The thing about science fiction is, sooner or later… you’re gonna have to put some science in what you write. The fiction component allows you to make up science as it fits the needs of your story—Heisenberg compensators, flux capacitors, the Force—but sooner or later, you’re gonna have to put some real science in there, or at least some convincing-if-pseudoscientific explanation for what’s happening.  (You see, Midi-chlorians are microscopic life-forms that reside within the cells of all living things and communicate with the Force, and if you have enough of them you can become a Jedi or a Sith…*)

Even on basic cable you can find sufficient real science to allow you to nod sagely when a TV or movie character talks about quantum entanglement, branes, string theory or prions. (The latter, by the way, is a biological construct; preons are the subatomic particles.) In the kind of accidental publicity you couldn’t buy, perhaps unheard of since The China Syndrome hit movie theatres twelve days before the accident at Three Mile Island, it was reported Monday (8/29/11) that from 1946 to 1948 the United States conducted medical experiments on 1300 Guatemalan citizens—soldiers, prostitutes and mental patients—by deliberately infecting them with syphilis and other STDs (

Under a grant from the National Institutes of Science (NIH) Dr. John Cuttler led research wherein, for example, an already terminally-ill woman was infected with syphilis in order to see what effect two diseases would have on a human body. (Incidentally, the “Public Health Service Syphilis Study” better known as the “Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,” involving 600 poor black men, 399 of whom already had syphilis when the study began and 201 who were deliberately infected, ran from 1932 to 1972. None of the men were ever told they had syphilis or recieved treatment for it, but they were given, free of charge, meals, “medical care” and burial insurance. After Guatemala, Dr. Cuttler went on to participate in the Tuskegee “study.”)

On Wednesday (10 pm ET) Science Channel’s debuts its new infotainment series Dark Matters: Twisted but True tales of “the dark side of science.” Dark Matters is hosted by actor John Noble, who plays resident mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop on the Fox television series Fringe. The first episode examines “Project Rainbow,” aka “the Philadelphia Experiment” (the supposed cloaking of a naval ship in 1943), Thomas Edison’s involvement with the invention of the electric chair and the efforts of Russian scientist Ilya Ivanov to crossbreed humans with chimpanzees.

We don’t know if Dr. Cuttler will be featured in some future episode.


*George Lucas says that the midi-chlorians are based on the endosymbiotic theory. Which is real-life science as opposed to reel life science.

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