enough to invent it. Therefore, you're surely smart enough to duplicate it, changing human society forever. Right?
"Stardust, whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived, devotes his abilities to crime-busting..."
— Stardust the Super Wizard, Fantastic Comics #14
The observation that in some genres, characters can have fantastic technology far beyond our own, yet this technology only gets used to solve equally fantastic problems.
A person who controls weather
will never make it rain in drought-stricken areas, or stop the rain during terrible flooding, or stop a heatwave. A person who can control water
will never douse bush fires or burning buildings, or get a job at a power station.
And a supergenius
(such as Reed Richards
of the Fantastic Four
) can save the life of starving demi-god beings like Galactus
, but will never take a weekend to duplicate and market Doctor Doom
's burn-victim cure device or release his inventions that could solve a variety of real-world problems (and earn their creator millions of dollars). All potential solutions to real-life problems will only be done in novel (fictional) situations — useless. Status Quo Is God
, and the status quo of the real world even more so. It's the same reason you can't stop Hitler from starting World War II
There are several typical motivations for this:
- To keep the world similar to the real world. This is particularly common in an Urban Fantasy, superhero, or other series whose setting is superficially similar to the real world. Unlike, say, Star Trek or The Lord of the Rings, one of the key draws of the series is that it could take place right outside the reader's window, which is lost if you make the fictional world too fantastic in comparison. This is particularly common in comic books, where major modifications to the world are only done to fictional locations, and often only to current levels of technology. Here's a video of late Marvel editor-in-chief Mark Gruenwald explaining the reasons for this in some depth.
- To ensure that there's some level of drama in the story. If the super science or magic can literally do anything, then there's no reason the heroes can't just figure out a creative way to get them out of any jam. Goodbye potential conflict. In the case of Star Trek, there were tons of things the replicators and transporters should have been able to do which would have ruined the plot of half the episodes, necessitating a lot of Holding Back the Phlebotinum to maintain drama. As well, it could very easily be that the technology itself has some limitations, as "It can do anything you can imagine" is quite a bold statement for anyone to make. Other times, the Disposable Superhero Maker is disposable in the first place to avoid flooding the setting with superheroes.
- To avoid trivializing real-life problems. If Mr. Fantastic actually does cure HIV in the Marvel Universe, there will be plenty of real people still HIV-positive, and plenty of researchers still investing untold millions of dollars and work hours to fight HIV when they finish the comic. This can make creators wary of tackling such issues, as it can be considered insensitive to have such a heavy burden in real life be casually miracle-cured in fiction. Also, in the interest of representation, disabled people exist in universes where science should theoretically be able to cure their handicap. However, either the disability is so ingrained as a facet of the character's portrayal or curing them could be seen to detract from their mass-market appeal as someone that other disabled readers can relate to. This is probably why Professor X always ends up back in the wheelchair after regaining use of his legs. Similarly to point one, this is generally more of a concern if the world is supposed to reflect the real world closely; if it's explicitly an Alternate History or Alternate Universe, or the future, then there's greater room to play with this without potentially causing offense.
- To keep multiple titles within a Shared Universe consistent with one-another; comic book universes would approach a new level of Continuity Snarl and Depending on the Writer if writers had to keep track of every published book in their universe for which major diseases/blights had been cured by the heroes and which ones weren't.
- The idea that technology which could solve serious human problems does exist, but is either repressed from the public, or otherwise not used.
- The character may simply not be interested in mass production. In the real world, any sort of new medical device has to undergo years of rigorous testing to prove that it is both safe and effective before it can become available to the general public. Other inventions may have other concerns; your miniaturized nuclear reactor or tiny batteries have to be demonstrated to be safe and that they won't catch on fire, explode, or undergo a deadly meltdown. A character may simply lack interest in dealing with the bureaucracy involved, and may not trust anyone else to bring their products to market on their behalf. Especially given that half of the major corporations in these worlds seem to be run by villains.
- It just didn't come to the creator's mind.
This trope is often associated with the Fantastic Aesop
that these problems don't have easy solutions in the real world, and any proposed sci-fi solutions will have negative side-effect or potential for abuse that justifies completely abandoning all hope of trying to solve the problem. However, during times when superhero comics especially begin to explore the ramifications of their characters on real-world settings more closely, this question is raised and addressed more frequently. It is sometimes lampshaded
as making people "too dependent
" on superheroes: good thing that Jonas Salk didn't feel that way.
Smaller-scale continuities such as newly-created Super Hero
universes with a single author to explore the fictional world in 1 or 2 titles are more likely to avert and examine the concept of super-technology's effect on modern society, especially if the writer is trying to make a geopolitical statement. Larger superhero continuities, such as Marvel Comics
and DC Comics
, are established to have upheld this trope as their Earths have been explored in extensive detail. The trope can be inverted by having a hero "inventing" a technological revolution that already exists (for example, the Ultimate Universe Iron Man
apparently invented the MP3
See Plausible Deniability
and Mundane Utility
for aversions, and You Are Not Ready
for a Deconstruction
to Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome
. Compare Super Prototype
and Superman Stays out of Gotham
. When gods are the ones not doing anything, it's The Gods Must Be Lazy
. When applied to supervillains, see Cut Lex Luthor a Check
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Anime & Manga
- In Neko-de Gomen!, the inventions made by both Kuroda and Yayori's father could change the world in many ways and make them very rich if they were to patent them and sell the designs to the proper company or the government.
- At the end of Space Battleship Yamato (the first series), Yamato is saved from Desler's final attack by a reflective force field Sanada erects just in time to deflect the beam back at the Gamilon flagship. This reflective forcefield never appears again, nor is it incorporated into Andromeda or the rest of the new EDF fleet (who do however get their own Wave Motion Guns). It would have made the battles between the Comet Empire, Dark Nebula, Bolar, and Dinguil a lot less bloody hence a lot less dramatic. But most likely, they didn't realize that Yamato would see a popularity surge three years after it's unsuccessful run (the original series was truncated due to low ratings).
- Deliberately invoked by Academy City in A Certain Magical Index. They are estimated to be several decades ahead of the rest of the world in terms of technology, and some of the stuff they take for granted could easily revolutionize various sciences and solve a ton of problems. However, they also want to remain on top of the tech tree, so they refuse to share their technology until after they've made it obsolete. But even then it's still cutting-edge to the rest of the world.
- Justfied in Neon Genesis Evangelion, where futuristic giant robots exist but most civilian technology isn't terribly more advanced than what we have in the real world. It's noted that the Evangelions are horrendously expensive to produce, and after Second Impact some countries can barely feed their citizens, much less create innovative new technologies. There's a bit of Fridge Brilliance with this in the manga: in the reset world where Second Impact never occurred, the technology and fashion seem more in line with the real world version of the 21st century, rather than what the show predicted in the 90s.
- Bennet the Sage points out in his review of the 8th Man After that it makes no sense why the scientist who created 8 Man (a robot-human hybrid), has been withholding drugs from the world that allows people to receive cybernetic limb implants without going insane.
- In Gundam Build Fighters, scientists Twenty Minutes into the Future have developed special particles that allow certain inanimate plastics to move...and the only use this technology sees is in high stakes duels using plastic Gundam model kits. Lampshaded by the character Nils Nielsen, who enters the Gunpla Battle tournament to investigate the Plavsky Particles and see if they can be used for other, more practical pursuits.
- The biggest examples of this trope in DC, or even comics in general, have to be Johnny Thunder and his successor, Jakeem. Here are two guys who had a Genie at their command, with no limitations on the number of wishes, and they only ever used it to fight crime? There was a storyline where he started to feel bad that he wasn't doing more to solve people's non-crime-related problems and - against the advice of his elders in the Justice Society - he decided to start granting wishes for anyone who wanted his help. Lines formed around the block, near riots broke out if he tried to take a break; it soon occurred to him that if he kept it up, he would be spending the rest of his life granting other people's wishes 24/7 (hey, he can wish to not have to sleep, right?). The people waiting in line for wishes considered this an acceptable sacrifice; Jakeem, not so much.
- Superman in general has often wrestled with the fact that he can't use his superpowers to simply force away wide-ranged problems plaguing humanity. Attempts to bring about world peace by disposing of nuclear weapons didn't fare too well in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace or the premiere of Justice League. His attempt to cure starvation in poverty-stricken countries is detailed in the graphic novel "Peace On Earth". This results in An Aesop being that these are things that will only be solved when all of humanity chooses to solve them. There are often short-lived Alternate Universe depictions of him going too far in forcing humanity to follow his ideals to solve these problems, thus becoming a Knight Templar.
- A famous Bronze Age story by Elliot S! Maggin, "Must There Be A Superman?" involves the Guardians of the Universe subtly hinting to Superman that there is a real danger of his doing too much for humanity, and stunting our society by making us too dependent on him; he sees the wisdom of it and reluctantly takes their advice to heart, resolving not to try and solve some problems people are better off fixing with their own two hands. The theme is revisited a few years later in "Superman's Day Of Destiny," when Destinynote himself shows up to reiterate the point.
- A similar point is brought up in the Elseworlds story "Last Family of Krypton", where Superman's parents also escape Krypton's destruction. Jor-El uses his advanced knowledge to help humanity, but the Guardians point out that he's stifling human progress by making them reliant on him. They also mention that the House of El's interfering in human events has robbed Earth of three great heroes (Batman, Green Arrow, and The Flash) by preventing the events that lead to their genesisnote .
- This trope was used to justify Barbara "Batgirl/Oracle" Gordon remaining wheelchair-bound despite the ready availability of possible cures. She doesn't want to receive special treatment and therefore dishonor public servants who were disabled in the line of duty; either a cure becomes available for everyone, or she stays in the chair. That raises the question of why can't the numerous cures be made available to the public. The New 52 reboot changed this, having her undergo a procedure to restore the use of her legs.
- Lampshade hung, and almost subverted in James Robinson's Starman, where the original Starman (the title character's father) dedicated his later years to turning his cosmic rod into a more general energy source that would revolutionize the world. Although a visitor from the future claimed his success led to him becoming a scientific hero on the level of Einstein, it never actually happened in the present day DCU.
- Stories set during World War II explained why the superheroes didn't just Blitzkrieg into Berlin and end the war: Adolf Hitler had acquired the Spear of Destiny, which he could use to control any superpowered being that entered the boundaries of the Reich. (The same was true of Imperial Japan and the Holy Grail.) Later, Hitler's belief in the Spear's power was discussed in an episode of Justice League Unlimited.
- The Justice Society was unable to stop the attack on Pearl Harbor because they had been transported to another dimension by an Axis sorcerer during the attack. However, no convincing reason has been given as to why the Justice Society was unable and/or unwilling to stop the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe.
- In Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, the title character contemplates using his powers to restore the ecologically damaged areas of the world. However, Swamp Thing states that if he would heal all of humanity's wounds, humans would further abuse the environment to maximize profit knowing full well that Swamp Thing was there to correct all the mistakes.
- In The Spectre #7 (third series) Madame Xanadu asks the Spectre why he doesn't cure his HIV-positive friend Amy Beiterman. The Spectre responds that if he cures Amy, then there is nowhere to draw the line in curing the millions of sick people worldwide. At that point, the Spectre asks "Where do you draw the line? Abolish death itself?"
- Nightshade from the Suicide Squad has lent her ability to transport instantly through the dark dimension. This power could revolutionize space exploration but most people are scared senseless if not driven insane by passing through this dimension.
- Bobo T. Chimpanzee (Aka Detective Chimp) once got a hold of Doctor Fate's helmet (and all of its mystic powers) and quickly pondered about using his newfound powers to solve all the world's problems. However, his powers also showed him the terrible after effects of such a change in the world's balance (for example, deleting a disease from existence would open the way for a newer, deadlier disease filling the gap). Eventually he gets rid of the helmet and uses his remaining powers to help people by solving as many unsolved crimes he could while his mystical powers last.
- In the JLA story "Divided We Fall", The Flash runs into a type of extradimensional wish-granter named Id, and upon doing so, is wowed by all the possibilities open to him on improving the world, tempted to fix all of life's problems with simple wishes. But he's Genre Savvy enough to know that since Id is a Literal Genie and has seen the wishes he grants always occur in the most horrible ways (like seeing that a boy's father Came Back Wrong because the kid made incorrect wording on his wish), it'd be safer just to turn him down.
- In the Hawkworld Armageddon 2001 annual, the corporate backers of the Chicago PD offer to build Hawkman and Hawkwoman more efficient jet packets. In order to do this, the company says that they need access to Thangarian technology. Hawkman says that Earth is not ready for Thangarian technology.
- One of the biggest examples in the DC Universe is The Brain, of the original Brotherhood of Evil lineup, who remains a bodiless disembodied brain, despite the wide variety of cybernetic body parts. Although, back in the 1960s, he did have a body made out of pure energy for a while.
- In the Batman story "Ticket to Tragedy" (Detective Comics No. 481), Alfred's cousin, the heart surgeon Sir Basil Smythe, develops a revolutionary heart surgical procedure. However, Smythe is so depressed with all the inhumanity in the world that he thinks about burning all his notes on the procedure. He promises to share it with the public if Batman finds the man who murdered his friend. Batman succeeds in capturing the criminal.
- Explored in Dennis O'Neil's writing of Justice League of America back in the late 1960s/70s where the titular characters discuss the ethics of participating in the research study of this one psychology professor.
- In the Avengers/JLA crossover, Superman notes how civilian technology in the Marvel Earth was substantially behind that of DC Earth. At the time of the story, Metropolis was a futuristic city built on Braniac technology, a RARE, non-handwaved example of this trope being inverted in the DC Universe (at least until it was undone in 2004).
- Sentient battle androids (the GI Robots) have been constructed since WW II for the Allies, yet this seemed to have NO effect on consumer electronic technology.
- In Linkara's review of Rise of Arsenal the host points out with the titular character gets a robotic arm transplant, Linkara wonders just how available robotic limbs are to the DC Universe's general public. Linkara also asks if the DC superheroes can clone body parts, then why is Cyborg still stuck in his cybernetic body.
- Lampshade hung with Manhunter (2004 series, Kate Spencer version) in which the titular character tells her technical support and former supervillain weapons designer, Dylan Battles, to imagine what would happen if he focused his talents on curing cancer.
- Discussed when Lex Luthor dated Lana Lang/Matrix Supergirl. Lex noted that if Supergirl's shapeshifting molecules could be duplicated, then it would ruin the fashion industry.
- Upon regaining his human form, Swamp Thing (Alec Holland), tried to replicate the eco-restorative formula that originally gave him his superpowers. Alec then decided to destroy the formula, believing (from his own experiences as Swamp Thing) that the plant world was quite violent and that submersing the Earth in it would be a bad thing.
- Deathstroke assassinated a philanthropist who was reverse engineering super-villain technology for benevolent causes (i.e. using freeze guns to reverse polar ice cap melting). No reason was given as to why Deathstroke was hired to kill the philanthropist.
- In the Resurrection Man series, it is established that the cost of one anti-ballistic personalized force field costs $2 billion to make and $500,000/day to operate. Not something the normal person can afford.
- In the Team 7 series, a floating (seemingly inescapable) prison was created for the purpose of holding metahumans. Furthermore, it was powered by inertial fusion. Not only was the alternative energy prohibitively expensive, but the prison failed to protects its workers/inmates from an Eclipso infestation.
- After Captain Atom cures a boy's brain tumor, our titular character offers to cure the wheelchair-confined Dr. Megala. Megala declines, saying that having full possession of his physical faculties would distract him from his subatomic research. Furthermore, Dr. Megala states that there are other ways to get out of the chair. Atom eventually undoes the cure, as he felt that it put him on a slippery slope towards power abuse.
DC's ANIMATED UNIVERSES:
- The beginning of the animated movie Superman: Doomsday lampshades this, as it shows Supes unsuccessfully trying to cure cancer; he comments how odd it is that, even with all of Kryptonian technology at his disposal and all of the unbelievable things he's done, he's never been able to help Earth beyond "being its resident strong man". His immediate reaction to every threat the movie throws at him after that is "hit it with my fists until it stops moving", so maybe that's his own fault. Contrast with Lex Luthor in the film, who is shown having completed a one-dose cure for any type of disease... then starts working on a way to make it a life-long treatment for a specific disease so he can get more money for each dose.
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold has the seemingly retired, former Blue Beetle convincing the current Blue Beetle to help put the alien technology that gives him his powers to greater use via a fleet of perpetual-energy machines and robots that'll irrigate the Sahara, end world hunger and turn the world into a paradise. It doesn't work out that way, but neither Batman nor the Blue Beetle stops to wonder if such a plan really wouldn't be better than just using it to beat up crooks. The former Blue Beetle was actually dead, this guy was an impostor, and he planned to use the robots to conquer the world.
- In Young Justice both the heroes and the villains (most visibly, Lex) have super-advanced technology coming out the wazoo, and there are only two attempts made by any character to use their technology and/or abilities to make the world a better place in a way that doesn't involve hitting things until they stop moving. The first is Wally running a new heart across the US for a transplant (and that was the only time it was ever even considered, and even then only because the recipient was a Queen) and the other is the Reach, who are only doing it to soften up Earth for an invasion.
- Before Professor X and Magneto founded the X-Men, they offered their mutants to help government/industry solve numerous problems (i.e. the energy crisis, ending world hunger etc.). Government/industry declines the offer, not wanting to upset the status quo.
- Upheld with the lack of superhuman involvement in political affairs. When the Ultimates assisted the US government in the overthrow of a rogue Middle Eastern regime, it resulted in an invasion force of a Chinese/Russian superhuman task force against the USA.
- Deconstructed with Ultimate Reed Richards himself; the governmental think-tank he belongs to keeps him focused predominantly on military technology and restrains release of his successful creations. The frustration at not being able to change the world despite knowing his technology could provide incredible advances to humanity eventually drives Reed insane. So insane that he takes up the mantle of the now-deceased Ultimate Doctor Doom and becomes a supervillain whose actions lead to the annihilation of Germany and Asgard. Furthermore, Reed then tried to turn Earth into a utopia whose plans included distributing free energy, the sentient seed, and blowing up the Iranian Parliament.
- Upheld in the Hunger mini-series, where Captain Marvel, right before he can give final approval for NASA's human colonization of Mars, is distracted by the arrival of Galactus (Earth-616 version).
- Deconstructed in Planetary. The world is run by a secret cabal headed by a thinly veiled version of the Fantastic Four, and the Reed analog purposely keeps their discoveries and inventions from the world (and purposefully seek and confiscate/cover up the technology, magic and similar of others) for personal gain and to keep humanity weak in preparation for a highly advanced alien race to take it over. Planetary itself was founded because this really pissed certain other beings, like the Fourth Man, off, and is dedicated to excavating as much weirdness, lost technology and similar as possible with the aim of sharing it with humanity.
- Warren Ellis and his successors examined the trope in The Authority, which was Jenny Sparks' attempt to fill the shoes of both a disbanded Stormwatch and The High's group. At the end of the first story arc, after defeating a teleporting clone army of Flying Bricks from the island of Gamora, team leader Jenny Sparks states that the Authority is going to present Gamora's captured tissue replication and teleportation devices to UN inspectors. She hopes this will pressure the inspectors to make the technology available to the public after 5-10 years of testing. Later, Mark Millar's "The Nativity" arc explicitly asks the question "Why do super-people never go after the real bastards?". The Authority, like the Stormwatch superhumans, did devote their time to solving the problems of humanity, The Engineer in particular. She developed a cure for a certain strain of leukemia and spent her spare time developing renewable energy. Jack Hawksmoor led his endorsements to companies who promised to pay their workers a decent wage. The Authority are also pretty thorough about addressing the crimes perpetrated by humans rather than superhumans, such as totalitarian regimes. However, this backfires: they are accused of presenting "unfair competition" for medical and industrial companies, and blamed for mass redundancies. Moreover, after the "Coup D'Etat" storyline The Authority become the unelected government of the USA. In the process, the Authority unintentionally causes mass civilian casualties in fighting the armed resistance. Furthermore, the Authority unsuccessfully tries to legalize hemp production and require all auto engines to run on bio-diesel by the end of the year. Amidst these failures, the Authority steps down as unelected rulers of the United States.
- Century child Gaia Rothstein of the 21st century was said to have the power to reverse global warming or make famine history, but had such attempts subverted by the apocalyptic destruction of World's End. As a result, Gaia sought refuge by bonding herself with the planet Earth.
- In Harry Potter fanfic Disillusion, by Hermione Granger Hermione tells, in an essay format, how Harry, after being artificially grown older to kill Voldemort when he is six years old, decides to, essentially, "give magic to Muggles" by developing feasible Magitek and discovering the physics behind magic, while selling technology in the magical world. This causes job losses, riots, deaths, and could have easily started a war if it weren't for the very hard work of many people.
- Superman justifies this in The Last Son. Kryptonians once gave one of their energy generators to a planet that had just suffered a meteorite strike. When they came back a week later, the survivors had all killed each other over the generator. This led to Krypton passing the Law of Riona Prime. Superman argues that The World Is Not Ready for his technology, but many factions are constantly demanding that Superman hand over the technology even though he has told them that Earth's technology level would not be able to support it.
- In Superman: The Movie and sequels our hero has a Fortress of Solitude filled with "the accumulated scientific knowledge of dozens of different worlds". Rather than flying around stopping accidents and robberies, wouldn't he make a far greater contribution to humanity if he just used that technology, to, say, cure cancer? Looks like Luthor was right about him: "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind" (not that Lex has any room to talk, as he squanders all manner of advanced technology on attempts to kill Superman). Jor-El orders him to not interfere in human history, giving reasons like over-reliance from humanity and making a target out of his loved ones. And the one time he tried a direct approach was in Superman 4, the lesson here apparently that trying to force humanity forward will result in people trying to capitalize on your attempts.
- Discussed in Iron Man. Tony Stark's power cell is stated as being able to generate 3 gigajoules per second of energy — which is 3 gigawatts of power generation. This is about as much power as produced by the largest man-made nuclear reactor and about 15 times the power of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier (and two and a half times the power required to travel through time). The movie makes it clear that the Arc Reactor is incredibly valuable, and Obidiah Stane wants to use it for profit, but Tony is adamant that the technology stays in his hands and his alone, because he's seen what happens when his technology ends up in unsupervised hands. In The Avengers, Tony shows that he is preparing to spread his Arc Reactor technology around the globe, but on his terms. There's also his newly completed Stark Tower, a revolutionary "green" skyscraper which has self-sufficient power generation, even providing a surplus to the city.
- His father Howard also has this problem. Leaving aside the arc reactor, he also, as shown in Captain America: The First Avenger, invented an anti-gravity device in 1942. Sure, he hadn't worked all the kinks out, but he had a freaking anti-gravity device three years before the invention of the A-bomb. Though Agent Coulson gets to make use of it. One theory is that the anti-grav device was actually the prototype of Stark Industries' repulsor tech.
- In Bruce Almighty, not only is Bruce incredibly stupid but he seems to have no desire to use God's power to make this a better world. His only attempt at this really involved more of "how can I get people to quit bothering me" and that was handled so stupidly it defies belief. However, the whole point of the movie is that Bruce is essentially not cut out to be God in the first place. A deleted scene would have justified this somewhat, with God showing Bruce the results of his reckless "grant everyone's prayers" policy. Some of the people Bruce "helped" would have been better off without it. For example, he made one kid who was bullied grow bigger, but had he remained small he would have grown up and used his experiences to become a poet whose work would inspire millions. This just kind of makes God look like a jerkass, since he gave Bruce the power to answer prayers, but not the omniscience to know the consequences.
- The Ghostbusters movies (and the 2009 video game) play with this. While they do use the technology they've created for personal profit, the game has them as licensed contractors for New York, and they ignore the potential profit they could make from developing that tech for other uses. One of the upgrades for one of the weapon modes in the video game sort of Lampshaded the use of the tech by saying that while it can punch small holes in the fabric of reality, the holes can't even be used to dump away trash.
- In The Prestige, Nikola Tesla makes magician Robert Angier a machine which was intended to be a teleporter but turns out to be a matter replicator. It could be used to make unlimited quantities of food, clothing, machine parts, construction materials... it could put an end to hunger and material poverty for all time. And Angier can think of no better use for it than a stage-magic act.
- Lampshaded in Back To The Beach where Bob Denver — clearly playing Gilligan — is working as a bartender, and complains to a customer about being stranded on a deserted island with a guy so smart he could make a nuclear reactor out of a couple of coconuts... but who couldn't fix a two-foot hole in a boat.
- The Men In Black possess enormous amount of confiscated advanced technology. While they do release some of the technology to the public, holding the patents on numerous alien technologies sold to the public — velcro, microwave ovens and CDs, to name a few — they are doing great deal of constant memory erasing to hide alien existence to avoid possible panic. This is further shown in the animated version, where the MIB puts a waiting period on each piece of confiscated tech, which runs into centuries in some cases.
- In Star Trek, Scotty (with a little help from the future) quickly modifies a transporter so it can send people across vast interstellar distances. This is used to get Scotty and Kirk onto the Enterprise (which has been travelling away from their starting point for hours at high warp speeds). So the transporter modification is used to resolve a dramatic point in the plot, but no-one seems to realise it could also be used for mundane travel between star systems. The transport doesn't have the necessary accuracy yet; it nearly got Scotty killed when they used it. Addressed in Star Trek Into Darkness; Scotty mentions that his transwarp beaming equation was confiscated by security, allowing John Harrison to beam from Earth to Qo'noS.
- By the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, Bones manages to synthesize a formula from that can effectively resurrect the dead. No mention is made of future use of it. This is justified given that the formula requires the blood of extremely dangerous genetically altered ubermenschen. The last time just one got loose, he nearly destroyed Starfleet HQ and did destroy a good portion of San Francisco.
- In Flubber, the Robin Williams remake of The Absent-Minded Professor, Professor Braniard (Williams) has to come up with some sort of scientific breakthrough to secure enough funding to keep his college solvent. If only he had some sort of supertech available to show potential investors... like a flying, self-aware Robot Buddy. Oh, wait... This is later Justified when he explains that Weebo was a "happy accident", he actually has no idea why she's intelligent. To figure that out would probably involve dismantling her... ie, "killing" her. Weebo herself managed to figure it out, though, and leaves behind a set of blueprints that will allow Braniard to re-create the process.
- In her review of Teen Witch, The Nostalgia Chick points out Louise could use her magic powers to fix the world but instead uses it on petty gain.
- In Raoul Puke's review of Were Back A Dinosaurs Story, Puke has this to say:
So the Neweyes fart tells them that he can use the time machine to travel back in time to grant the wishes of all the children of the world. I would have used it to stop 9/11... unethical jackass. I mean, the Kennedy assassination? The bombing of Pearl Harbor? Really? None of these are more important than entertaining whiny little bastard children? Well, while you're taking requests, here's a kid named Hitler
. He just wants to start his own Third Reich and bring joy and happiness to the world. Why don't you grant him that wish? Huh? HUH?
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Willy Wonka can make a meal come out of gum, an ice cream that stays cold and doesn't melt in the sun, build a chocolate palace without a metal framework, teleport things into TV screens, and has anti-gravity technology - yet he only applies his know-how to candy. Lampshaded by Mike Teavee in the 2005 movie: "Don't you realize what you've invented? It's a teleporter! It's the most important invention in the world! And all you think about is chocolate!" That movie at least has the justification that Willy Wonka hated adults and seeing as teleporters would belong in the hands of adults, he wouldn't of wanted to share.
- In Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase the gang goes to visit a friend who has made a video game based off their adventures only for them to discover that he has invented a laser that can digitize and rebuild matter (ala TRON), but instead of testing it as a possibility to solve world problems like hunger or extended/more efficient space travel he stores real items in his game for lazy coding. Eventually Mystery Inc. is transported in and out as well showing that even living things could be moved over great distances.
- Space Camp has a sentient, AI robot which is capable expressing emotions and bypassing failsafes to launch a shuttle, but NASA itself is still counting on the shuttle and mindless computers. The robot is too vulnerable to background radiation to be used in outer space or hazardous environments, and despite their best efforts they were unable to fix the design flaws. They keep the prototype around because they've already paid for it, but it's too delicate and temperamental to actually have any practical use as far as they're concerned.
- In defence of the Transformers series, Optimus Prime says explicitly that humanity is not ready for the Autobots' advanced weaponry. The same is not said about the Autobots' other significant technologies, such as (apparently) FTL travel, mindblowingly advanced computer miniaturisation, robotics, and fabrication. This is particularly egregious since in the first film Simmonds expressly says that much of humanity's best 20th century technologies — from the CD player to the microwave to the internal combustion engine — derives from what they learned studying a trapped an unconscious Transformer. Imagine how far they could have pushed if they had a consenting friendly one around to fill in the gaps. In the fourth film, one tech company manages to get their hands on "Transformium", the stuff Transformers are made of. Except their version is the raw stuff, giving it far more shapeshifting capability. We see it taking shapes like children's toys and handguns and their own Transformers which they lose control of in short order — wait, maybe Optimus was more right than we thought.
- In the Darkman film trilogy, the titular character has developed synthetic skin which can mimic the appearance of anyone's face for 90 minutes (after then, the skin then dissolves). The titular character is not satisfied with the invention until the synthetic skin is permanent and therefore has not released the technology to the public.
- The premise for Batman: The Movie and the Batman TV Series is that that incarnation of Batman only is useful to fight supervillains (and nothing more). At the end of the movie, Batman quickly refuses Robin's idea to better the world by making a "Freaky Friday" Flip with the United World Organization security council, arguing that they shouldn't try to tamper with the laws of mother nature. Then happens exactly that, (but arguably, the Status Quo Is God still applies) and Batman takes responsibility just before going out inconspicuously throught the window.
Batman: Who knows, Robin? This strange mixing of minds may be the greatest single service ever performed for humanity! Let's go, but, inconspicuously, through the window. We'll use our Batropes. Our job is finished.
- Alfred is constantly harping on this trope to Bruce throughout The Dark Knight Rises, pointing out that if he shared his innovations he could do as much or even more good in Gotham as he tries to as a masked vigilante. Somewhat subverted when a great deal of those innovations are stolen by Bane, including a fusion energy source Bruce had shelved for exactly the reasons it becomes used for.
- In the movie Dungeon Master, the main character has invented a pair of glasses that can control numerous electronic devices such as traffic lights, and ATM machines. He doesn't bother to market the invention, and remains stuck as a low-paid IT assistant.
- The Amazing Spider-Man averts the age-old complaint about why Peter Parker doesn't market his web formula. In this movie, he doesn't invent it; OsCorp owns the patent and manufactures the stuff, selling it, among other things, for use as light-weight emergency cabling. Peter does invent his web-shooters using off-the-shelf technology, however.
- Cracked frequently dicusses this trope:
- In Moonraker Sir Hugo Drax has built a fleet of space shuttles and a large functioning space station years before the International Space Station, and all the heroes do is blow them up rather than taking them over and using them.
- In the MST3K-treated Time Chasers, the hero needs funding to continue to develop his working time machine, so he signs away his rights to a cacklingly-evil venture capitalist, even after someone points out to him that he could get rich by going back in time and starting a savings account.
- Another example from MST3K is The Projected Man: the protagonist has invented a matter transporter capable of transmitting matter instantly across great distances, but everyone involved considers it a failure because it doesn't work with living creatures. It never occurs to anyone that they could become filthy rich in the parcel shipping business.
- In the live-action Casper movie, it is revealed that Casper's father created a serum that can bring back the dead, but, unfortunately for the characters, there is only one. It is used to bring Kat's father back after his accidental death. Not once does it occur to anyone that they should perhaps give it to a scientist so that the formula could be duplicated.
- Parodied in The Nude Bomb. Among other Shoe Phone gadgets, Maxwell Smart is shown a desk that can be driven, which runs on ink as fuel. He exclaims that this is the solution to the energy crisis, only to be told that the ink has to be specially made in Saudi Arabia.
- In Harry Potter, the Ministry of Magic keeps the existence of wizards secret from Muggles because, as Hagrid puts it, "They might want magical solutions to their problems." It never seems to occur to any wizard to ask, "Well, why not?" In the Muggle world, wizards could become simply one more category of useful, respected, highly-paid professionals... though admittedly it could go horribly wrong. The prejudice against so-called "witches" is implied but never reinforced by anything worse than domestic abuse the protagonist suffers from his relatives.
- Deconstructed in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. People are constantly wondering why the Elders and the Immortal Humans don't use their fantastic powers to intervene and help mankind. Nicholas and Perenelle point out that centuries ago, the Elders did live amongst the humans and help them but that civilisation did not progress at all until they left and the humans had to fend for themselves.
- The Dresden Files
- Turn Coat explores this. The more powerful wizards can travel through hyperspace, albeit a dangerous version, be One Man Armies with proper training, and generally do things that modern science finds difficult if not impossible. And yet they generally remain aloof from political conflicts, even major wars, except for when magic users are already involved. The reason so far given is that if mages were to be part of the world they would become part of the political process. Wars between Muggles would become wars between mages; and then nobody would be able to stop the vampires. Whether this is a good reason is left open...
- In Dead Beat it is implied that WWI was caused by a necromancer who wanted a lot of bodies to work with, so some wizards have been involved in history, so the bad guys start events and the White Council trying to counteract them.
- It's shown in later books that the White Council is stretched to the breaking point just keeping up with their war with the vampires, so attempting to take a proactive stance in the affairs of normal humans is something they don't have the resources for to begin with. Cold Days shows that it's not vampires the White Council and other forces responsible for The Masquerade have to remain vigilant against, so much as Eldritch Abominations.
- Theodicy is essentially the study of why God, the main character of The Bible, doesn't just solve all of our problems in Real Life. Is it possible that Status Quo Is God?
- A Ray Bradbury story, "The Flying Machine", is set during the Han Dynasty. The Emperor of China witnessed a man flying by means of a bamboo-framed dragon kite, similar to a hang-glider. The Emperor, after confirming that no one else saw the man fly, ordered the kite destroyed and the inventor executed. When the inventor asked why, the Emperor explained that he feared this invention would be ultimately used by China's enemies to attack China. The Emperor admitted that he had no desire to kill the inventor, but felt that it was necessary to safeguard his people.
- In The Watch books, the Others do interfere with human affairs, but an elaborate system of mutual sanctions makes sure that interference isn't overt. The sanctions were set up to preserve the Balance, which, in turn, was established because open warfare between the Light Others and Dark Others left catastrophic casualties on both sides (and untold collateral damage). This doesn't stop each side from trying to find an advantage that would allow them to win without triggering Mutually Assured Destruction. Later they have to be even more careful, as regular humans are also fully capable of Mutually Assured Destruction, partly due to the Others' interference.
- The great danger in Final Watch is a group of Others hiring human mercenaries and giving them enchanted weapons. Anton is a Light mage Beyond Categories (i.e. extremely powerful). Even he is powerless when a merc is aiming a submachinegun at him with bullets that kill anything up to three Gloom levels. The only thing that saves him is a Heroic Sacrifice by a female werewolf, a Dark Other. Also, the same Others start using top-of-the-line human weapons like remote-controlled turrets to take out powerful Others.
- On the Discworld, Lord Vetinari keeps Leonard of Quirm under lock and key for the express purpose of ensuring that Reed Richards Remains Useless. It also helps that inventors like Urn realize that they're better off being useless, and that the magical equivalents of things like movies, rock and roll, and guns are powered by evil or destructive forces. The occasional more-or-less harmless one like ball-bearings are allowed to slip through though.
- Similarly, from Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens:
"Think of all the things you could do! Good things!"
"Like what?" said Adam suspiciously.
"Well... you could bring the whales back, to start with."
He put his head to one side. "An' that'd stop people killing them, would it?"
She hesitated. It would have been nice to say yes.
- Played with in the Numa Series. Valhalla Rising starts off with a ship powered by a magnetohydrodynamic drive, which is shortly set ablaze. It turns out to be sabotage to discredit the drive, and it apparently works. The eponymous ship of The Oregon Files' has those same drives, but it's mentioned that most countries' maritime boards banned them after "a fire" onboard "a ship" with them until they could be tested. The Oregon flies the flag of Iran, since they have "cavalier" attitudes towards maritime law. There are several revolutionary technologies in the series that don't become available to the public because of this trope. Valhalla Rising, for instance, ended with Pitt discovering a functioning teleporter. Presumably it's still a national secret.
- The main character of The Witches of Bailiwick controls weather, noted as a perfect example at the top of this page. Even stranger, the protagonist's weather control ability is always treated as mundane and relatively useless.
- For the majority of 'super-inventors' in Wild Cards, their creations are actually an expression of their wild-card talent - the device doesn't work for others because it is really powered by their psychic abilities. It is mentioned that attempts to reverse engineer such 'inventions' often find things like apple cores, Klein bottles (which are impossible in a 3-dimensional space), and/or schematics of the desired circuits where the circuits should be.
- Attempted in the Roald Dahl story George's Marvelous Medicine where the titular character does somehow come up with a medicine that increases the size of livestock that could in theory end world hunger. However, he never knew the recipe for the medicine, since he made it out of dozens of random items by pure accident, and all his attempts to recreate it result in increasingly bizarre results.
- In Wearing the Cape, Verne-types (gadgeteers) are superhumans whose power is the ability to create impossible Weird Science stuff, like powersuits and antigravity pods—but only for themselves; nothing can be mass-produced from the designs and formulas they create. If anyone else tries to build their designs, they won't work. In the second book, the team's Verne-type is said to be creating custom prosthesis for veterans and children in his spare time, so while they're not completely useless, they're of limited utility.
- A staple of Michael Crichton's books:
- In Jurassic Park, In-Gen has perfected ancient DNA extraction and cloning technology enough to resurrect species that have been extinct for dozens of millions of years. All they want to do with it is a zoo/theme park hybrid with living dinosaurs, and little is said about actual scienstific study done with the animals. Some characters do point out that they can't be sure that these animals are correct recreations of the dinosaurs of old, and it is explicitely stated that 1) the dinosaurs have behavioral problems derived from being brought into a world where they don't have parental guidance (and humans have no way of replicating or suplanting it) and there is not an ecosystem they can be successfully introduced to since many other organisms their specieses evolved with are not available and 2) escaped dinosaurs might become invasive species in modern ecosystems that aren't prepared to regulate their numbers. None of these problems would exist if In-Gen just plain forgot about the dinosaurs and directed their efforts into resurrecting species that have been driven to extinction in recent times, whose original ecosystems continue to exist, just with their place in them currently vacant, and that could be raised in captivity by similar living species; and by being much more recent there would be more uncorrupted genetic material available and they could be cloned more easily and successfully. The first novel goes as far as saying that In-Gen's first success was cloning a quagga in the early 80s, but we never get word that quaggas were returned to the wild in their native South Africa.
- In Timeline, a corporation has invented both time travel (which, unlike in The Film of the Book, can take you to any place and any time, not just to Hundred Years War France) and a small, easily concealed universal translator headpiece. Their plan is to study life in past times and sell the information to theme parks trying to recreate them.
- In Congo the corporation's expedition discovers both the ruins of a lost civilization and a new species of big ape in Darkest Africa, but they only care about the diamond deposit beneath their territory.
- Perhaps the only justified example happens in The 13th Warrior, where the main character Ibn Fadlan discovers a population of living neanderthals. While an intelligent and learned man, the story takes place in The Middle Ages, and so Ibn Fadlan does not realize the importance of his discovery.
- In The Wheel of Time, the Aes Sedai's power is moderately addictive and reckless usage can lead to burning-out. Depending on the book and the writer (a lot of somewhat poorly-maintained continuity occurs in the world-building) many Aes Sedai do do things like run around healing people and fixing mundane problems like assuring crop yields and preventing diplomatic spats from turning into wars with their magic. It's pretty much how they 'earn their keep' in terms of nobody deciding they'd be better off just killing the lot of them. It just has very little overall noticeable impact because they're extremely low on manpower (a couple hundred minor casters for an entire continent) and because they're all the magical version of illiterate children (they live only about half as long as it took their high-magic ancestors to learn the basics of the craft, and none of them can even construct the magical equivalent of the wheel).
- The Modest Genius by Vadim Shefner is about a brilliant but timid inventor whose greatness no one recognizes. It's occasionally lampshaded, when his Love Interest's best friend keeps mentioning how ordinary the protagonist is and that she's looking for an "extraordinary man". She appears to find and marry one, and occasionally excitedly describes his new inventions. They're all horrible and needlessly complicated ideas, such as square spokes for bicycle wheels and a building-sized can opener. Meanwhile, the protagonist has developed Artificial Gravity (he keeps his desk on the ceiling to create extra space in the room), a camera that shows the future (he accidentally predicts World War II), a spray that allows one to walk on water, a youth restoration device, and many other much more useful inventions. He never sells any of them and destroys some for fear of misuse. Both his wife (who later leaves him for another man) and his son think he's a failure. He eventually reunites with his original Love Interest (who left him after the same future-seeing camera showed him marrying another woman, thus creating a Stable Time Loop) when they're both well past their prime. He uses the above-mentioned youth device, the last of his inventions, to turn them both into their 20-something selves (that device is justifiably useless, since it was shown to require the entire power output of the Sun just to restore them).
- Another novel by Shefner, The man with five "No"'s, or the confession of the simple-hearted (released in the US as The Unman), has the (not particularly remarkable) main character meet several inventors during his life. One of them is a man who accidentally develops a youth serum when working on a drug that would prevent someone from dying by falling from a window (inspired by his baby brother's death). The drug turns out to be useless for its original purpose, as it has to be taken minutes before falling. An unexpected side effect of taking it and falling (or jumping) out of a window is the more youthful appearance of the person. When the news leaks, dozens of people demand to use the serum. Eventually, stressed out from the unending stream of people seeking the Fountain of Youth, he jumps out a window but forgets to take the drug (it is unclear whether the formula was lost, but it's not mass produced). Another person is a chemist who decides to help her father's liquor business. Inspired by the story of Jesus turning water into wine, she resolves to re-create it using chemical means. She succeeds and makes a number of bottles whose insides are coated in special chemicals that, when filled with water and exposed to sunlight for a few hours, turn into the chosen alcoholic beverage. Much to her dismay, her father condemns the invention, claiming it will destroy his business, as a customer only needs to buy a single bottle to keep a never-ending supply of a particular drink. She ends up not selling any of the bottles and dies before the end of the story, taking the secret to her grave (although, admittedly, the invention did cause quite a bit of trouble in the two cases it did get out).
- For all their devotion to private enterprise and the profit motive, the heroes of Atlas Shrugged never bother much about making money, and nobody less than John Galt. He invents an engine that makes power from nowhere ("from static electicity," which is to say It Runs on Nonsensoleum), but gets so annoyed at his employers' failed attempts to make the firm into a workers' co-operative that he walks away from his unifinished prototype and only builds one more, as the power plant for his mountain hideout. He also invents a large scale hologram projector that could revolutionise cinema and TV, and uses it to hide the Gulch from passing aircraft.
- In James Blish's story "Titan's Daughter," one of a race of persecuted genetically engineered superhumans discovers a non-Newtonian force, a thrust at a distance with no recoil. Obviously this has applications for everything from mining to flying cars, so he develops it industrially to become rich and powerful enough to help his fellow superhumans... No, of course not, that would be too simple. He uses it to build power armour so they can try to take over the USA.
Live Action TV
- Magician scientist Zelda Spellman from Sabrina the Teenage Witch tried to make a machine that would somehow, using de-ionization and the Hanta virus, to process dirt into edible protein pellets and end the suffering of millions. When the first prototype blew up she became frustrated and quit trying, blaming her disinterest on a lack of electricity in the poorest areas... Yeah, right.
- Played with in one episode where Mr Kraft buys a magic box that he discovers can copy items. He uses it to duplicate his gold bars and wonders whether it can be used for other resources as well, then promptly forgets about it.
- To name just a few of a hundred examples from The 4400:
- The 4400s in general were supposed to have powers that could radically change the world to avert a futuristic catastrophe, but humanity's general fear & paranoia kept this from going beyond isolated examples of killing specific people who would cause harm or fixing up a single neighborhood park. The whole "Ripple Effect" from the first season became something of an Aborted Arc.
- Collier shows that his supers can use their powers for good by getting one of them to turn a square mile of the Sahara into wheat fields... and never does it again. The only message this should send to normals is that the 4400s could help you out, but they won't 'cause they don't give a shit.
- Collier's movement from Season 4 tried to avert this. He sectioned off an abandoned part of Seattle and his newly-empowered followers had powers that could fix many problems, such as a woman who could de-pollute a lake just by swimming in it. All the government heard was "Collier took a piece of land that technically belongs to us" and started a mini-war, ensuring that none of his improvements spread beyond that part of the city.
- One guy's saliva could cause weight loss. Companies sought him out to potentially market a revolutionary weight-loss drug. But it turns out that the saliva doesn't stop working and eventually the people who were under its effects become emaciated.
- The Stargate Verse is full of this. While the series begins with 1995 people using 1995 technology, and the SGC really hadn't managed to collect much alien tech (let alone understand it), the end of the series has them in the possession of the full library of knowledge of two distinct intergalactic cultures, one of whom left detailed replication instructions for everything, and a bunch of alien allies and enough offworld colonies to solve every population problem (living space, famine, etc.) on Earth five times over. Getting public support would probably allow Earth to expand across the entire galaxy in the span of a few decades. While the later episodes indicate some of this tech is beginning to filter down (a prototype energy weapon, medical nanites in development, etc.), for the most part the government is unwilling to break the ruse since other groups consistently misuse the technology. It also helps that they're constantly in the middle of secret wars and probably don't want to reveal themselves at a "low point". They've also learned from the experience of one of their former allies, the Tollan, who shared their advanced technology with a neighboring world only to watch as that world destroy itself, devastating the Tollan homeworld in the process. There's a good reason the SGC is introducing things slowly.
- There were two times that they met with an alien race called the Aschen, who offered to solve a massive part of Earth's problems, and the heroes were more than willing to go along with it. The Aschen were actually evil and intended to turn Earth into farmland to feed their own population, at which point the whole thing was conveniently reset with time travel. Later, when their own technology went far beyond the Aschen, the Masquerade still remained the primary concern.
- One episode has Carter and Lee go to a public event showing off current advanced development. Their "inventions" include holographic technology (which they have already shown off to the world on live TV in an earlier episode) and a prototype plasma weapon. Lee laments how he is forced to deliberately show small, logical steps in development of Imported Alien Phlebotinum in order to make it plausible to the scientific community that advanced tech didn't simply appear out of thin air. They actually sabotage the plasma weapon in order to show a not-quite-finished design, until an alien bounty hunter tries to kill Carter (luckily, she was using a hologram). Carter and Lee then quickly adjust plasma weapon to actually work, and she uses it to kill the assassin in front of hundreds of viewers.
- Dr. Morris and his team on Now and Again successfully created an artificial human body with superhuman strength and a nanotechnology-based Healing Factor, and then successfully transplanted a human brain into it. Any one of the solutions to the problems they had to have overcome to do this would revolutionize medicine; for example, a method for reconnecting nerves would end trauma-related paralysis by itself.
- The same goes for the force field technology demonstrated in one episode. Justified, as it is designed to be a missile shield and, so far, only works in a highly-ionized atmosphere (i.e. a thunderstorm), which can't be created on demand.
- In Heroes, the Healing Factor is so powerful and so intrinsic to an individual's cells that a single blood transfusion is shown to be able to cure a bullet wound to the head. There were at one point three main characters possessing this power (although admittedly one of them is a sociopath), yet neither them nor anyone else has even considered that they could save potentially thousands of lives every single day. Claire at one point wants to use her power for just this purpose, but is convinced otherwise by her father. However, during the eclipse Claire started dying because of an extremely large buildup of bacteria and viruses. Apparently, her powers prevent her from getting sick, but the high concentration of bacteria and such would certainly show up in any blood she donates, even if it wouldn't harm the recipient.
- The old 70s TV series The Immortal actually played this premise out. The hero had blood that could heal any disease. He donates at a blood drive, not knowing this. An old, dying, powerful, rich man gets the transfusion and has a miraculous recovery. He tracks down who donated the blood. Cue the chase music...
- An episode brought the idea back up to cure Hiro's brain tumor. Claire's offer was immediately shot down by her father because the regeneration factor would make Hiro die faster.
- In Smallville, Clark Kent discovers that his blood can bring people back to life, but the revived people have to keep taking it every twelve hours or else they die, for good. And, being around kryptonite hastens the time limit. In addition, they come back increasingly psychotic. Clark disposes of all the blood samples, deciding it isn't worth it. In one episode it was subverted when Clark used his blood to revive Zod of all people, not only bringing him back to life, but also giving him/releasing his locked super powers. No 12 hours limit there - possibly due to Zod also being from Krypton? Way to go Clark.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Magic can (supposedly) only be used to bring people back to life if they die by supernatural means. So Buffy can be brought back after her death in season 5, but Joyce and Tara have no such luck. The Urn of Osiris, that resurrected Buffy, was also the only true way of bringing someone back from the dead, body and soul intact. When Willow acquired it, she was lucky, because that was the very last one, and it was smashed and defiled, so if it had been pieced back together it still would have been useless.
- As mentioned in the page intro, Star Trek is rife with missed opportunities and blindness regarding the application of the technology available. There usually end up being more rationalizations and justifications as to why something doesn't do something useful than techo-babble about how it works in the first place.
- Star Trek: The Original Series had an episode involving a plant that could cure any disease, and regrow severed limbs. The plant was conveniently forgotten in all future episodes.
- Similarly in the original series episode "Plato's Stepchildren", Bones manages to produce a serum using a mineral common on the planet of the week that gives people telekinetic powers. Despite the obvious utility something like this would have, it is never, ever, used again.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Rascals", they accidentally discover the secret of eternal life (by turning four crewmembers into children via the transporter, while they still retain their memory). No one ever tries to find out how that worked.
- This also occurred in the second season episode "Unnatural Selection". After being artificially aged, the crew is able to revert Dr. Pulaski to her normal age using a DNA sample and the transporter. Ironically, earlier in the episode as she was experiencing accelerated aging, she commented that she was getting a better understanding of Geriatrics. Considering that they seem to have found a cure for old age this new understanding ought to be irrelevant.
- The episode "Too Short A Season" where a Federation Admiral reveals that a legendary drug that reverses aging is entirely real, and it definitely works on humans.
- By the end of the episode "When The Bough Breaks", the crew of the Enterprise basically has unrestricted access to the technology of the super-advanced Aldean civilization. This includes a shield and cloaking device that can protect an entire planet and a repulsor beam that can hurl a starship light years away from it. Yet no evidence exists that they ever even bothered to take detailed scans of the technology, much less tried to duplicate it. These things would certainly have been very useful in the conflicts with the Borg and the Dominion.
- Geordi LaForge's visor: Geordi claimed to have been blind since birth and everything including cloned implants has been a failure. He also claims that the VISOR causes intense pain but he will not take drugs to dull the pain because "It would affect how these work". However, the Star Trek Universe has proven able to cure every current illness, let alone alien diseases. This includes genetically correcting deformities prior to birth. This anomaly is retained so that Geordi can act as representation for blind people. Geordi did eventually get some nice robot eyes in the movies, though.
- Replicator technology. Every sophont and his dog seems to get it shortly after developing warp drive (it's a logical spin-off from transporter technology, after all), and yet there are still traders who deal in small, easily portable, mass-produced items (which were probably made in a replicator in the first place). Artwork and particularly obscure substances/items a replicator can't (currently) produce make sense as trade goods, as do items too large to be produced by one, but given the ubiquity of replicators, the only reason that trading self-sealing stem bolts makes any sense is because the writers want a point of familiarity.
- In "A Fistful of Datas", Worf makes a timed-duration personal shield using a phaser and 19th-century stuff lying around. Nobody except the borg, kind-of, uses personal shields even though there's plenty of episodes where it would have been incredibly useful. This ends up getting Averted, though, in Star Trek Online.
- Interactions with the Mirror Universe tend to occur under anomalous conditions, and traveling back from whence one came is usually a matter of reversing a problem. However, one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine sees Mirror!O'Brien abducting and returning Sisko to and from his universe, seemingly completely at will. Since this is possible, this poses the questions of why no regular avenue of transit is established between the two universes, and why the regular universe does not see an inundation of Mirror Universe refugees (given the Slave Race status of humans there).
- In the much reviled Star Trek: Voyager "Threshold", Tom Paris successfully creates a way to make vehicles reach Warp 10 which is explicitly described as infinite speed. It is then completely scrapped because it causes the unfortunate effect of turning people into salamanders. No one points out the logical alternative of slowing down the vehicle before it reaches Warp 10, travel at the necessary speed to get back to the Alpha Quadrant and revolutionize galactic travel. If the salamander thing still maintains, they managed to successfully reverse it with no adverse effects!
- As to why Patrick Stewart (upon taking the role of Picard) didn't consider wearing a hairpiece to cover his baldness, he did consider that by the 24th century it's probable that they might have a cure to male pattern baldness. But then he immediately deduced that by the 24th century, they also probably wouldn't care even if they did. This assessment seems to make perfect sense to most viewers. Besides, Patrick Stewart looks dead sexy without hair.
- In Power Rangers, humanity made First Contact in Power Rangers in Space, fielded an interstellar colony in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, and mastered Ranger technology by Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, with giant robots, plasma weaponry, and miniaturized antigravity backing it up. State universities offer courses in Galactic History and Mythology. And civilian technology remains exactly the same as real life, down to the four-wheeled road-bound fossil-fuel-powered internal-combustion-engine driven cars. Then again, it's implied that Ranger tech has a massive energy cost; outside of the supernatural power sources that most Rangers use you'd need the output of a nuclear power plant or more (like the megareactors seen in In Space and Lightspeed Rescue) just to field a five- or six-man team.
- Invoked in a later episode of Charmed, when Paige's newest romantic interest discovers the fact that she's a witch, and, upon parsing the reality that magic exists in the world, he wonders why the supposedly 'good' witches don't use their powers to better mankind. By the end of the episode, however, he understands the evil that also exists has to be held back by said witches.
- Government scientists in The Six Million Dollar Man can make artificial limbs that not only look indistinguishable from the real thing, but outperform their biological equivalents by an order of magnitude. Yet none of this technology is ever used to restore amputees or paraplegics — they'd rather keep it all for a one-shot test pilot super-agent. Even their previous use of this technology (with Barney Miller/Hiller, the 7 Million Dollar Man) is something they sweep under the rug. A possible justification is that 6 million dollars in the 1970s is a lot of money, making these too prohibitively expensive to produce. The fact that Jaime Sommers nearly died when her body rejected her bionic implant and initially survived with amnesia and subconscious episodes of agonizing pain also likely mean the Food and Drug administration would never approve bionics wholesale implementation until satisfied that problem was solved.
- Person of Interest. Lampshaded at the beginning of Season 2 when Finch (creator of a supercomputer which analyses all surveillance data in the country so as to predict threats against national security) is kidnapped by sociopathic hacker Root. Root realises that the true implication of the Machine is not its potential misuse as a tool of Big Brother — to successfully predict human actions, Finch has created the first true artificial intelligence. Root can't believe that Finch's response to doing this was to Black Box the system and hand it over to a corrupt and power-hungry US government, and is determined to set the Machine free. By the end of season 3 Harold engineers an AGI indirectly resulting in Decima Technologies bringing another AI online in order to take over the world.
- In an interesting sitcom example, the premise of The Big Bang Theory is about young, incredibly smart geniuses working at Caltech and their adventures trying to navigate a normal life. They have specialties ranging into high-end theoretical and experimental physics and are depicted as giving lectures, having papers published and even going on scientific expeditions but it is nothing truly groundbreaking or would make them celebrities. This is lampshaded by Leonard in the third episode, when Penny asked if anything was new in the physics world his response was a bemused "Nothing" and explained that all basic physics concepts have been in place since the 1930s and most of physics work today is basically advanced theories that can't be proven, only internally consistent. This is averted in one of the later seasons, where Howard actually invents an advanced waste disposal unit to be used by astronauts. He even gets to visit space as a result!
- Used (sort of an inverted lampshade?) by Rimmer in Red Dwarf, who scoffs at the idea that Jesus can do all these magic tricks and doesn't go into show-business!
- Doctor Who is positively rife with examples, the Time Lords zealously guarding time travel from falling into the hands of other species being the most obvious. Churchill berates the Doctor for confiscating sophisticated technology that would win him the war overnight, but begrudgingly accepts that the Doctor knows what he's doing. The series, and its spin-offs, repeatedly stress the idea that interfering in human history more than necessary will cause a lot more problems than it solves.
- A more traditional example in "Dalek": Henry Van Statten discovers the cure for the common cold in alien bacteria but keeps it secret because there's more money to be made selling palliatives.
- In the William Hartnell era, full of 'pure historical' stories, much is made of how the Doctor is unwilling to change history, with virtually no justification given (especially as this only applies to events on Earth, and not other cultures). While this restriction is not explained, the other characters regard it as atrocious in-universe (particularly in "The Aztecs", where Barbara attempts to use time travel to end the Aztecs' human sacrifice, and "The Massacre", where Steven is outraged by the Doctor refusing to intervene in a genocide in France).
- The premise of the Expanded Universe book Interference is that the Doctor's metafictional constraints that prevent him intervening with real-world events make him useless. He spends most of the book being powerlessly tortured in a Saudi prison.
- Space 1889: quite a few inventions appear in the stories with little or no account of how it would affect the world as large. Often the story ends with the invention and the inventor destroyed. At other times, the trope is averted and the story ends with some suggestions for how the invention will affect the campaign.
- Mentioned explicitly in GURPS with the "Gadgeteer" advantage, which allows characters to invent new gadgets more easily. While Gadgeteer allows characters to make gadgets for themselves or to solve problems that arise during an adventure, in order to sell their gadgets for money (or even outfit their teammates with gadgets) they must purchase additional advantages which cost more Character Points. This is something of a truth-in-television version of the trope, as there is a big difference between prototype construction and actual profitable scale-up to mass production, and convincing investors that you've got the second set of skills is, realistically, yet another set of separate skills.
- This is a general rule for superhero gadgets in Hero System as well. Devices cost character points to have; while other people are allowed to borrow them once or twice, they can't keep one unless they pay the character point cost as well.
- Both averted and played straight in White Wolf's superhero deconstruction Aberrant. "Project Utopia" is dedicated to using the new superheroes for the betterment of humanity, including greening the Sahara, patching the hole in the ozone layer, getting rid of pollution, inventing new technology, toppling dictators, etc. However it is also dedicated to regulating technology, especially that created by those super-beings who are hyper-intelligent, and hiding away those it deems society can't handle. Naturally, there is a thriving black market for such technology as a result; the Yakuza, and in no small way, Japan as a whole, make excellent profits that way.
- Aberrant's Player's Guide provides options for keeping "super-science" from changing things excessively, providing those running games the means to enforce this trope as they see fit.
- Prequel game Adventure! also has super-science. In this case, only the Inspired, the pulp heroes of the setting (not to be confused with Genius's Inspired, below), can create super-science inventions, but plenty of them are attempting to use said inventions to change the world. By canon, they largely fail; when the supers of Aberrant arrive on the scene, the world looks much the same as it does in our timeline.
- This gets changed somewhat in Trinity Continuum, the Continuity Reboot of Adventure! and Aberrant's shared universe: the actions of past generations of heroes have resulted in a present day that looks like our own, but more optimistic, with more money in the space program and more environmentalism. However, it's also resulted in a secret history with scientific anomalies and causality issues.
- Genius The Transgression features many of the Inspired trying to stop being useless, but it's not going well because normal humans cause Wonders to break, dissolve, or start hungering for their creator's blood.
- This trope was played with in the Old World of Darkness. Spectacular changes like a Universal Translator or a superpowered healing magic were certainly available to player characters, especially in Mage: The Ascension. However, they were prone to malfunction because the world was a World Half Empty running on Clap Your Hands If You Believe and humanity just didn't believe in the super-tech or old magic. Many supernaturals and human groups also had very good reasons to enforce The Masquerade, and would make sure any Reed Richards who drew too much attention was discredited and then buried in a shallow grave. However, using your power to make the world subtly better was certainly possible. Running around the hospital ward curing folks like a Dungeons & Dragons cleric was right out, but having a "health spa" that believably helped assuage sicknesses was possible. The Technocratic Union from Mage, in particular, were creating super-science and trickling it out to normal humans when "reality" could handle it, averting this trope.
- Not done with technology but with magic in most editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Depending on the level of magic in a given campaign world, it may be hard to justify any famines, diseases, plagues, etc. An astute player may even realize with enough magicnote , it is possible to instantly transport goods an infinite distance every six seconds all day long, thus rendering ships, caravans, and the like impractical. Yet it seems most magic is only used to crawl through caves, kill ugly people, and take their stuff, while all the peasants can keep on dirt farming.
- Teleportation aside (as it is fairly powerful magic), less potent spells should eliminate all kinds of hazards. Even low-level curative magic should prevent folks from dying from anything which doesn't kill them outright. Remove Disease costs a low-level cleric nothing to cast and a few of them could essentially eliminate the danger of sickness in a community (especially if they understand triage). Furthermore, spell casters should be researching spells and making items which aren't related to dungeon-crawling to use in their mundane lives. However, since no player is going to get excited about "Ripen Crops II" and "Plowblade of Quick Tilling," they won't be in more recent (3.0 and later) editions. Earlier editions actually had such mundane magic from time to time.
- In Warhammer 40,000 this is explicitly enforced by the Imperium (or more specifically the Adeptus Mechanicus), declaring the invention of any new technology to be Heresy and focused only on recovering millenia-old Lost Technology. Furthermore, using Xeno technosorcery is strictly forbidden, and while that doesn't stop more wealthy/powerful individuals it isn't exactly helpful to the average human. (Of course, this only counts for the regular people, the low-level techpriests. The lords of Forgeworlds, more machine than man and 10,000 years old could care less about rules on research.) This results in not only the technology of the Imperium as a whole remaining largely the same (or going backwards in some aspects), but also Feudal Worlds (technology similar to Renaissance Europe) and Feral Worlds (pre-agrarian) not advancing even if they've been in contact with the wider Imperium for millennia.
- In the New World of Darkness sourcebook Immortals, this trope is justified with regard to the procedures used to keep the Patchwork People alive: the book acknowledges that these techniques would revolutionize health care across the world, but points out that they were developed through horrific experiments on unwilling subjects and require forcible extraction of necessary parts from live donors. The doctors who developed them are Genre Savvy enough to realize that if what they had done ever came to light, they'd be trying to outrun the Torches and Pitchforks, not stopping by Stockholm to pick up their Nobels. So they prefer to keep it a secret and sell their services to the rich and immoral.
- In the wider nWOD, there are people who have found ways to use the various supernatural forces of the World of Darkness to further science, but rarity - whether of the supernaturals, or of the resources available to the researchers - prices such advances out of the reach of all but the wealthiest or most powerful. One such example is Last Dynasty Inc. from Mummy: The Curse, which has discovered that the mystical force known as Sekhem can be filtered into medication, producing steroids with no ill side effects and possible cures for cancer and HIV. The problem is that Sekhem can only be found in divine, immortal killing machines ringed by cultists, and the Relics said killing machines and cults are sworn to protect.
- Being a superhero RPG, Mutants & Masterminds can often turn into this. Given powers are scaled (logically enough) to value combat uses, a character could very well make 'world problem solver' a gimmick with a fairly light investment of points. In the first edition of the game the standard form of the Creation power could create any inanimate objects. Given the rate at which it can be used, even a low-level hero could probably have solved world hunger if they weren't off using it to make anvils over villains heads. A liberal combination of Stretching, Gadgets and (depending on your opinion of him) Super Intelligence can result in you the player being Reed Richards. Subverting or playing the trope straight is up to you then.
- Palladium Books' Heroes Unlimited, being a superhero game largely based on the Silver Age of Comics, has no shortage of high-tech gadgets, as well as super-genius inventor types who can whip up new technological marvels with surprising speed. In the game, the reason these inventions and technologies never see wide-spread use is never directly addressed. However, the inventions themselves are usually alien devices beyond our ability to manufacture, of which only one exists on Earth, or prototypes that are currently in the testing stage, so there hasn't been time to mass-market them yet.
- Mega Man X is an example of why it's better for a scientist to be useless. While Doctor Light created X and his endless capabilities, the humans of the future couldn't fully replicate his design, nor did they bother to put their reploids under a special mental-stability diagnostic like X had been. The result was a race of intelligent free-thinking androids that weren't completely stable, causing endless wars.
- In Pokémon Bill has invented a way to store objects as data (and the ability to use this to transport objects cross country instantly) and time travel and all that comes of this tech is for trading Pokémon.
- In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon you can find an "element #115", which matches to the atomic number of Ununpentium, an element where all known isotopes have a half-life measured in milliseconds, that can stay in your items for the entire game. What do you do with this seemingly stable form of an element too short lived to research? Make swords! (Admittedly this is a Shout-Out to X-COM, a game made before the element physically existed.)
- In Portal, Aperture Science developed several technologies that, with proper application, would have revolutionized the world. Just one, the portal gun, could have, in an instant, solved nearly every transportation and logistical problem on the planet, enabled Casual Interstellar Travel, and incidentally made the company trillions. They also developed Brain Uploading, true AI, Hard Light, some really amazing hardware to prevent injury from falling, and a variety of other things. But they were so into testing all their Mad Science inventions that they utterly failed to market them properly — or marketed them for entirely the wrong things. It also doesn't help that they ignored even the most basic of safety standards, to the point where their facilities would have given OSHA inspectors a heart attack. Then they were all killed by the AI that they put in charge of the facility, which happened around the same time as the Combine invasion of Earth.
- In almost any Role-Playing Game with an onscreen Plotline Death, you will have at least one healing character — in some particularly absurd cases the majority of your party — present who has up till now cured everything up to and including most minor forms of death, and they do precisely dick this time for some reason. Sometimes justified with whatever kind of magic killed them, but usually not. Some games do a better job of explaining it: a common theory is that they're not exactly dead but almost dead, or just incapacitated; many Japanese RP Gs use the word "K.O.'d" or "Wounded," oddly even after being hit by a spell that says "Death."
- As seen in Final Fantasy V, where one of the main characters dies on an onscreen plot-related death and the rest of the party tries to use curative spells and items on him, but they turn out to be useless, as he dies anyway.
- In Planescape: Torment, once the protagonist The Nameless One can raise party members at the end of the very first dungeon, he can always do so if that party member hasn't been removed entirely from the game by the player. Even the plotline deaths can be undone in the Golden Ending, except for the Nameless One's own death and acceptance of damnation. Given the Eldritch Abomination, World Half Empty, The Undead, The Legions of Hell, and all the other things arrayed against The Nameless One and cohorts, this isn't a Game Breaker. It's not even a Disc One Nuke.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim features a quest in the Mage's College story arc where the player comes upon a dying NPC who sputters out his last words and then bites the dust. No amount of healing spells, regardless of how powerful your magical ability, will prevent his death. The same thing happens when the Dark Brotherhood are killed.
- The very same thing was mocked by players of the original Diablo way back when it came out: some nameless NPC, sole survivor of the traitorous Archbishop Lazarus's doomed expedition into the dungeon beneath Tristram, sputters out his dying words and sets you a quest leading to the first major boss of the game, the Butcher. You may be a new, inexperienced adventurer without much magical talent to speak of (depending on your class), but you're carrying healing potions.
- Klungo, Gruntilda's minion from Banjo-Kazooie builds a beauty-swapping machine, he makes a mechanical body for Grunty's spirit to inhabit, he also makes potions for growth, invisibility and cloning, and then quits his job and makes a Heel-Face Turn. He could release all his inventions to the public and also continue to use his intellect to benefit his world, yet instead he becomes a video game designer.
- City of Heroes had the Medi-Porter, a device that instantaneously transports the user to the nearest hospital. It's used in-game as a rationalization for the game's respawn mechanic, but why not make them available for everyone? Instantly, every hostage situation, every attempted murder, even everyday heart attacks and strokes, all of them would be much less dangerous. The mission arc "Bad People, Good Intentions" explored this idea, with a group of rogue police officers stealing the technology in order to try and force the Medi-Corp company to make the teleporters available for everyone.
- In Mage Gauntlet, Lexi has an anti-magic curse that not only prevents her from using magic but also causes anything magical she touches to explode (with little harm to herself beyond the occasional Ash Face). There are at least four bossesnote and types of enemiesnote that are solely powered by magic, and that should die on contact with her, but it never occurs to Whitebeard to simply send her to flush them out by poking them before giving her the eponymous gauntlet, and find someone else (ideally an actual mage) to alert Arosh, Hapsgaff, and Tetramont about the seal. Partially justified in that Lexi can't be teleported, so she would only be able to reach two of those bosses and enemy types without putting herself in mortal danger. Completely justified in that Hurgoth isn't an actual threat, and Whitebeard is a Manipulative Bastard who just wants a sacrifice for restoring the seal and renewing his fame.
- Subverted in Genocide Man. Most normal diseases including HIV and all forms of cancer were quickly cured. Then they were replaced with impossible-to-treat bioengineered plagues and super-soldiers created by Mad Scientist characters.
- Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a comic that explores how to utilize Superman as efficiently as possible: having him constantly power a giant electric generator so the world can enjoy free, clean energy.
- Jayden and Crusader has a character Smic who is apparently a genius, inventing an infinite pizza machine, a working time machine, man-eating anteaters (presumably genetically engineered) and a steam powered time travelling hover-cycle. However he never seems to have turned his skills on anything useful in the slightest.
- Girl Genius serves as a good example of why anachronistic world-reshaping technology isn't going to do anything good. An awful lot of inventions come from insane epiphanies that can't be reproduced, most of them are dangerously unstable (e.g. most things remotely self-aware try to maim their creators), and many of them are built and used for the express purpose of destroying the inventions of rival mad scientists. Scientific miracles abound, but most of Europe seems to be stuck in a Dark Age most of the time. Commoners have little access to all the technological wonders but plenty of exposure to many technological horrors, and many see the Sparks as "witches" (you can't really blame them if you consider what a Spark can do), so even if Richard tried to be useful they would just give him the Burn the Witch! treatment.
- Europe ended up dominated by the Mad Scientist who mostly curbed the usual Control Freak streak and got the special talent for... reverse engineering. Instead of building whole armies upon powerful, but one-gimmick inventions he found in his and others' crazy gadgets material for a few robust and mass-produceable systems and still had time for refining them. By the same token, found good use for a wild variety of monsters.
- Lampshaded when it's revealed that the people that actually keep everything running are the *minions* and not the sparks, with young Wulfenbach initially falling for the heroine in the course of trying to steal her on the assumption that she's a mechanically competent non-spark assistant, and later pretty much the entire cast of mad scientists fighting over the services of the one non-mad mechanic in the cast even harder than they defend their own lives. So even the mad scientists realize that dependability and steady competence are more generally useful than bouts of inspiration.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dracula found the cure for cancer. He hid it on Mars. Also, he lives on the moon and has a teleporter, and seemingly has some kind of immortality serum and/or time machine, since his castle is full of supposedly-dead famous people. He's not really good or evil and rarely uses any of his technology for anyone else's sake.
- Justified in Mindmistress — the title heroine has the most advanced technology in the world, but is afraid that released it could change our society for the worse. On the other hand, Forethought, the only person smarter that Minidmistress, is actively trying to save the humanity from self-destructing war he forseen. Too bad his first idea was to create more people like him, well aware that humanity would turn on them. And lost.
- In alternate dimensions of Sluggy Freelance the Plot Technology of the usual mad scientists were used to change the world, sometimes for the better and getting themselves canonized, sometimes just improved what might've been a crappier-sack world, and in one storyline what looks like a change for the worst. And in the main dimension of the series, it looks like Schlock is attempting to avert this by selling Riff's robot design to the Department of Defense. Riff gets called out on this (albeit inadvertently) by a character where Riff devoted his time and brainpower to building devices to help disabled people (among other things) rather than just building cool weapons for his own use.
- When Big Killhuna, a Mad Scientist from Super Stupor, hears that his favourite writer, Terry Pratchett, has Alzheimer's, he wants to help him by... building a doomsday device and threatening the world with it until all scientists on Earth agree to work towards a cure. Because he flunked out of "Useful Sciences 101"...
- xkcd points out the problem in the context of time machines. If you're going to dick around time having wacky adventures, why don't you also try and save people from disasters?
- At first played straight but then later averted in Schlock Mercenary. The Teraport proves to be incredibly useful as a drive once it's eventually released, for good or bad (up until then the Galactic community had been keeping tight tabs on the Ob'enn).
- Justified in Lady Spectra And Sparky — Lady Spectra promised her husband on his deathbed that she would not let their inventions fall into the hands of the military.
- Gunnerkrigg Court has a considerable amount of Magitek that is never used for anything outside the Court. They also have a whole society of sentient (if a bit nutty) robots, who mostly keep to themselves. Many of the higher-ups think they shouldn't even use this technology themselves, because they don't actually understand it. The guy who built the robots is long dead and left very few notes, and the operational code of his robots is incomprehensible to most humans; the "ether" part of their magitek is fundamentally irreducible. Kat, the one person who seems able to figure out how the robots work, made an anti-gravity device from Noodle Implements as part of a science fair project. No one else ever used her invention for anything; perhaps because, as with the rest of their technology, they mistrust it due to not understanding it.
- Justified in Widdershins, where magic is significantly weaker away from the Anchors (a few Eldritch Locations that seem to anchor magic to the Earth) - many people have a tiny gift for magic, but never discover it unless they visit an Anchor, while true wizards who can perform magic in the broader world aren't very common. Certainly not enough to build a Magitek Industrial Revolution around, nor is it very feasible to run one entirely out of a handful of small cities around the world.
- Justified in Fine Structure, which makes this a plot point. Scientists would like to use The Script for teleportation and other discoveries, but they'll only work until the the fundamental laws of the universe are changed by Something so it can never be used again.
- The SCP Foundation could have changed the world with the SCPs...if they weren't so dangerous and most of those that aren't are mostly used to help containing other SCPs. And the Serpent's Hand still consider the Foundation enemies, because they do not want to improve the world with SCPs. And they don't want it to fall into the hands of the Chaos Insurgency.
- Superdickery.com presents the most inefficient use of Superman. "Again, couldn't he pretty much instantly win the war if he wanted to?"
- Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Too bad Chuck Norris has never cried. Selfish bastard.
- Justified in the Whateley Universe, where there are two types of inventor mutants:
- The first are Devisors, who warp reality slightly to allow for physically impossible inventions, which can then never be reproduced by anyone else (or sometimes even by them) and often don't even work for other people in the case of extremely impossible stuff. Some of them sell their tech, but since only a single person can produce it, it's generally extremely expensive and supply is very limited.
- The second are Gadgeteers, who have a variant of psionics that allow them to intuitively understand how to make things, but can't do anything that's impossible. Some of them have changed the world, but apparently being good at engineering leads to being incompetent at interpersonal relations, resulting in most of them getting ripped off by the companies they sell their inventions to and either not having the resources to do any inventing, being suppressed by people who don't want the world to change because a lack of that particular technology is profitable to them, or turning evil to get back at society.
- This trope is actually mentioned by name a couple times. It comes up frequently in Loophole's stories because of the stuff she makes. Phase is so intent on getting Loophole on board with him because he can predict how her inventions will literally change the world. For example, her pet project is a restored Mustang that gets double gas mileage and 33% more horsepower. Phase is practically drooling over what an engine like that could do.
- In Wonder City Stories the Paranormal Invention Control Act means super tech cannot be sold to the public unless the government is satisfied that it cannot in any way be weaponized. Since this is just about impossible, super tech stays in the hands of inventors and their close associates.
- In the universe of Worm, several factors contribute to this:
- The way Tinker powers work in the universe make it such a pain to make Tinker-tech compatible with mass production and maintainable by ordinary human beings that most Tinkers don't try.
- Every few months, massive Kaiju with superpowers emerge and attack a major population center, often resulting in millions of casualties. Most science and gadget heroes are understandably focused on this issue. There are strong suggestions that the Endbringers actually target people who try to avert this trope, as in the case of Mannequin.
- Accord, a supervillain, attempts to avert this trope using his superhuman planning skills — he has a plan that could end world hunger within twenty-three years — but generally fails due to his psychosis and the fact that nobody takes him seriously due to said psychosis.
- On Atop the Fourth Wall, this is something of a pet peeve of Linkara's, as is chronicled in the comic book section. Regarding the Trope Namer, Linkara points out that Reed Richards seems too busy with inventing useless stuff like air signals that can change their own writing as opposed to something useful like curing cancer.
- In Captain Planet and the Planeteers the Planeteers fly around in the "Geocruiser", a smallish VTOL aircraft which was designed and built by Gaea (who knew she had a machine shop on that island?) and is stated to run entirely on solar power and to produce no pollution whatsoever. It can apparently fly anywhere in the world in a few hours at most without ever producing a sonic boom and is so simple to control that a teenager can operate it without any training whatsoever. Yet even when one of the antagonists builds an equally impossible super-aircraft that runs on smog and makes even more smog Gaea never once considers she could do more good with her own ubertech than she could by keeping it exclusive to five self-righteous idiots who use it for nothing but getting to the next poor sap they feel like preaching to.
- Professor Membrane of Invader Zim can more or less do what he wants, suggested throughout the series that his genius is the only thing actually sustaining what is otherwise a civilization in severe decay because it's populated entirely by morons/jackasses. He only seems to create things on the basis that they interest him, pose an intellectual challenge or that he finds it utterly flabbergasting nobody else has already solved the problem in question, and the fact that he's probably the most powerful and wealthy man in the entire world seems to mean absolutely nothing to him. He once created perpetual energy, then decided not to implement it after all (which was probably a good thing, considering what the rest of humanity could have done with it).
- Phineas and Ferb build interplanetary rockets, animal translation devices, and the like every morning. But by the time their mom gets home everything is back to normal. Although in the future episode it's implied Phineas has won the Nobel Prize and Ferb is at Camp David, so they presumably grow up to tackle more "serious" concerns.
- In one episode of Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon Master grants one of the adventurers his powers. The newly uber-powered member uses his power to bring forth water for the thirsty teammates. Dungeon Master responds that by using the powers to generate that water, water from another area had to be deprived.
- On The Venture Bros., Reed Richards Expy Richard Impossible is shown to be a sociopathic arm of the military-industrial complex, abandoning Dr. Venture in the arctic wilderness for procrastinating and flirting with his oppressed wife; later, he withholds alien technology, needed to save the world, that was left to Venture by his father, claiming it's because Venture is not responsible enough to have it (which is a quite reasonable argument) but most likely due to him wanting all the credit. In general, there's lots of other super-science doo dads floating around in the series that the general public never gets a chance with.
- Also lampshaded on occasion: in "Tag Sale, You're It!", one of the items in the titular sale is an actual lightsaber which Rusty couldn't sell because "The Army told me they don't fight with swords, and Hasbro wasn't interested in a toy that cost $20 million in parts alone". To add insult to injury, the beam doesn't seem to cause any harm whatsoever.
- The show's creators have stated that this is part of the central premise of "failure" that permeates the Ventures' world. Everything exists in a sort of "death of the jet-age" state where all the promises of technology have failed to deliver. Things like jet-packs, laser weapons, sentient AI, and magic all exist, but have proven to be too expensive, impractical, or dangerous to ever see general use. So the world mostly resembles our own, except you have all these obsessive weirdos around who use this stuff for crime or crime fighting, and it never sees wider applications. Some of the more "mundane" stuff, though, would be incredibly valuable - like HELPeR (a sentient, durable, dexterous robot assistant) and Billy Quizboy's fully functional mechanical arm. The former alone would make Dr. Venture a rich man again (the latter is revealed to have been designed by a madman who wasted his life obsessing with a girl he knew in college and getting posthumous revenge on his classmates).
- On The Fairly Oddparents Chester, unlike Timmy, tries doing this after he's granted Norm, the temporary ex-genie, as his fairy godparent. Having a Jackass Genie as a fairy godparent predictably doesn't turn out well for him. When he wishes the deserts would have enough water for everyone to drink or make the ice caps warmer to make the penguins less chilly, he ends up flooding the deserts and causing global warming.
- Lampshaded in an episode where Timmy's Muggle friends (such as Chester and his mom) have temporarily gained the knowledge that Timmy has had fairies all along. They ask the fairies if they could have granted Timmy any wish he wanted; Cosmo and Wanda reply that no, there are rules. However, they ask if Timmy could have done things like wish for easier housework for his mom, a better living conditions for Chester, and so on; and Cosmo and Wanda reply that Da Rules would have allowed all of those things, and Timmy just didn't feel like wishing for their lives to be easier.
- In Xiaolin Showdown, an item said to possess infinite power, and could solve any energy-related problem, is used to power a time machine. And that's where it's staying.
- An episode of the Michel Vaillant animated series had the team participating in a special race for environmentally friendly vehicles only. Their Gadgeteer Genius mechanic builds a car that not only is pollutant free, but can actually hover above the ground via electromagnetism. Regardless of how much the thing cost, it would revolutionize transportation forever. Instead, it's used to win that one race and is never seen again.
- In The Simpsons, Homer Simpson's brother Herb became rich after inventing and selling a device that translates baby talk. After that episode, the device was never seen again.
- In "Treehouse of Horror XVII" a meteor with some living blob crashes into the Simpsons back yard. Lisa says how humanity could possibly learn about interplanetary transportation from the creature. Homer decides that it is more important to eat it.
- In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, the Flame Keeper's Circle wants to avert this by using alien technology to bring Earth into a golden age. Ben and the other Plumbers enforce this since introducing alien technology to a world that isn't ready for it is just a recipe for disaster. Julie tries to call out Ben (who uses a piece of powerful alien technology to make the universe a better place as a superhero) on the hypocrisy of this policy, but Ben points out that recklessly accelerating a planet's development via alien technology will usually lead to the planet's doom. Later episodes confirms it by revealing the Ascallon Sword, one of Azmuth's previous inventions, was once used by someone in an attempt to unify his planet ravaged by civil war... and ended up destroying said planet.
- In the crossover episode between Codename: Kids Next Door and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Mandy believes that the KND could actually change the world, instead of fighting for small things "like the right to have cookies for dinner." Her idea is to use their resources to take over the world.
- In The Magic School Bus Ms. Frizzle could make ludicrously large piles of money working for, say, NASA. Just for starters, her school bus can travel from Earth to the Sun to Pluto and back in the space of a day, and comes stocked with spacesuits capable of withstanding the conditions on Venus.
- In Archie's Weird Mysteries, Dilton invents some rather...advanced things. Why he's still in a public school is beyond anyone's guess.
- In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, although Jimmy maintains and uses a plethora of superscience inventions and sometimes gives them away to friends and relatives, he never attempts to sell or mass-market them, even in episodes whose plots are driven by his lack of funds. He did attempt to mass-market the candy he made in one episode, using his town's citizens, but to say it ended poorly is an understatement. Hugh also sent a design of Jimmy's to the US government once and it nearly killed two people in the public test.
- Dexter of Dexter's Laboratory (and his rival Mandark) is in the same boat as Jimmy, though in his case he's something of an egotist that pursues science purely for his own satisfaction.
- Wallace & Gromit: Wallace has quite a bit of mechanical aptitude, having built, presumably using the means available to the average person, a rocket that can fly to the moon and back and a pair of trousers that can move on their own (which could have several applications such as allowing paraplegics to walk). Yet these inventions don't seem to affect the world around them all that much, nor does Wallace use them make himself any money (the plot of "The Wrong Trousers" is kicked off by him having to rent a room out to pay bills).
- In Saturday Night Live's cartoon "The Ambiguously Gay Duo", Evil Genius Bighead has invented lots of inventions that could easily defeat of hinder the titular heroes. However, he's more obsessed with using his inventions to try to out and prove the heroes Ace and Gary are gay. His fellow villains call out on him for wasting his talent for something so trivial.
- In Rick and Morty, Rick is a near-textbook example, with being possibly the smartest creature in the universe, but not really doing anything other than occasionally help out Morty, and give himself a couple boons like interdimensional TV. Then again, he most certainly doesn't care about the whole "humanity" thing or any material wealth he'd get from helping them; it's hard to get him to care about anything in the first place.
- Santa Claus. Apparently able to make toys for every good little child on earth. Multiple toys. Multiple Expensive toys. That's about 1.8 billion children. In only one year, every year. Yet he can't solve world hunger?
- Very much Truth in Television. For example, global spending on international aid in 2010: $131 billion [OECD stats]. Global military spending in 2010: $1,732 billion [Stockholm Int'l Peace Reseach Inst. stats], over ten times as much. We already have the resources to solve much of the world's problems, we just aren't doing it.
- There's a commercial where a couple train their son to be able to dunk a basketball, in order to obtain scholarships later. The kid looks to be about five or six. The implication is that they trained the kid personally, not hired someone, in which case thousands of parents would give their eyeteeth to give their kid that kind of skill. If this ever occurs to the couple or gets out, they're likely set for life. If someone else did it, that person should be set for life. They might be able to revolutionize teen and adult training, fitness, and physical therapy.
- There are many food commercials that sidestep the "you have to pay for this product" issue, leading one to wonder why it isn't just handed out to the hungry people of the world.
As a side note, Doom
is pleased with the name of this trope. He would prefer it to be lengthened, but the censors wouldn't allow it.