Created By: Xtifr on January 17, 2013 Last Edited By: Xtifr on February 2, 2013

Science versus Progress

Scientists find themselves opposing "The March of Progress" for some reason.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope

Needs Better Name, Needs Examples. Needs Indexes

We generally think of science as a basis for technology, and hence progress, but sometimes it just gets in the way. Those pesky archeologists don't want your new building to bury their dig site, and those biologists don't want your car park to wipe out the last ruby-nosed tree slug. In extreme cases, a scientist will discover that your wonderful new technology may destroy the world.

This is a common conflict trope which can be played many ways. Sometimes its the heartless industrialists who don't care about nature or knowledge, but other times, it's the crazy tree-huggers who are standing in the way of people who genuinely want to help the community. And sometimes, it's just an unfortunate situation with no real good guys or bad guys.

But it usually boils down to economics versus abstract knowledge.

Examples:

Film
  • Medicine Man is about biologists working to find a cure for cancer in a plant that only grows in a small area of the rainforest, before that part of the rainforest is bulldozed.
  • In Jurassic Park, one scientist uses advanced mathematics to prove that the whole venture is doomed to be a disaster before it even starts.

Literature
  • In Little Fuzzy, the Chartered Zarathustra company does not want to hear that "fuzzies" are sapient, because that would throw a spanner in their plans to exploit the planet Zarathustra for its natural resources.
  • In The Engines Of God, the only possible habitable planet that doesn't already have a living sapient species has archeological ruins of an extinct one. Earth's situation is getting increasingly desperate, and the people who want to terraform the planet have just won a major court case against the archeologists who want to preserve and study the ruins.
  • Discussed in Tom Holt's Wish You Were Here: Lawyer Cal Dieb is scouting Lake Chicopee for some developer clients, and when he spots an otter, he begins to worry that it may be an endangered species, which could put the whole development plan at risk. A quick call back to the office assuages his fears. (As it turns out, the otter isn't an otter, and is actually a much greater threat to him, personally, than any endangered creature could be.)

Live-Action TV
  • In an episode of Bones, when a womanizing archeologist who is checking a potential building site for possible bronze-age ruins turns up dead, the owner of the site becomes an obvious suspect.
  • Exploited on Parks and Recreation, when Leslie Snope plants some Native American artifacts on a building site so that that the developers won't be able to build there.
  • In several cases the team from Time Team has had to survey and excavate an archaeological or historical site because the land it's on is being developed.

Western Animation
  • In an episode of The Simpsons Lisa protests the building of a new mall because there hasn't been a proper archeological survey of the area yet, so she and some classmates do it themselves. She finds what the town thinks is an angel skeleton.

Community Feedback Replies: 28
  • January 17, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    That is an extremely broad use of "science" and seems to mean "conservation in general" especially "archaeological conservation".
  • January 18, 2013
    Xtifr
    Biology would count too. Or even geology. Save the ruins, save the species, save the rare rock formations. Basically, stop building For Science! :)

    Yes, three-fifths of my initial examples involve archeology, but it's definitely not supposed to be limited to that. I'm definitely open to better names, though. The current one was just off the top of my head, and I'm far from satisfied with it.
  • January 19, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
  • January 19, 2013
    robinjohnson
    I like Science Versus Progress - it has a neat irony to it and nicely illustrates a difference between two concepts that people tend to mentally lump together.

    • Medicine Man is about biologists working to find a cure for cancer in a plant that only grows in a small area of the rainforest, before that part of the rainforest is bulldozed.
  • January 19, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an episode of The Simpsons Lisa protests the building of a new mall because there hasn't been a proper archeological survey of the area yet, so she and some classmates do it themselves. She finds what the town thinks is an angel skeleton.
  • January 19, 2013
    Megaptera
    Reality TV:
    • In several cases the team from Time Team has had to survey and excavate an archaeological or historical site because the land it's on is being developed.
  • January 19, 2013
    Xtifr
    Tropes On Science And Unscience is good; I was hoping we had a conflicts index. Conflict itself is far too broad and doesn't allow examples, and I'm not sure which sub-index this might fit under. Plots?
  • January 20, 2013
    zarpaulus
    Research Versus Industry?

    Comes to mind something one of my Bio professors said about the difference between R&D culture and Production culture, in the former unexpected change is good in the latter uniformity is vital.
  • January 20, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    Research Versus Industry is much more specific.

    Science is rarely a barrier to actual (not build-the-mall) progress.
  • January 20, 2013
    robinjohnson
    ^ Yeah, but "progress" is being used in a Judge Doom/Cyril Sneer-esque Pave-The-Earth sense. I still think Science Versus Progress is clear, concise and witty.
  • January 20, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    Does TV Tropes normally use words in a Judge Doom/Cyril Sneer-esque Pave-The-Earth sense? How would a reader know that? Are both words being used that way, or just one of them?

    Science Versus Progress is not ironic, it is a false dichotomy. It is also offensive and inaccurate. RvI actually puts a finger on what this is about.
  • January 20, 2013
    zarpaulus
    There is no difference between "science" and "progress".
  • January 20, 2013
    Xtifr
    There's a big difference between science and progress, and not even in a whoever-those-characters-are way--that is to say, not in a snarky way. Science is about empiricism and studying the way the universe actually works instead of leaping to conclusions. Science may sometime (often, in the last couple of centuries) lead to progress, but civilizations were progressing centuries before science even became a thing.

    I'm not particularly attached to the current name--as I said at the outset, I just picked it as a placeholder--but the idea that science and progress are the same thing is simply and completely wrong. They can be and often are in direct opposition.

    (And how the heck is that simple fact "offensive"?)

    eta: Nor is the trope picking sides or implying that science=good; progress=bad, or anything like that. The description explicitly mentions that either side, both, or neither, may really be in the right in when this trope is used. It's no more about paving-the-earth than it is about condemning tree-huggers.
  • January 20, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    "Can be", okay. "Often are"? Uh, no. You want Research Versus Industry. Science Versus Progress is way too broad, and it is offensive because it implies science=bad (because it puts it at odds with progress, and how could progress be anything but good? unless that word is meant in some sarcastic way that is not at all obvious... its usual definition is "advancement in general"). There are too many possible interpretations of that phrase, and a lot of them are very negative. The fact that it can be interpreted in the "right way" is close to irrelevant.

    If the "SvP" name is a placeholder, why resist naming it "RvI" so much? That is exactly what is described by the draft and all its examples. Quite a good name I think.
  • January 20, 2013
    Xtifr
    Who says progress is good? Progress in developing better nerve gases is bad. Yes, it means "advancement", but advancing in the wrong direction is bad.

    But I'm not defending the name. I just haven't seen a better suggestion yet. Research Versus Industry is simply wrong in two out of three of the words. The only one that's accurate is "versus". This trope isn't about research or industry (although some examples might be).

    (And "too broad" I take as a compliment--I was aiming for a broad trope, to avoid the all-too-common Missing Supertrope Syndrome. I'd rather make a nice broad trope than a ridiculously narrow, insanely specific one.)
  • January 20, 2013
    zarpaulus
    ^ Most of the examples seem to be researchers opposing developers.

    And you'd be surprised how many peaceful applications neurotoxins have (medicine, pesticides...).
  • January 20, 2013
    SharleeD
    I'd suggest Research Vs Development, but that sounds more like two departments in a company competing for funding....

    Pro-Research Vs Pro-Development, maybe? That way, it's clear that it's people's opinions that are at odds, not the actual practice of researching or building.
  • January 21, 2013
    robinjohnson
  • January 21, 2013
    Xtifr
    ^^^ Progress in rendering people into tastier treats, then. ;)

    It's not just about research--scientists discovering that development threatens the world would count too. Likewise, it's not limited to sites. Don't read too much into the few examples I was able to come up with to try to start this. I've seen too many tropes end up in TRS because the original description was based on the narrow starting examples.

    Heck, you might even have examples that are Science Versus Research if the research is being done by a big, evil, Research Inc. :)

    Science Versus Development might work. Not sure it's a huge improvement. The current name may not be ideal, but it does have the advantage of making you stop to think about your preconceptions, whether you're normally for or against one side or the other.
  • January 21, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    "Who says progress is good?"

    The dictionary.
  • January 21, 2013
    Xtifr
    The dictionary says progress is advancement. No dictionary I've looked at says that progress or advancement is "good". But if you want to continue this argument, let's take it to PM. The trope is in no danger of launching anytime soon, and I'd rather gather examples then get involved in a huge digression about a name intended as a placeholder.

    (For the record, I'll generally personally side with science over progress when the two are in conflict, as I think the former is..gooder.) :)
  • January 21, 2013
    Xtifr
    I expanded the description a little so it doesn't sound quite so much like it's limited to Save-My-Site, and added the Jurassic Park example so the examples won't give that impression either.
  • January 22, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    Progress: the process of developing or improving; advance; growth; developmental activity in science, technology, etc., especially with reference to the commercial opportunities created thereby... clearly positive even if the word good isn't used. Describing science as opposed to those things is describing it as bad.

    Also, in every example given so far, the research scientists are interested in progress too, but they have a different idea of what progress means. SvP almost doesn't make sense unless progress means building things, which is an extremely narrow view of the word (and an extremely broad view of the other word).

    Several people have described problems with SvP, and nobody has described anything wrong with Research Versus Industry (or Research Versus Production or Research Versus Development?) except "it's not just about research".

    I am a scientist and I think the current name sucks. "I don't think that" is not a strong counter-argument. I didn't make any claims about what you think, nor does "it can be interpreted correctly" balance out "it can be interpreted in an offensive way".
  • January 22, 2013
    Xtifr
    If this were a universal proclamation, "science is always opposed to progress", you might have a point. This not. This is a trope about those unusual cases where science finds itself in opposition to progress. And progress is not an unqualified good--the world is not black and white. But this can be a case of good vs good--I don't want to spoil it, but in the Bones example, that's how it turns out. Science can also be bad--many instances of the Mad Scientist clearly are. This isn't a proclamation about the real world--this is a trope about what happens in fiction.

    Interpreting "this happens" as "this always happens" can make lots of tropes offensive that aren't a bit offensive. Does the existence of Faux Action Girl mean that women can't fight?

    As I say, I'm not in love with the name, but I'm not going to switch to one that doesn't properly describe the trope, just because this can be interpreted (and even intended by the writer) in a way you don't like. Suggest a good name, and I'll switch in a heartbeat.
  • January 28, 2013
    Xtifr
    Bump. Still looking for examples, no matter what we end up deciding about the name.
  • February 2, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    The current name must change. "I don't think it's offensive" is completely irrelevant, nobody has made any claims about what you think. It can easily be read as expressing the opinion that science is opposed to progress, which is false and insulting. TVT should not express opinions.

    (The names Science Is Bad and Science Is Wrong do not express an opinion, those are exactly what the trope is. "Science is opposed to progress" is not the point of this, it is an implication of the name when the draft describes something else.)

    This is not a question or an argument, it is a statement. I strenuously object. A member of the science community doesn't like it. No amount of endorsement from outside the community makes any difference at all. If an Asian objected to the name A Chink In The Armor to describe a flaw in a fortress, no argument could possibly convince them to withdraw it.

    Bulldozing a rainforest is "progress"?! That is not the right word, anyway. Science Versus Industry, perhaps, if you don't like Research.
  • February 2, 2013
    SeptimusHeap
  • February 2, 2013
    rodneyAnonymous
    That is better than "versus" but I still think "progress" is the wrong word, the description and many of the examples describe things that no one (except maybe a land developer) would call "progress". Economics Versus Abstract Knowledge is in the draft, but I like Research Versus Industry better, don't understand the objection, it fits exactly.
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