As you can see, Doctor Venture's "Ooo-Ray" has only peaceful applications.
"When you've been a wizard as long as I have, my boy, you'll learn that as soon as you find anything that offers amazing possibilities for the improvement of the human condition it's best to put the lid back on and pretend it never happened."
Potential Applications is a trope often used to justify the existence of a dangerous situation and/or provide motivation for a disinterested antagonist, such as a corporation.
A character or characters with vision, sometimes representing a large organization, encounters a new, esoteric technology, and suddenly realizes all the Potential Applications it could be put to. The technology can come in any form- maybe a Mad Scientist just constructed a group of Ridiculously Human Robots, maybe astronauts have brought back a Black Box filled with Imported Alien Phlebotinum, or maybe biologists from an Animal Wrongs Group have just discovered Killer Rabbits in the Amazon.
Sometimes happens before the story starts and is implied. Generally then results in one of two plot developments, occasionally both:
The technology proves to be blatantly dangerous, but the potential for unintended consequences will be entirely ignored. It will be allowed to run rampant, possibly further developed, and the antagonists — who are staunch believers in the Potential Applications — will try to prevent any attempts by more sensible characters to stop the disaster by destroying the technology (or just stopping until they can make sure they've identified and can deal with potential dangers). Expect things to Go Horribly Right as a result.
The technology has just become a MacGuffin, and the antagonists will Lie, Cheat, and Steal (and probably Kill, too) to get it. Alternately, whoever realizes what the technology is worth grabs it and runs — often having no idea how dangerous it really is. If the protagonist is the scientist responsible for the technology, they may have to run for their lives or destroy their life's work to safeguard humanity — possibly both.
At least one of the subtropes is always present, and often more. If the bad guys are an organization, they always believe in either the Military Potential or the Commercial Applications; if they are a lone Mad Scientist, they can be misled into thinking there are better uses. The good guys almost always believe in the Peaceful Applications or that the technology shouldn't be used at all. The bad guys will more than likely to fail to see legitimate uses for monetary potential. The interplay between the subtropes is therefore often used to illustrate An Aesop.
Ultimately, the Potential Applications are rarely realized during the story, and very often turn out to have been a phantom. Even if the technology really could have been used peacefully, it will usually be destroyed by the heroes to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands — ensuring that even when he isn't, Reed Richards Is Still Useless. Now, if the people involved in the research don't care about the potential applications, it's because they do it For Science!!
Just don't think of the other potential applications. This is why the Disposable Superhero Maker is disposable in the first place.
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In various Spider-Man continuities, Dr. Connors is convinced that his new invention can regrow lost limbs- but mostly it just turns people into megalomaniacal giant lizards. Often, Spidey must convince Dr. Connors his technology is too dangerous to save the day. Other times, he just beats the crap out of him.
The Extremis arc of Iron Man flavours this with a little What the Hell, Hero?. Yet another goverment-sponsored project to create supersoldiers, the Extremis virus can be programmed to make people wholly new, nigh-invulnerable, superpowered bodies; naturally, it also drives them insane if it doesn't kill them in the process. Tony Stark shuts the whole operation down... though not before he's used it on himself, enough to heal fatal injuries he took fighting such a super soldier and turn him into a Technopath. In the aftermath, he's gleeful about his newfound efficiency, productivity and response time, and is frustrated that his friends can't see why turning himself into even more of an emotionally distant workaholic cyborg is awesome.
That actually explains more of Civil War than it should have.
In Spider-Man: Noir, Dr. Otto Octavius conducts inhumane experiments on apes. Robbie Robertson is disgusted by what he sees in Octavius' lab, but Peter tells him the possibilities for humanity are endless. Robbie is adamant that Octavius' work is "the opposite of humanity."
Inverted in Doctor Strange: The Oath, when Strange retrieves an elixir that can cure all diseases (particularly the inoperable brain tumor about to kill his associate Wong). A corrupt pharmaceuticals company steals it from him, claiming The World Is Not Ready; Strange counter-argues that other advances in medicine seemed like magic at first but were adopted and the world is better for it.
In Sonic the Hedgehog, Charles Hedgehog, Sonic's dear Uncle Chuck, devised the roboticizer as a means to temporarily turn a person into a robot to save their lives until they can be saved. However, Robotnik got a hold of it first and sabotaged it so that when Charles was forced to put his brother (and Sonic's dad) Jules in it, it turned him into a mindless robot, forcing Chuck to give it up in disgrace. Robotnik, however, takes it and turns it into the weapon to initiate his coup.
In Aliens, the Weyland-Yutani corporation believes the Xenomorphs to have great Military Potential, repeatedly allowing their employees to get slaughtered by Xenomorphs in their attempts to study them. Since Weyland-Yutani stands to make money off of this, they are also Thinking of All the Money They Could Make.
It is implied, subtly in the movie and more overt in other sources, that the Xenomorphs were originally used as a biological weapon, either bred specifically for that purpose or captured somewhere, so it isn't as if Weyland-Yutani are operating without precedent. However considering the species that used them as a weapon were also driven to extinction by them, the trope is invoked even harder.
This happens a lot in the Alien canon, to the point where a Zero Punctuation review described it as part of the one plot that every media in the franchise uses, despite it being a disaster every time it's tried.
Yahtzee: Okay, so the last 16 stupid evil guys who tried to control the aliens all got their brains spread out on cream crackers, but I think their problem was not being stupid and evil enough.
In the various RoboCop installments, Omni Consumer Products is so focused on making money that it rarely builds its killer robots with proper safeguards.
This has actually happened when demonstrating automated AA guns. Fortunately, the first time this ever happened, the cannon ran out of ammunition before it decided to shoot at the observers. A second, more recent incident resulted in the deaths of several people.
In Short Circuit 2, when the street hustler Fred Ritter realizes how much money the self-aware robot Johnny 5 is worth, he immediately tries to trick him into being sold to a corporation. On top of that, a major subplot of the movie is one of Johnny 5's creators trying to start a business selling toy versions of the robot. A rare instance of the good guys trying to make money off of the technology.
Similarly, the original movie started with a demonstration of how effective Johnny 5 and his "brothers" were as mechanical warriors in an attempt to gain more money and military interest for their mass production. After Johnny 5 "malfunctions", its creator, Newton Crosby (Ph.D.) attempts to convince his boss of the advantages to capturing the robot alive and studying what made it go "rogue", in the first place, and how it's affected it.
In the Friday the 13th sequel Jason X, Jason is finally captured by the Feds after having killed a couple hundred people over the years. Some military folks actually want to keep Jason alive so they can figure out how to reproduce his invincibility. Horror movie (and horror movie Affectionate Parody) slaughter ensues. In their defense, they did try executing him a dozen times first.
In the 1993 version of Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla, the JSDF accidentally manages to obtain a Baby Godzilla (he hatches from an egg they thought belonged to Rodan) and decide to keep and study it so that they can find any weaknesses the adult Godzilla may have. The adult Godzilla shows up and he's VERY angry. The JSDF wisely decides that it would be far safer if Baby Godzilla were to stay with his "daddy".
In Godzilla Vs Spacegodzilla, a few of the heroes try to use Mind Control telepathy to control Godzilla, feeling that it would be far better than trying to destroy him. Inevitably, it doesn't work.
In the MST3K movie Danger Death Ray, a scientist truly believes his death ray can and should be used only for peaceful purposes. He is immediately kidnapped by a group of evil people who want to use the ray for evil purposes, to the surprise of no one in the theater.
Spoofed in one of the host segments, where Tom Servo gets his own "peaceful death ray", but can't resist turning it on Crow for a laugh. Crow has to admit it's a pretty good gag...at least, until his eyeballs catch fire.
This is the excuse Lamar gives in Minority Report, to justify the exploitation of three children, the experimentation and deaths of several others, the murder of a woman, and the attempted framing of John Anderson.
Lamar: Think of all the lives that little girl has saved, think about all the lives she will save...
TRON: Legacy : Back in 1989, Flynn was all but raving about the world inside the computer (and especially the Isos). "Our future is in there!" and talking about how the Isos would revolutionize "science, medicine, religion." Unfortunately, his administrative program disagreed with him, took over the Grid, trapped him, and made plans to take over the human world because we're imperfect.
The Big Bad gives this speech to Hugh Grant's character at the end of Extreme Measures as a justification for his inhumane experiments on the homeless. The kicker is, the discovery does indeed hold enormous potential for all of humanity (they have learned how to regrow nerve cells but haven't yet learned to stop the growth) but the cost is what causes the protagonist to reject the notion.
In the novel Jurassic Park, John Hammond is convinced the technology to clone dinosaurs is a gold mine. In the movie, he just wants to make children happy. In both versions, both of the above mentioned likely plot developments come into play: The park is stocked with dinosaurs that are incredibly dangerous, and a corporate spy lets the dinosaurs loose as part of a plan to steal the technology that made them.
Spoofed in the Discworld novel The Last Continent, where Ponder ruminates on the potential of interdimensional portals, and the Senior Wrangler tries to bring him back down to Earth with the page quote above.
There's also Leonard of Quirm, who compulsively sketches the blueprints for lethal weaponry alongside his more artistic works, complete with lists of needed materials and assembly instructions. Naturally, he's sure no one would ever actually use them against people, although some might be helpful against wild animals or for moving mountains out of the way.
Averted in practice, as trifids only became a major threat to human survival after a severe Class 1 to borderline Class 2 Apocalypse How for which they were not directly responsible.
There is still some shade of it, at least in the book. Trifids are dangerous only because of their poisoned stinger, that could be easily chopped off, but than they would produce a slightly worse oil. So for the sake of oil quality, monster plants.
Subverted in Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos, when the title character meets a runaway telepath fleeing a black ops clean-up crew. Said telepath, who has been bred for applications in espionage and interrogation, is astonished when the first thing through Dr. Ethan Urquhart's head is how wonderful such an ability would be when dealing with pre/non-verbal patients. Ethan effectively explains that what the average person answers when asked "What is the potential implications of this new ability/technology?" is "What would I do if I had this new ability/technology?"
In the Doris Lessing short story No Witchcraft for Sale, a colonial Rhodesian family's African cook saves their son from blindness from snake venom with the use of a local plant root. However, when the family tries to persuade him to tell them which plant it was so he can sell it to a pharmaceutical company, he refuses, as it is sacred knowledge. This causes some tension with his employers.
In Harry Potter Dumbledore reveals he saw potential in the Deathly Hallows but chides himself for his foolishness in not realising that Grindelwald merely wanted to use them for evil.
In Ice Caves this the way the techpriests respond to Cain's demand that the uncovered Necron tomb must be collapsed ASAP. It doesn't help that they intentionally had a refinery constructed on that particular site so they could dip their grabby mechadendrits into the tomb.
This error, like many, is self-correcting.
Ceciel rants about this in the Knight and Rogue Series when she reveals her research to give humans magic. She talks about how many people it would help if she gave healers magic. Michael thinks of how many people it would harm if criminals got her research.
One of the all-time classic Doctor Who stories, The Power of the Daleks, was built around this trope. A Dalek spaceship turns up on a colony planet and the chief scientist is amazed by the technical sophistication of it, and the Daleks themselves. It doesn't end well.
In Jekyll, the villains frequently try to convince Jackman of the potential that his unique and bizarre physiology has for the world, as well as the potential to make them all very rich.
In Alien Nation, the characters take down a doctor who's killing Newcomers and using their organs to retard aging in his human clients. George thinks that his discovery should be shared—maybe if something good can be made out of this, the victims won't have died for nothing. But Matt isn't having any of it, and tosses all the data into a fire.
Matt: Never bet on the goodness of the human race.
In Primeval's third season, Christine Johnson and her subordinates are attempting to control the anomalies in order to turn Future Predators (the extremely dangerous evolved bats) into soldiers. The unspoken implications are blatant throughout the season, and the second-last episode of the season has Hellen Cutter outright say blame Christine for the death of the human race before feeding her to a Future Predator... which might almost come off as a Karmic Death.
It is clear that Helen is batshit (pun intended) insane. She keeps accusing random people of causing the apocalypse, and then allies with Leek, who's keeping Future Predators (among others) as slaves. She then shoots her husband Nick, who came back to rescue her from an explosion she caused.
Helen's final solution for preventing apocalypse - erasing the human race by killing the early hominids in the distant past.
Season 4 reaffirms this premise when a billionaire takes over sponsorship of the project as he sees the potential in all the scientific data they gather on the portals. The season finale strongly hints that his experiments will cause the apocalypse because they really do not understand that well how portals really work and certain quirks they exhibit can have even more disastrous consequences than usual.
This line of thought is the entire point of Stargate SG-1. One of the core missions of the Stargate Command is to find and adapt alien technology that Earth can use, primarily for defense against alien threats. Several times, devices or organisms encountered in the series as Monsters Of The Week come back later, being used deliberately and successfully by the good guys. It's not always easy, but on the whole the SGC's mission was a success in Stargate SG-1.
It's Stargate Atlantis where this trope tends to be played straight, with new energy sources or anti-Wraith weapons almost uniformly resulting in disaster.
Half of the products of Veridian Dynamics, from Better Off Ted, makes end up being dangerous and unsafe to their consumers. Instead of making them safer, their usual response is to sell them to the military as weapons. The other half of their products are intended for military applications from the start.
The bread and butter of Dollhouse. The main story of season one contains but one dark hint about it, but the potential applications are all up in the story's business by season two. Oh, believe us, they're no empty threat.
That's how some corrupt governments (mainly Earth and Centauri) in Babylon 5 regard dealing with Shadows: sure, they are immensely powerful Social Darwinists, but think of all the nifty technology/military aid! Probably subverted in that both actually get their promised cut from the Deal with the Devil before it bites them lethally in the ass.
Star Trek: The Original Series in "Where No Man Has Gone Before". Most of the high ranking officers on the Enterprise are nervous about Gary Mitchell's rapidly growing psychic powers, but Dehner invokes this trope in order to keep him on the ship.
Dehner: No one's been hurt, have they? Don't you understand? A mutated superior man could also be a wonderful thing. The forerunner of a new and better kind of human being.
In Seaquest DSV, the Seaquest crew raid an old outpost where a UEO scientist performed inhumane experiments on a Dagger (genetically engineered humans bred to be soldiers). The experiments eventually killed the Dagger, but also gave him special abilities like limb regeneration. Captain Bridger gives the research data to Dagwood the Seaquest's Dagger janitor. He tells Dagwood that the research could benefit his people, but he is the only one who has the right to decide if the potential benefits were worth the ghastly means of obtaining the data. As Dagwood reviews the data, he sees a hologram of the deceased test subject recorded before the experiments began praising the scientist for teaching him how to read and write (a ploy to gain his trust). The recording ends with the Dagger calling the scientist his friend. Dagwood, enraged by the scientist's manipulation and betrayal of the Dagger, destroys the data.
In Star Trek, the Omega Molecule is one of the most dangerous things in the universe. A single Omega Molecule going unstable will permanently damage subspace (crippling space travel) with an explosion big enough to wipe out an entire Borg fleet. The reason people keep trying to create one anyway is because its potential is well-known: a stable Omega Molecule can provide practically limitless power.
The Borg seek the Omega Molecule (or, as they call it, Particle 010) because they see it as a symbol of perfection. To them, it's an icon, although they don't ignore its potential either.
Dr. Wily tries to convince Dr. Light of this in The Protomen. He's not convinced, but turns on the machines anyway.
Dr. Wily in The Megas also has shades of this, seeing the machines as both his tools and his 'children'.
This trope is mocked in the Mage: The Ascension supplement Technomancer's Toybox, most specifically with the "X117 Death Ray (Intended for Purely Peaceful Purposes)":
Dr. Lightwell has retreated from the world in disgust at the abuse his invention has been put to, although he was never able to explain satisfactorily just what peaceful purposes a Death Ray could be used for.
On a related note to the music section, Dr. Light though long and hard about the potential of his last creation, Mega Man X, and sealed him away in a capsule to be awoken in the future. The reasons vary between the original SNES title and the PSP remake. The original states it was to run a 30-year diagnostic to ensure X wouldn't go berserk, Dr. Light having seen such eventsmany times. The remake rewrites this, as per the creator's orignal plan, to where X is already safe, but Dr. Light feels that humanity isn't mature enough to handle someone like X. Dr. Light avoided this trope, now Dr. Cain on the other hand...
In the Resident Evil universe, Umbrella Corporation saw the zombie-creating T-Virus as a potential pharmaceutical. It brings dead cells back to "life", after all. It gets out of control. Cue Zombie Apocalypse.
This is obviously not the case by RE5, where Ozwell Spencer explicitly comes out and says that all the founding members of Umbrella just wanted to rule the world as gods. The pharmaceutical business was a front for the bio-weapons research.
The medicinal explaination is from the movieverse version of Resident Evil. Wesker's entire plan of betrayal in the first game was to use the STARS members as mooks to gather combat data on the Super Soldiers and other assorted monsters they'd created. Amongstotherthings.
Not quite, in the videogame canon, Edward Ashford, one of the three founders of Umbrella, intended to use the T-Virus solely for medical purposes, Spencer was the only one interested in marketing it as a weapon.
Done ridiculously in Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of the Flesh. The company that Curtis works for has managed to open a portal to another dimension. One of their emails notes that the military is not interested in this, so they use it to trade the aliens on the other side substances so they'll synthesize a weight loss drug.
It's also a subtly addictive antidepressant. They'd probably make a few billion with it.
A sidequest in Mass Effect can have you justifying holding a dead soldier's body for tests along these lines (Think Of The Lives That Will Be Saved).
Its also the main MO of Cerberus, experimenting on every especially dangerous species or tech (Rachni, Thorian Creepers, Thresher Maws and Husks in the first game, biotics in the second novel and second game, reaper and collector tech in the second game — the Illusive Man downright says "Think of the potential" in the latter case — and geth in the Overlord DLC) for possible military application.
In the third game, Javik says that a Cerberus-analogue did the exact same thing during his Cycle and when they became indoctrinated for their troubles, their interefence was the main reason the Protheans failed to deploy the Crucible. The implication being that the Reapers intentionally leave their tech lying around for suckers like Cerberus to study, confident in the knowledge that it's only a matter of time before they become indoctrinated since individual minds could never match the wills of the Reapers who each possess the collective willpower of entire races.
Generally, anything the United Aerospace Corporation tinkers with in Doom.
Front Mission 3 gives you the MIDAS, standing for Matter Irradiation Dissociative Acceleration System. It's a nuclear weapon that reduces everything to gold atoms when in contact with water within a couple of miles. However, said device is originally designed to be a clean energy alternative to nuclear reactors, but according to files in many military websites inside the game that you can hack yourself, militaries consider it really useful due to its "modifiable output". And then it is revealed that the first device that wiped out half of a huge city is not only operating in half power, but is just a copy of it.
It is later revealed in Front Mission 5 that there existed a second MIDAS - a certain Mass Interparticle Dissociation Antiproton Synthesizer. And it is also revealed that this is the original MIDAS, and that the MIDAS from 3 was simply a derivative technology meant to supply enough power for it to just function at all. The original MIDAS is not only many times stronger than the derivative MIDAS, but it is powered by anti-matter such that its creator Emir Kramskoi theorizes it could wipe out Alaska if it exploded.
Happens quite often in Metroid. The eponymous creatures are the most advanced, deadliest predators in the known universe, so naturally the Space Pirates want them for their Military Potential. The Federation also falls into this trap, at first for purely benevolent reasons (the Metroids have incredible energy storage and processing capabilities, due to the way they feed), but later for their Military Potential too. In the Prime subseries, the semi-living energy-producing substance called Phazon fills this role for both sides as well, although The Federation is smart enough this time to realize its danger and helps Samus destroy it, even if they do take advantage of it in the meantime.
Also happened with the X parasites in Metroid Fusion. Towards the end of the game the Federation decides the X could have uses as weapons and orders Samus to stop fighting them and leave the space station the X had infested. Samus had other ideas.
In Metroid: Other M, Adam Malkovitch wrote a report on the Metroids warning the Federation higher-ups against trying to weaponize Metroids because they are way too dangerous. Most of the higher-ups agreed with the assessment, but a few ignored the warning and used the information in the report to start a Metroid weaponization project. The events in the game quickly prove this was a bad idea.
In Portal, this plus Inventional Wisdom is the backbone of Aperture Science's Mad Scientist approach to research, and quoted nearly verbatim by founder Cave Johnson in Portal 2, who has no use for safe science and considers anyone with moral or ethical constraints to be a wimp. The triumphant example of this is The Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, which arose from government-funded research into making a better shower curtain. GLaDOS, the Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System that runs the Enrichment Centre and flooded it with a deadly neurotoxin was originally a fuel system de-icer. Overkill is Aperture Science's specialty, due both to competing with Black Mesa and its founder being completely batshit insane.
It should be noted that some Aperture inventions, such as the aforementioned Handheld Portal Device, actually have a ton of incredibly useful potential civilian applications... and no indication that any of them ever even occurred to anyone at Aperture.
This is the main reason for private industry funding the archaeological studies of the D'ni city in the Myst MMO URU. Strangely, the government itself seems to have passed on the opportunity to develop teleportation, access to unlimited resources, and devices that can instantly communicate over any distance. Maybe they were too Genre Savvy for their own good.
In Half-Life 2: Episode Two Dr. Kleiner speaks this exact line when the Borealis, an Aperture Science research vessel (see above) which dissappeared completely is discovered (specifically, "Just think of the potential for humanity!"). Eli Vance rather reasonably mentions in response whathappened the last time they didn't properly think of the consequences, but Kleiner isn't disuaded.
Similar to the Aliens example above is the Mana Cannon of Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Phantasia, which is rediscovered, on average, every two thousand years or so, and every time it is rediscovered, it either wipes out the civilization that rediscovered it, or fails miserably, coming dangerously close to wiping out the civilization that rediscovered it. Its a weapon that makes nukes look safe, with what seems like a ninety percent chance of backfiring horribly... but think of the military potential such a powerful Wave Motion Gun has!
Twice in Trauma Center. In Under the Knife 2, a medical researcher realizes that while incredibly deadly, GUILT creates some amusing reactions in people before it becomes active. Sure, there's that whole problem that barring mutations that exist in a very small portion of the populace, GUILT will eventually brutally murder the host, but all that's needed is a way to manipulate the GUILT so that it won't harm anyone, regardless of whether they're a natural host or not. They fail. But it's not like anyone couldn't see that one coming, given the whole series is about operating on such super-parasites.
Also shows up in Trauma Team. A pathology professor discovers a ridiculously virulent form of ebola in his adopted daughter, one that upon reaching its final stage of development proceeds to destroy everything inside the infected: skin, blood vessels, and the bacteria and viruses within them. Given that his daughter somehow managed to survive with it in her without dying, he reasoned that he could figure out how to replicate this, and thus have an ultimate form of chemotherapy: Sure you'd have to replenish all the beneficial bacteria inside the patient later, but the infection would also wipe out whatever malignant diseases were inside them as well. In this case, it's not so much that he failed, but he accidentally got infected with the disease before he could finish, and out of fear the disease could spread, he killed his daughter to make sure it would die along with his research.
Avernus' research in Dragon Age: Origins which comes from horrific experiments on his fellow Grey Wardens involving blood magic to discover the true power of the Taint that the Wardens possess. The Warden has the option to destroy his research and kill him for his crimes; drink the concocution he created, unlocking new abilities; or save the research and allow him to continue his experiments ethically.
This itself is a morally grey decision, as Avernus' research could potentially allow the Wardens to no longer die from the Taint in 30 years, allowing them long and productive lives, as well as becoming even more effective warriors against the Darkspawn. It's a matter of deciding whether the potential benefits are worth letting a man who butchered and electrocuted his fellow Wardens to death during his experiments go unpunished.
In the Dead Space series, the Brethren Moons use this trope to manipulate humanity and every other race that existed before it in the galaxy. Their Markers seem like the answer to their victims' prayers since said races are usually running low on resources and the Markers generate practically unlimited energy. The poor saps study and manufacture more Markers, all the while slowly succumbing to the Markers' insidious influence.
Starwalker: All of the Starwalker crew (including Starwalker herself) in the early days of the experiments of the star step drive. See For Science!.
One recurring problem in the SCP Foundation is new employees thinking of the potential of various SCP objects. It usually ends poorly for everyone involved. It's not entirely discouraged though. A few objects have been researched properly enough that they no longer need SCP classification and they have been put to good use. By few, think fewer than ten objects out of nearly two thousand.
Several of Jobe Wilkins' projects in the Whateley Universe, like the project that provided food for starving people in an African nation. Two words: tumor beef. Yes, cows with massive, super-fast growing edible cancers. And Jobe wonders why he keeps getting censured by the United Nations.
Dr. Venture on The Venture Bros. is a healthy mix of this and For Science!. In the pilot he's a lot closer to the pure trope, insisting that the "Ooh Ray" only has peaceful applications even after he uses it to melt a model city (see above). Later, he becomes a lot more cynical, knowing all too well that the military can and will find a purpose to weaponize what he makes and he seems to be disappointed when they don't.
Inverted with his Walking Eye. He can't think of any applications (beyond "Walking Eye stuff") and hopes to sell it simply because it looks cool. The villains he showed it off too thought it was pretty neat, at least.
Subverted (as so many things are) on The Simpsons, as Dr. Frink admits that "Oh, well to be honest, the ray only has evil applications. You know my wife will be happy, she's hated this whole death ray thing from day one."
In the 3-part episode of Superman: The Animated Series, "World's Finest," WayneTech and LexCorp have a joint contract to build unmanned exploration drones. Luthor tries to sell Wayne on this — to the point of bringing him to a room filled with modified versions outfitted for military applications.
This is the direct cause for three of the supervillains (Dr. Viper, the Metallikats) and at least one Monster of the Week (Zed) in SWAT Kats existing in the first place.
A rather tragic example was Batman Beyond villain Shriek, originally Walter Shreeve. He was formerly the head of a firm that was acquired by Derek Powers, but his attempts to convince Powers that his experiments in sonic technology had potential for demolitions didn't impress Powers. ("Dynamite is cheaper", said Powers.) Powers suggested he turn the device into a weapon to assassinate Bruce Wayne (well, it was either that or lose his funding) and the resulting failure drove Shreeve insane, and also deaf. (Ironically, what later happened cost Powers more money than it ever could have saved him.)
Zig-zagged with nuclear physics. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually really difficult and expensive to turn a nuclear power plant into a source of weapons-grade fissionable materials, so a nuclear energy program is not an automatic ready supply of nuclear warheads. Some of the early pioneers in the field of nuclear physics, conducting their work purely with the intent to broaden human understanding of the nature of the universe without much expectation of a practical application at all, might however have felt this way when they realised what they were capable of doing with the unique properties of certain atomic elements.
Nuclear weapons, on the other hand, have been subjected to this trope at least twice:
Operation Plowshare. "Operation Plowshare ... was the overall United States term for the development of techniques to use nuclear explosives for peaceful construction purposes." What Could Possibly Go Wrong?SlightlyLess Disturbing in Context: It wasn't until the mid-1950s that the scale of the public health hazard presented by radioactive fallout was fully appreciated, thankfully before it got beyond a few feasibility studies that were tending towards the conclusion that the whole idea was Awesome but Impractical anyway.
Project Orion was a hypothetical nuclear-explosion-propelled spaceship design that never got off the ground. The prototype (using conventional explosives) however, did, in fact, fly. Orion is still one of the best drive systems we've devised.
During the months-long Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, scientists raised the possibility of sealing the leaking well with a nuclear explosion. It turns out that the USSR had already used this technique to cap underground natural gas spills, but it was ultimately ruled out in this case. (BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, reasoned that any attempt to stop it with explosives - nuclear or conventional - would be a last-ditch effort that prevented further alternatives.)
Craig Venter's work to create a synthetic lifeform. Could be awesome, could be awful. He's treading really carefully.
DIYgenomics and BioCurious provide services for do-it-yourself scientists and citizen hobbyists in an effort to support the “garage biologist” movement. However, many are concerned about bio-terrorism and the difficulty government regulars will face in monitoring biological research conducted in the privacy of someone’s home.
Any and all scientific research done is either for its potential, or because the researcher wants to know why the world around him functions as it does (which often leads to potential later). Considering all the progress this had led to (economically, medically, socially, etc...) and the fact that the world is still standing, this trope does have its advantages.
Understanding how something works also provides a how-to guide (real or assumed) for destroying or exploiting it if the knowledge is made public. While the information itself is not inherently bad it can give... ideas to less scrupulous people who would otherwise have not bothered. Scientists tend to respond to this by pointing out that we're not exactly short on methods of destroying or exploiting the world already.
The Brazilian Wandering Spider is the most venomous spider on Earth. Scientists are interested in its venom (or a component thereof) for its uses... as an erectile dysfunction drug! Yes, the bite of the world's most dangerous spider gives its male victims a bad case of wood in their last moments!