) somehow skipped or compressed 5 or 6 years of schooling, or 2) somehow brought in Microsoft or some other huge client as her/his book of business. In that case, all bets are off.

      • Well, exactly. Full professor same deal. Even Associate Professor. You go through 4 years of college, 5-8 years of grad school, and another 6 years of Assistantship before you become an Associate Professor, by which time you’re 30 at the very very very youngest. Then you’ve got to become a national “name” in your field or do fabulous service for your university to be Full professor. There’s no time limit on that like there is for tenure/promotion to associate, and indeed, most don’t become full professor at all. And you’re right, it doesn’t change the way students address you, of course.

      • Question: are the number of full, assistant and associate professorships usually set by some university or department wide formula? Based on funding? I’m just wondering about competition and applicant pool.

  2. LOL! That’s one of my biggest peeves in fiction too — characters who are successful bigwigs in their fields by a ridiculously unrealistic age. Not everyone is Doogie Howser.

    • Exactly! I noticed it was vaguely wrong as I read, but it didn’t set off my meter to a huge degree. A lot of the characters I read in contemporaries are improbably advanced in their careers, but I’ve mostly been suspending my irritation. The last time I posted a question about a specific career/education path in academia (over on AAR’s old boards about NR’s Birthright), I was more or less told to not be so picky and that it was possible even though improbable, so I ought to let it go.

      • I didn’t notice it in BR, which is one of my favorites. I’ll have to check it out again.

      • Okay, going from memory here, since I haven’t ever reread BR. I remember thinking it was odd that a 28 year old (I think that was her age) would have the experience and reputation to head up that dig. First, a dig in the US in a populated area with a lot of American history would be a cushy thing (as opposed to being in an RV somewhere in the middle of a desert), generating a huge amount of competition. Second, 28 seemed young to have the reputation and project history needed to be the lead on any dig. My experience of doctoral education is limited to observation (and only that is mostly on the science/technology side), but 5 years seemed to be the absolute minimum. Assuming no Doogie Howser advances, were the two to three years of post-doc experience enough to get her that gig?
        Of course, it’s entirely possible that I read her position and/or age wrong, or was just making unfounded assumptions. I do that sometimes.

      • No, sounds right, but what I know about anthropology and archeology would not fill a thimble.

      • Oh, I definitely remember it in BR — don’t you remember the fit one of the Cafe members had about it?
        The one that really got my back up was an EC book. The woman was 24 or so, had been a single teenage mother with a GED and somehow was magically a successful romance author who then made the leap to being able to write “real” books like mysteries. That book had it all: unrealistic career for her age, an insult to the very genre the book itself was, AND it was poorly written, to boot.

      • Don’t you remember the fit one of the Cafe members had about it?
        No…but there is at least one Cafe member that I tend to tune out.

      • I can’t possibly imagine to whom you are referring…;-)

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