4 Evil Movie Science Plans That Aren't So Bad
Despite "science" being right there in the name, sci-fi has a habit of only showing the darker sides of certain technologies and medical advancements. Choosing to overshadow all the good parts with the bits that make you want to scream at your TV or hide under your bed until society is reborn into something less awful. And, sure, we all need a fair warning on occasion -- or, given our current penchant for denial, maybe a horrible catastrophe -- but games, movies, and television shows have a tendency to demonize up the wrong tree.
If screenwriters and scriptgineers focused a little bit less on the fiction and a little more on the science, they'd realize that some of their favorite villainous plots could save actual lives, and maybe even the entire planet ...
Making Fertilizer from Human Corpses Isn't as Creepy as It Sounds
Early on in Obsidian's action role-playing game The Outer Worlds, your hero is given a choice between helping a heartless and monolithic corporate town exploit its workers to death, or teaming up with a kindly old lady who just wants to grow her organic farm. Obviously, that's not much of a choice, so the game throws a wrench into things: the old lady uses human corpses for fertilizer.
The revelation is meant to be shocking and horrible, but, it turns out, there's plenty of research into people-lizer already -- and it might actually be a good thing.
Let's start with the fact that cremation and traditional burials waste tons of resources like wood, concrete, steel, gallons upon gallons of the known carcinogenic formaldehyde -- with the former also releasing a literal ton of carbon dioxide into the air per person. And that's to say nothing of all the land required -- cemeteries worldwide are running out of space to put people, while Hong Kong funeral homes are basically turning into storage centers full of sacks of cremains.
Some places, like the Halmstad cemetery in Sweden, are doing their part to counteract all that wasted energy, connecting their crematorium to local infrastructure and heating nearby towns with their body-burning furnaces, while others are taking a much more au natural tack to shuffling you off this mortal coil.
Human composting, or recomposition, does away with all the preservatives and incineration, instead turning your dead body into nutrient-rich dirt within a month. Corpses are brought to a special facility -- "part public park, part funeral home, part memorial" -- and laid down with a pile of wood chips, straw, and alfalfa, which accelerate microbial breakdown. The process is basically a burial at high speed, without all the horrible chemicals being pumped into your body and slowing down what's absolutely going to happen anyway.
Currently, Washington is the only state to explicitly allow recomposition, with the major sticking point elsewhere being -- and this is a direct quote from a respected New York Times journalist -- the "yuck factor." You hear that, Hollywood and religion and, uh, general public opinion? You're the reason we still have to worry about zombies. Congratulations on failing to make the world even the tiniest bit safer.
Human Augmentation Is Already Here
The robotization of mankind is, generally, seen as a bad thing. DC's most popular -- and least imaginatively named -- cyborg, Cyborg, is famously despondent over the loss of his humanity.
Ditto Doom Patrol's equally uninspiringly-christened Robotman. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did the same thing with Deathlok, upped the ante by replacing speedster Yo-Yo's arms with highly-advanced prosthetics, then transferred Phil Coulson's consciousness into a highly-advanced robot double. In both of those latter cases, our heroes bitched and moaned about how being invulnerable and able to use your fingers again sucked ass and was terrible, because America's inherent ableism knows no bounds.
Look, I still have all the limbs I was born with -- though not all the internal organs, we'll get to that -- though I would imagine if you were to lose your hand in an accident of some kind, or never have one, some scientist showing up and giving you a prosthetic that, for all intents and purposes, was a functioning hand, would be freaking awesome. Not that I really have to imagine: scientists are already doing just that, and it's every bit as amazing as it sounds.
Humans have been using prostheses for way longer than you'd think, but only recently has technology reached the point where biology can truly be captured by bionics. Scientists are, right now, incorporating neural interfaces into prosthetics, complex circuitry that simulates not just touch, but temperature and pain, the ability to sense varying pressures and vibrations, and all the other subtle sensations that otherwise would have been lost -- advances that are allowing folks to touch their loved ones for the first time.
And it's more than just prosthetics -- pacemakers are, literally, machines that keep a person's heart beating. There are hearing aids that connect directly to your smartphone and let you take calls. Insulin patches that can monitor blood sugars and give insulin automatically are being tested. Nanoscale probes and neurotech are being utilized for all manner of things, including creating an implant that could cure Alzheimer's.
Far from separating us from our own humanity, augmentation exists to level the playing field and give people their lives back. And if, for some reason, you still need proof, then here's a video of a baby with a cochlear implant hearing her parents for the first time.
Who's the monster now, Coulson?
Transplanted Organs Aren't Haunted, or Stolen
A couple of years ago, I explained that pop culture's obsession with negative transplant narratives was damaging to real-life organ donation, but, apparently, none of you dipshits were listening, so let's try this again.
First off, there's the horror movie staple that donor organs will actually change the recipient's personality, a trope most recently seen in Netflix's recent (and highly problematic) Chambers, as well as, uh, a regular episode of Bob's Burgers.
More damningly, though, is the pervasive notion of a black market for illegal organs. Whether its rogue doctors selling your organs to the highest bidder while you sleep or roving gangs of surgeons who steal kidneys instead of the far more lucrative option of, y'know, being surgeons, some facet of this idea has shown up everywhere. It hops from Batman comics to Mass Effect, from Angel to Pushing Daisies to Justified to literally all the medical and cop shows on television -- and I'm pretty sure I'm not misusing literally here.
Enough people believe this bullshit that the government felt the need to debunk it -- the same government that's currently endorsing demon sperm and alien DNA transfers as not the ramblings of a crazy person. That's how wrong these transplant myths are.
Let's start with the personality thing. The best actual answer for perceived changes in a person's behavior is old-fashioned PTSD and hallucinations. Your donor isn't whispering to you, your new heart isn't possessed, you're simply having a dissociative episode following the trauma of hovering near death for a while and then getting cut open and having your insides taken out. Trust me, it could happen to anyone, and it will get better.
As for the black market for stolen organs: no. That's patently not a thing -- at least, not in the way Hollywood keeps showing it, anyway.
First, random knife-wielding butchers literally can't steal your organs and keep them viable for future sales. For one thing, klepto-ed kidneys would need to be matched with a donor beforehand, something that requires, at the bare minimum, a full panel of bloodwork from both parties; otherwise, you might as well be shoving a rock into someone's guts. Then there's the fact that the actual surgical process, on both the procurement and transplantation sides, is super complicated, requiring, even at the shittiest facility possible, multiple people, lots of drugs, an x-ray machine, and several hours. Not to mention that insane amounts of dry ice and preservation fluids are needed to move an organ, with a four-hour window before the organ fails.
In short, stealing a kidney in a bathtub with a single scalpel would absolutely only end in murder charges.
Second, because of the way donor organ allocation works, no doctor is just going to let you die to help some rich asshole down the hall. The process is blind, with donors and transplant recipients rarely in the same building, and sometimes not even the same state. Doctors would have literally no idea where your insides were going -- unless they just did it themselves, which, see above, isn't possible, even and especially in a hospital. Those places are locked down tight. I mean, getting an extra pudding requires running it by three nurses and checking your blood sugars. Plus, y'know, they're doctors, not supervillains.
Ah, but what about the supervillains? How does one go about getting their hands on someone else's kidneys if they're too important to wait and go through the proper channels? The same way most shady things get done: by exploiting the desperate and the poor.
Even though the buying and selling of a person's insides is illegal worldwide -- expect, troublingly, for Iran -- "transplant tourism" is a thing, with "organ brokers" in India and Pakistan being the worst offenders I could find. (For the article, I promise.)
The process involves paying people to become "voluntary" donors -- usually poor, poverty-stricken folks with no options, although there are certainly concerns that some are trafficked -- in the same way a sister or Good Samaritan might lend you a kidney. And it is, almost exclusively, kidneys and liver lobes. Because even the kinds of people that would sell other people for parts aren't doing anything that would kill them.
But people are dying while waiting for organs, every day, so, I don't know, Hollywood, if you're really dead-set on murdering people through fearmongering, maybe at least be factually accurate with your bullshit and shine a light on some real problems along the way.
GMOs Could Save the World
When (the excellent and underrated) Years and Years wanted to explain how dire the future was getting, they had a character rattle off a bunch of genetically-modified meat substitutes as proof. We all knew what they were saying because even in the current day, the public consensus regarding GMOs is decidedly Not Good.
And this isn't a new attitude, either: H.G. Wells was worried about GMOs in 1904, with The Food of the Gods claiming that enhancing food would turn children into giants, while a 1976 feature-film adaptation focused a lot more on the "getting murdered by rats" parts. Hell, pretty much half of all B-movies made since 1954 -- including modern masterpiece Attack of the Killer Tomatoes -- have involved scientists meddling with things they shouldn't, and always with terrible results.
But here's the thing, guys: GMOs could save the world.
Let's get this out of the way first: science is great. The reason we're all alive right now is because of science -- antibiotics and air conditioning and coffee makers you can turn on with your phone and everything else, including the ability to read this article on your phone while you're taking a shit (even if you really shouldn't be doing that). Sure, science is taking a beating lately, with, like, half the country turning on it because of, I don't know, freedom? But it's still an intrinsic good -- and genetically-modified crops are no different.
Of course, the counterargument is that GMOs are evil, full-stop, and you should only buy organic or grow your own food -- even if that's untenable. And, sure, historically, preservatives were invented to keep food from spoiling and poisoning people. Still, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that GMOs are no worse for you than any other thing you put in your face. There have been repeated correlations between fearing genetically-modified foods and a lack of scientific knowledge, and, technically, dog breeding is genetic modification, and no one's afraid of labradoodles. But, yeah, sure, "bad." Go with that.
Anyway, let's take a look at all those "terrible" things GMOs do, shall we?
Genetically-modifying crops can increase harvest yields and make otherwise un-farmable lands arable, thereby alleviating world hunger. And since we, as a species, are doing jack and shit about climate change, these modified plants can allow us to not starve to death while we melt the ice caps and set Australia on fire. They also keep us rolling in produce variety -- GMOs have already saved the papaya from certain doom.
Genetically-modified produce can actually be healthier than the stuff being chewed on and shit all over by bugs and vermin, too. Transgenic foodstuffs are tested and found safe, more than literally any other food we eat. And even when we think a GMO did something terrible -- like the StarLink taco shell incident in 2000 that was reported to be causing allergic reactions in humans -- it turns out those are baseless accusations. StarLink's products never hurt anyone, but they could help everyone ... if we could all just get our heads out of our asses for a minute.
I mean, don't get me wrong, Monsanto and its brethren are as evil as a possessed shit-monster, but, as the saying goes, don't cut off your food supply to spite your corporate overlords.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series. He loves anything that makes his tomatoes less homicidal and has no problem being turned into plant food when he dies. Follow him on Twitter.
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