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Science Marches On
Planet Master: Feel the strength of Jupiter, the speed of Mercury, the cold of Pluto!
Blue Beetle: News flash: Pluto's not considered a planet anymore.
Planet Master: Insolence!
Batman: The Brave and the Bold, "Aquaman's Outrageous Adventure"

Speculative Fiction often uses the real-world scientific knowledge that was actually available when it was written. There is nothing wrong with that, and indeed powering and justifying your world with Hard Science is, to many people, preferable to Applied Phlebotinum and Techno Babble. Basing your fictional science off of real world science is an excellent way to create Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

There's one problem with this approach, however: Science progresses. Around the 1500's, some cultures thought that the sun revolved around the earth. Around the 1900's, there still were scientists who openly questioned the existence of subatomic particles, like electrons and photons. As recently as the turn of the century, the existence of dark energy, and the corresponding fact that the expansion of the universe is accelerating rather than slowing, was not widely known in the scientific community. And many of our current assumptions about Life, the Universe, and Everything will inevitably be questioned or disproven in the future. Therefore, when a scientific theory used widely in speculative fiction gets Jossed by new scientific discoveries, it's because Science Marches On.

Scientific terminology is also subject to change, and it can be particularly jarring if a story set Twenty Minutes into the Future uses names that were widespread a few years ago, but are obsolete now, and are likely to remain so. For example, the word "atomic" has been mostly supplanted by "nuclear". Likewise, older science fiction written in the US did not foresee the adoption of metric measurements.

As a result, what seems like bad research in older fiction (in particular Space Does Not Work That Way and Artistic License - Biology) is actually this: They did do the research; it's just that said research is now outdated. Technology Marches On is a subtrope. Zeerust may be considered a sub-trope of this, as the old ideas of "futuristic" look dated now due to new advances in unforeseen directions. For instances where the change is in the historical record, see History Marches On; when it's in society itself, see Society Marches On.

This can also include cases where writers predicted an advance in engineering that never happened for practical reasons, such as having our entire civilization powered by nuclear reactors by 1990, or having cities on the Moon in 2000. It's at least conceivable that such a thing could have happened in hindsight, but it would have been so expensive and unrewarding that it seems as absurd as things that have been actively contradicted by new scientific discoveries.

See also I Want My Jetpack, Conviction by Counterfactual Clue, Artistic License. Opposite of Accidentally Accurate, where instead of being proven wrong, something presented in fiction is proven to be correct by science.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Astronomy 

The Moon

Anime and Manga
  • Osamu Tezuka did a couple of Astroboy stories featuring the title character visiting the moon in the 1950s. One of which featured the moon having a breathable atmosphere in the daytime that froze solid when the moon was facing away from the sun. Tezuka admitted in one of his introduction comics that he just pulled it out of his ass because he thought it would make a good story. In the TV series the story was set on an asteroid, which makes even less sense. Another story featured a deposed Russian aristocrat trying to conquer the moon because it was rich in diamonds created by the heat and pressure of the countless meteorite impacts that have blasted its surface. This was based on an actual scientific theory of the time which is briefly summarized in the manga itself.

Film
  • The opening narration of Forbidden Planet, which was released in 1956, predicted that humans wouldn't land on the moon until the end of the 21st century. The first manned landing on the moon happened a little over 12 years later.
  • In A Trip to the Moon, the "astronauts" discover a Moon populated by giant mushrooms and weird little people that explode when you whack them with an umbrella. Of course, George Melies was a magician who was not particularly interested in scientific accuracy.

Literature
  • In an H. G. Wells novel, The First Men in the Moon, the moon actually has air and food, and is actually richer in oxygen than Earth.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's novel A Fall of Moondust assumed that the alternate heating and cooling of the dust on the moon, due to the stark contrast between lunar daylight and lunar night, would eventually result in a miles-thick layer of dust so fine it acted like a liquid. The actual lunar dust that the Apollo astronauts observed was only a few inches thick, and behaved more like ... well ... dust.
    • While moon dust indeed turned out as fine as predicted, Clarke failed to consider the vacuum cementing that occurs between particles of the dust in the airless environment of the Moon. Even the slightest pressure cause the particles to fuse together into a dense and stable structure, making it to behave like any other dust.
    • Also, in Clarke's novel 2001, it's stated that samples of moon rock and dust apparently proved that the Moon was never part of Earth. In fact, real world Moon samples provided proof that the opposite was true.
      • Clarke also expressed embarrassment about predicting the first moon landing in the mid-'70s in the same novel.
  • In Heinlein's "The Man Who Sold The Moon," the first manned expedition to the Moon discovers uranium and diamonds.
    • Heinlein also made several wrong predictions regarding human exploration of the moon. In an introduction to the short story collection featuring "The Man Who Sold The Moon," Heinlein stated he would be very surprised if men walked on the Moon before the end of the 20th Century. He must have been very pleasantly surprised on July 20th, 1969. He didn't seem to have any compunctions about writing stories involving men landing on the Moon earlier, however, as The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress mentions that the Moon first became a colony some time in the 80s.
  • In one of the rare humorous short stories written by Edgar Allan Poe, the main character proves a theory of his that there is no vacuum of space, the atmosphere just gets so thin that air pumps are needed to pressurize a hot air balloon so he can breathe during his trip to the Moon. Arguably averted by the ending which very heavily implies that he was lying his ass off the entire time.
  • The French series San Antonio had a book (written in the 60s) where the MacGuffin is a series of photographs that don't seem to represent anything. Until the epilogue, where we learn that, by putting a camera into a rocket and attaching a special retrieval system, you could (gasp!) obtain increasingly detailed detailed photographs of any location on earth!

Live-Action TV
  • Space: 1999 is a particular example that, at the time of its release, didn't seem ridiculously far-fetched, at least in terms of there being such a thing as a Moonbase (and just the one, at that).
    • Although the implied scale of nuclear power use on Earth (from the huge quantity of high-level waste shipped all the way to the Moon for long-term storage) is rather far-fetched.

Mercury

Literature
  • Since Isaac Asimov wrote The Dying Night (and "Runaround," and Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury...), it has been discovered that the tidal locking of Mercury's rotation does not in fact result in a permanently dark hemisphere: Mercury actually rotates 3 times per 2 local years, rather than 1 per 1. In one reprint Asimov includes a very tongue-in-cheek notenote  saying scientists should get things right in the first place, and he's not going to change things over their whims.
  • Larry Niven used the same faulty Mercury data in his first published story, The Coldest Place. He offered to pull it when scientists inconveniently announced this discovery just after he mailed the story to the publisher. The story was published anyway, as it was correct at the time it was written.
  • According to Ray Cummings in Tama of the Light Country, Mercury has an atmosphere and several civilizations, and the American astronaut (something of a Mighty Whitey) who tells the story was trying to get to the moon, but overshot.
  • In fact, The Other Wiki puts "Old Mercury" and "New Mercury" in separate sections.
  • Hal Clement's "Iceworld" features a gang of alien drug dealers who set up their base camp in a valley on Mercury's surface facing the sun, and line the valley with mirrors to reflect enough light into the base to make it reasonably warm. Iceworld was published in 1953, twelve years before they realized Mercury was not tidal locked.

Venus

Literature
  • Also, any number of stories in which Venus is Terrestrial-habitable (usually a jungle, swamp or ocean planet, as the cloud-covered sky suggested high humidity). This is particularly relevant because Venus is closer to the Earth than Mars, and if it were even as habitable as Mars really is, would probably be the main target of our current plans for trans-Lunar interplanetary flight. Instead, as we now know, Venus is the least habitable terrestrial planet — even Mercury is a friendlier environment!
    • The result of the above is that writers are starting to posit the idea of terraforming Venus, such as in Arthur C Clarke's 3001, the final book in the series that started with 2001: A Space Odyssey (itself a great example of this trope).
      • Terraforming a hostile Venus is far from a new idea in science fiction, though. The idea is central to The Space Merchants, published in 1952.
  • Ray Bradbury's short story The Long Rain correctly assumed that Venus has an environment that is uninhabitable for human life... except he claimed it was because of the climate consisting of constant precipitation (and occasional electric storms) which could very easily drive any person mad from being on the surface for an extended period of time. Don't worry though, because there's these special "Sun-Domes" that you can live in on the planet with an artificial sun and plenty of food and warmth. That last part becomes somewhat Hilarious in Hindsight when you consider that not even the probes can survive for long on Venus and it's supposedly hot enough to melt lead, meaning that even if you could somehow get multiple structures down there and find a way to avoid being incinerated by the sulfuric atmosphere warmth would probably be the last thing on your mind.
  • Perry Rhodan has Venus as a thriving jungle planet as do Edgar Rice Burroughs' Carson Napier stories.
  • Robert Heinlein indulges in a swampy jungle Venus in Between Planets, Podkayne of Mars and Space Cadet.
  • Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus plays hard-to-get with this trope before giving in. When it was written, well before space probes, it was already suspected that Venus might be a waterless planet since spectroscopic analysis of its atmosphere showed no water vapour. The encyclopedic Asimov went as far as mentioning this in the book... Then added that 20th century scientists were wrong after all, and Venus was an ocean planet.
  • In universe in Carl Sagan's Contact, Ellie Arroway spends her childhood thinking there are crystal castles on Venus, but when probes reveal the true harsh environment she imagines them melting away.

Live-Action TV
  • One scene in Disney's Mars and Beyond was about the other planets in our Solar System, and when we focus on Venus, the narrator says "There may be life on Venus...", but that film was made long before spacecraft had actually discovered the fact that Venus is actually too hot to support life.

Mars

Comic Books
  • Current versions of the DC Comics character the Martian Manhunter establish that he was brought to Earth from the distant past, when it's just barely conceivable Mars might have been inhabitable.

Literature
  • Vacuum cementing occurs naturally on the moon: fine dust particles from lunar impacts are converted to rock over time since they lack a layer of adsorbed gas. Larry Niven cunningly extrapolated from this discovery to Mars, which does have an atmosphere. In Protector (and other stories) Mars is covered in a deep layer of dust so fine it acts as a liquid, since vacuum cementing can't occur. Since this story was written, Mars landers and rovers have conspicuously failed to disappear with a "gloop."
  • Any number of stories, beginning with The War of the Worlds and continuing into the mid-'60s, featuring intelligent life on Mars, were effectively scuttled when the Mariner 4 probe revealed Mars to be a barren desert. Since then, most Speculative Fiction featuring Martians has been more tongue-in-cheek (see Mars Attacks!) than previously. Subsequently, many stories now say the Martians simply spoof the probe's sensors, just to maintain the facade.
    • In some stories (also beginning with The War of the Worlds), Mars' inhospitable conditions are used as the reason why Martians are invading. Their world is used up, they want a fresh one.
  • The 1960 book Lost Race of Mars by Robert Silverberg told the story of two preteen siblings whose parents were taking them to Mars to spend a[n Earth] year, starting in the middle of 2017. This story predicted a city, their host city, having been founded in 1991, and a manned spaceship reaching Mars in 1970. Well...
    • And later he wrote a book called Worlds Fair 1996, which featured Martians being put on exhibit at the eponymous fair, which was built on a massive rotating space station. Later in the same book, the protagonist then takes a nuclear powered rocket to Pluto (two weeks at a constant 1G thrust!) to get even more exotic specimens to display...
  • "A Martian Odyssey", a short story penned in the 1930s, combines this with a sort of reverse Politics Mess Up. In it, four men (an American, a Frenchman, a German, and a Russian), blast off to Mars through the miracle of atomic explosions and find it teeming with life and a miracle cancer cure.
  • Robert A. Heinlein was a little overoptimistic about the prospects for life on other planets. RAH actually admitted that he had an irrational conviction that life would turn out to be ubiquitous in the universe, in an article in which he clung to the hope as late as 1965. His intellectual side suspected he was wrong by then, but he called it a 'religious conviction' that he would not let go of absent thorough exploration of Sol IV.
  • The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.
  • The valleys of Malacandra (Mars to us Earthlings) in Out of the Silent Planet were meant to be the cause of the canals detected by Percival Lowell. Alas, even at the time that the book was published, evidence was mounting that what Lowell saw was just an optical illusion.

Newspaper Comics
  • A Non Sequitur comic strip had a visiting Martian who took this a step further, claiming that his people are actually living on "the other Mars", which is always on the opposite side of the Sun from Earth. This idea was once a possibility too, but not only have we had probes on the opposite side of the sun from Earth, we would be able to tell by the effects of gravity on other planets.

Web Original
  • In Genius The Transgression, when it was proven Mars was uninhabitable, the resulting wave of Mania made a Martian Empire. The resulting war was long and bloody. (This actually happens every time science marches on in a big way, but this was the most recent incident.)

Other
  • In the late 1950s and 60s, one of Mars's moons, Phobos, was thought to be hollow, for esoteric scienc-y reasons (the moon was/is falling toward Mars). President Eisenhower even went on record, saying, "Its purpose would probably be to sweep up radiation in Mars's atmosphere, so that Martians could safely operate around their planet."

Jupiter

Film
  • When Stanley Kubrick moved 2001: A Space Odyssey from Saturn to Jupiter, he did so because he couldn't pull off the special effects for a realistic depiction of Saturn. Then the Voyager probes in 1979 discovered that one of Jupiter's moons, Europa, has a huge amount of ice, and eventually found a subsurface ocean that makes Europa more likely to harbor life than Mars. This inspired Arthur C. Clarke to eventually write three more novels, making Europa the central setting of the series.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Doctor Who story Revenge of the Cybermen, the Doctor refers to Jupiter having 13 moons (including the asteroid Voga, which was captured by Jupiter's orbit fifty years before the story's setting). Many more moons have since been discovered. In fact, Leda was discovered in September 1974 whereas the story was broadcast in early 1975, meaning Science Marched On between recording and transmission!
    • One of the novels attempts to Hand Wave this by saying that in the future the extra ones were destroyed as part of an effort to feng shui the Solar System in order to attract foreign investment.

Saturn

Film
  • In Gattaca Vincent claims that no one knows what the surface of Titan is like due to its dense cloud layer, and proudly states that his mission will be the first to discover what's really down there. Unfortunately he's a few decades too late as the Huygens probe landed on Titan in 2005 and photographed the surface.

Literature
  • John Varley's Titan starts off a trilogy with the characters' excitement at having discovered the twelfth moon of Saturn. Today it's known that Saturn has at least sixty-two moons, not counting hundreds of "moonlets" embedded in its rings.

Pluto:

Literature
  • Amusingly, some stories predicted Pluto's demotion long before it happened; Larry Niven's "The Borderlands Of Sol", despite containing quantum black holes (see below), demoted Pluto to a loose moon of Neptune.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Stargate Atlantis episode, "Brain Storm", Rodney goes to a meeting of scientists. The real Neil deGrasse Tyson (i.e. the guy largely responsible for Pluto's demotion) played himself as Rodney's enemy at University. Rodney sneers "Way to make all the little kids cry, Neil. Does that make you feel like a big man?"
  • The Star Trek: Voyager episode "Distant Origin" features a race of dinosaurs who escaped Earth prior to the K-T Event millions of years ago. The few things that they remember of the Solar System were the "nine moons" which is a reference to what, at the time of airing, were our nine planets. Less than ten years later, Pluto received its official demotion, in part because other bodies have been found on the fringes of similar mass. If a space-faring people counted in Pluto, they might be expected to have more than nine.

Video Games
  • Pluto got demoted during the development of Mass Effect 1, and Bioware never really got to fixing that. Mass Effect 2 corrects this by calling Pluto an "ice dwarf" and not showing its orbit. It's still more important in-universe than even the regular planets because it's orbited by the Charon Relay.
  • In Fallout 2, there's a puzzle to which the answer is to pick options in order of which planet is furthest from the Earth (Plutonium, Neptunium, etc). Pluto's still the furthest on the list, but it's now the only non-planet. On the other hand, the Fallout-verse runs on SCIENCE! rather than actual science.
    • Especially amusing since Pluto's orbit is such that it is not always the furthest out. There are lengthy portions of timenote  where Neptune is further out than Pluto.
    • Furthermore, at the time Fallout 2 was released, Pluto was closer to the sun than Neptune was. But it wasn't in the time period in which Fallout 2 takes place.
  • In Star Control II the Sol (i.e. Earth) system includes Pluto (complete with a regular, "flat" orbit) as the ninth planet. Fwiffo mentions that it's as far away as he could get from Earth while still technically keeping his post in the system, when in fact there would be plenty of more distant Kuiper Belt objects on which to park his ship.
    • The Kuiper Belt was discovered in 1992, the year the game was released, and the Pluto-sized Kuiper body Eris not until 2005.

Western Animation
  • Futurama, set in the 3000s, depicts Pluto as having only one moon. We know in 2013 that Pluto actually has five moons.
    • Given the events that have transpired in that universe, including Earth being conquered by aliens twice, it's not unlikely that something has happened to Pluto and its moons as well.
    • Though Hydra is mentioned in the fourth movie.

Multiple
  • The Great Astronomy Mess Up, namely the demotion of Pluto to dwarf planet status (and the lesser-known promotion of Ceres and Eris from asteroid to dwarf planet status), dealt quite a blow to stories in which Pluto was still called a planet in the future, such as Star Trek. (It also caused countless jokes about Sailor Pluto getting fired or demoted.) Not all astronomers are happy with the classification; it's quite possible that it might change back at some point in the future. This is scant comfort to Twenty Minutes into the Future shows, though...
    • Interestingly, Nicholson Hall at Louisiana State University (home of the school's astronomy department and the Landolt Astronomical Observatory) has a stucco medallion above the south east entrance which depicts the eight "official" planets and their symbols. The building was built in 1937, seven years after Pluto's discovery, but while it was still languishing in categorical limbo. Luckily, the dwarf planet's reclassification in 2006 rendered the contemplation of changing the mural moot (although unfortunately, renovations have made that particular entrance rather inconvenient and unnoticed).
    • The countless discoveries of the "tenth planet" in various works of fiction, which would now be only counted as the ninth (and the existence of such a planet is now considered very unlikely anyway). Sailor Moon (where it's called Nemesis), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Persephone, to go with Pluto, but more commonly referred to as Rupert), Alf (Alvin), Doctor Who (Mondas, the Cybermen's home planet), and many, many others.
      • In fact, the issue of Pluto's classification was forced by the discovery of an object that was both larger and more distant and was thus immediately labeled by the media as the solar system's tenth planet.
    • The Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Before Dishonor hung a lampshade on this; two characters discuss how Pluto has been promoted and demoted ten times in three hundred years, and one of them asks, "can't they make up their damned minds?" They then note it's no longer an issue after the extra giant Borg cube FREAKIN' EATS PLUTO!.
    • One interesting thing to come out of the Pluto demotion is that the number of planets in The Planets by Holst is correct again. Not that people haven't tried creating a movement for Pluto.
    • The Pluto-as-dwarf-planet debate got lampshaded late in Super Robot Wars W. Towards the end of the 11 Planetary Masters of Sol plot thread, the members of Neue Waerter are talking about how many planets there are in the Solar System and Pluto is initially left out of the count.
      • Waaay before that, the character discuss how there's 8 planets but there used to be a 9th one. However, nobody can remember Pluto's name. However, Pluto gets the last laugh, because it's right next to it where the Original Generation villains have parked their hideout. You even get to see Pluto on the second to last battle's map.
    • Lexx identifies Pluto as a planet, but, in its defense, it does have to think about it for a second, and qualifies its final planet count with a "maybe".
    • In Ben 10: Alien Force, the episodic villain blows up Pluto cause he could. Ben shows shock at them destroying Planet Pluto, only to be corrected by the alien power he's supposed to be using (long story) that it's a dwarf planet.
    • Depictions of Pluto that not only portray it as a planet but as one that is completely and utterly different from the big ball of ice we know it as today, Yuggoth from The Whisperer in Darkness being one of them.
    • Although the confusion is primarily a result of reclassification rather than actual new data, one of the reasons why it got called a planet when it first was found was that it was thought to be a fair bit bigger than it actually was. Its size got down-graded several times over the decades.
    • They tried so hard to make the Pioneer plaque timeless and universal, but oops, they showed nine planets. It'd be a bit hard to go back and fix it now. (It also only shows Saturn with rings. Within ten years of its launch, it was discovered that Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune have rings as well, though less visible ones.)
    • There was a wave of Sailor Moon fanart depicting Sailor Pluto being angry at the reclassification, or dismissed from the Sailor Senshi because of it.
    • Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls was created back when Pluto was still considered a planet. Pluto is still a character and is still treated like a planet in official media but the official blog for the series shows that Pluto is well-aware she's no longer a planet. And she reacted as expected from her.
    • Lampshaded in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, in which the Planet Master, a villain with powers relating to the planets, unleashes the "Cold of Pluto", only to be reminded that Pluto is no longer a planet. Planet Master is not pleased.
    • Orbit, a webcomic about anthropomorphised planets, was written after Pluto's demotion. Pluto was so shocked by being demoted that he went insane from grief.

Other Astronomy:

Anime
  • GunBuster (written in 1988) featured an expanded solar system with several more (very large) planets beyond Pluto's orbit (Lucifer, Metis, Kaminatsuki, Jupiter II) and a counter-star to the Sun, called "Nemesis". Modern astronomers have rather conspicuously failed to find any more non-dwarf planets beyond Pluto, and certainly not a counter-sun.

Film
  • Avatar put its fictional world, Pandora, beyond the well-charted regions of the solar system yet within reach with mostly realistic technology in the movie's timeframe - it's a moon orbiting a fictional gas giant Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri system. Being so close to the cutting edge means that it doesn't take long for science to march on - as of now, the evidence points to the absence of any gas giants, and if there are any planets there at all, they're small rocky ones.
    • As of October 2012, an Earth-sized planet has been confirmed to exist orbiting Alpha Centauri B.
  • A New Hope: Despite being in the Goldilocks Belt, the gas giant Yavin looks like it has the wrong clouds and atmosphere.

Literature
  • The climactic scenes of another Asimov novel, The Stars, Like Dust, take place on a type of planet (breatheable atmosphere and Earthlike gravity, but no organic life or liquid water) which later science determined was extremely unlikely to exist in the real world. Later editions of the book contained an afterword by Asimov, apologizing to the reader for the error and stating he hadn't been able to find a way to correct it without rewriting the entire climax.
  • William Hope Hodgson's The Night Land is built around the premise that the Sun would cease to shine sometime in the distant future. This idea was actually accepted as scientific fact at the time the book was written-based upon the idea that the Sun got its luminosity from chemical fuel compressed by gravity, and that said source would run out in a few million years. Then came along the idea of nuclear fusion...
  • Asimov's Lucky Starr books were juvenile novels written to teach kids what the solar system is like. Since they were written, almost everything in them has been revealed as incorrect. In newer editions, Asimov included a preface to each story which gave the currently correct information. Some of which is wrong again by now.
  • Another Asimov example: the plot of The Currents of Space was based around a theory that stars go nova as a result of runaway nuclear fusion catalyzed by clouds of carbon atoms. Like many of his other stories, when this was proved incorrect Asimov included an afterword explaining the error, as well as the science behind the new scientifically accepted theory, but pointed out that he could not change the story without re-writing the entire plot..
  • Some Larry Niven stories include mention of the Moon's gravity "skimming off" some of the Earth's atmosphere, without which it would be as inhabitable as Venus. This was later discredited, and is noted in his collections.
  • Solaris uses science and technology that was cutting-edge when the book was written, but which has since become either incredibly outdated or has been outright contradicted.
  • The hypothesis that the Asteroid Belt was the remnants of an exploded planet was not disproven until the late 1960s (when it was figured out that adding up all the asteroids would still make something smaller than our own moon). Hence a lot of authors such as Asimov, Heinlein, etc. presented this as fact, even having characters find physical evidence in the Belt of a civilization that once lived on it.
    • That's lifted almost exactly from a series of books written in 1977, 1978 and 1981 by James P Hogan called Inherit the Stars, The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, and Giants' Star. Minerva was the planet, the Lunarians were the survivors of a nuclear war that blew it apart. The big chunk became Pluto; the rest formed the Asteroid Belt.
    • Jennifer Fallon's Tide Lords series also makes use of this trope despite being published in 2008.
    • Also used in Robert Rankin's The Brentford Triangle (“Where's the fucking planet gone?”) - this being Rankin, it's justified by Rule Of Mind Screw.
    • In Doctor Who, the Fourth Doctor once faced off with an alien menace from the Fifth Planet. It was explained that this race was so dangerous that the Time Lords “time looped” the planet, making it never have existed. But an alien survived.
    • Similar to the asteroid belt theory, Varley's Titan suggests that Saturn's rings are the remnants of a moon that shattered because giant living space stations kept using it as a nursery.
      • And in more science marching on, although it wasn't because of living space stations, a paper has modeled the origin of the rings as the breakup of a large moon which had its ice layers stripped off as it plunged into the planet.
    • Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land has the fifth planet being blown up in the distant past by the otherwise generally peaceful, slow to act, but decisive Martians, who deemed its inhabitants a threat to them. Oh, and the main character is their unknowing envoy to Earth, so they can decide what needs to be done with Earth.
    • In Heinlein's Space Cadet it is discovered that the intelligent natives destroyed their planet through a nuclear war and created the asteroid belt.
    • The idea still pops up every now and then (one of the entries above mentions a 2008 novel, the early 90s Empire from the Ashes series establishes that there used to be another planet rather than an asteroid belt there, and so on). If nothing else, some of the examples can be handwaved as the event that caused the shift from planet to asteroids being far more destructive to the planet then merely blowing it apart in macro-scale chunks.
    • The idea even pops up in Final Fantasy IV, of all places, where the Lunarians are said to have originally inhabited the now-obliterated planet that orbited between "the red planet" and the "Great Behemoth". The original English translation explicitly calls these planets "Mars" and "Jupiter".
    • There is supposed to be research that indicates that if you could get an energetic enough explosion to blast apart a rocky planet, it would probably leave only about 1% of the original mass in the same orbital area. However, models of planetary accretion that assume a gas giant near the inner edge of the zone where water ice can exist (about where Jupiter is) show that a planet would be unable to form in the region of the asteroid belt in the first place. In this age of copious of extrasolar planet discovery, accretion models see constant revisions, considering the inherently chaotic nature of the many-body orbital problem. Time will tell as Science Marches On.
  • Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain" uses the fanciful premise that unscreened radiations present in space would leave space travelers in unbearable pain, such that only condemned criminals whose sensory nerves had been cut could function there. Turns out it doesn't take much more than a sheet of gold foil to block such potential threats.
  • In Melisa Michael's Skyrider, the protagonist lives in the Belt and is constantly dodging rocks, requiring excellent flying to get through rocks and hiding from the patrol in a dense patch of rocks. Unfortunately the asteroid Belt is just not dense enough. Even in the densest part, if you were standing on one rock you wouldn't be able to see a single other rock.
  • Frank Herbert's Dune is set on Arrakis, a planet with some indigenous complex life that orbits the star Canopus. At the time it was written, Canopus was thought to be only around 60 to 100 light years away (due to the more rudimentary methods of measuring parallaxes), and thus a star much more luminous than the Sun but perhaps still plausible for harboring a planet with evolved life forms. We now know that, at over 300 light years away, it is a supergiant with a luminosity 15,000 times the Sun's, and thus almost certainly from the massive, blue end of the main sequence (before it became a yellow-white (F) supergiant) and thus perhaps only a few tens of millions of years old—hardly enough time for life to evolve, at least the way we understand the process.
  • Heinlein figured out how to get something to navigate within the solar system back in the 1950s in his juvenile novel The Rolling Stones, by lining up the locations of known stars and mirrors to form a type of parallax to get your location, which is now used for satellites and probes for positioning. Since the novel was printed in serialized chapter format within the Boy Scouts of America's Boy's Life magazine, it was intended as an interesting intellectual exercise (land navigation being a skill that was heavily stressed with the Boy Scouts). He also mentioned that the health benefits of zero-g (itself a mistaken term, now replaced with microgravity) were well known. These days, long term exposure to microgravity is well known to be bad for one's long term health, and not just because of bone and muscle atrophy, but also because of the detrimental effects it has on the human immune system.
  • E. E. “Doc” Smith based the back story of his Lensman series on the idea of two galaxies (one being our Milky Way) passing through each other edge-on with both emerging relatively intact in the end (the gravitational fluxes caused therein giving birth to the intelligent life in those two galaxies). Late in the 20th century, evidence emerged that the cores of galaxies are massive, highly-condensed lumps of matter: Supermassive Black Holes. Given this new prevailing theory, Smith's concept cannot occur as the gravities of these cores would cause two converging galaxies to merge instead.
    • At the time he was writing, it was mainly thought that planets were the result of close encounters between passing stars in which the gravity of one star sucked a bunch of material up off the other one and left it hanging in space, where it condensed into planets; such encounters being extremely rare, there would only ever be one or two planets per galaxy supporting intelligent life at any given time. Thanks to the galactic interpassage, though, both our galaxy and Lundmark's Nebula would have experienced a huge number of such encounters, and would therefore be exceptions, hosting large numbers of life-supporting planets as required by the plot. Now, however, it is generally thought that the formation of planets goes along with the formation of the stars they orbit, as both condense out of the same cloud of interstellar matter, so nearly all stars in all galaxies have planets - in which situation the Eddorians would be spoilt for choice and could just as easily have settled in a galaxy so distant that even the Arisians wouldn't realise they were there.
  • When 51 Pegasi b, the first extrasolar planet orbiting a Sun-like star, was discovered its closeness to its star (seven times closer than Mercury's distance to the Sun) led the discoverers to suggest it was the stripped, solid, core of a brown dwarf -a body intermediate in mass between a star and a planet and unable to fuse hydrogen as a star- since at the time it was tought no planet so massive could orbit so close to a star (the rocky planet scenario was used for the Hal Clement's novel Exchange Rate). Today, after the discovery of hundreds of similar planets, it's thought 51 Pegasi is a gas giant planet as Jupiter, that ended orbiting so close after forming much farther away and migrating there.
  • In Search the Sky, by Frederik Pohl, Azor's sun has "an unpleasant bluish cast to it", and is therefore a low-end A star. Therefore Azor, as a Goldilocks planet, has to have a much longer year than Earth's. Yet Ms. Cavallo speaks of another FTL traveller who arrived "seventy-five years ago", and who died about the time Ross and Helena arrived. Even on the gerontocratic world of Gemser, people do not live that long.

Live-Action TV
  • When the DVD edition of Carl Sagan's documentary Cosmos: A Personal Voyage was released, it included an epilogue to each episode along with commentary explaining each point where the science discussed was not quite up to date or supplanted by new research. Surprisingly, the vast majority of the series stands the test of time.
  • The British quiz show QI. To explain, Stephen Fry hosts, with Alan Davies playing...some kind of straight man, or as straight as you can with four other comedians. A variety of questions are given to the panel, usually in some kind of conjunction with the letter of the season and topic of the episode, with points given for both correct answers and those that Stephen finds the most humorous. But the highlight is when somebody (usually Davies as the Butt Monkey) answers a question with what is considered the correct but is actually just the most well known, not correct. The most well known (and an example of this trope being used to humorous effect) is the question, "How many moons does the earth have?" Davies answers (rather resigned, knowing such an easy question can only be a setup) "One" and gets flashing lights, klaxons, and Stephen with "Sorry, that is incorrect. The correct answer, of course, is 2": Luna and Cruithne. The following season, Stephen asked the same question, which Davies then tries with the previous given correct answer. Incorrect. The answer had changed in the time between episodes: either it's "5", because they found three new Cruithne-like moons, or "1", because none of them count.
    • Cruithne is not gravitationally bound to the Earth, so it's genuinely not a moon despite displaying some interesting orbital behavior. QI was deliberately interpreting the word "moon" very loosely just to mess with its panelists.

Music
  • They Might Be Giants' edutainment CD Here Comes Science includes Why Does The Sun Shine? (The Sun Is A Mass Of Incandescent Gas), Their popular cover of a similar product from the 1950s, because it is a damned catchy tune and likely to capture kids' attention. In the interest of this trope, however, it is now followed by an updated version, Why Does The Sun REALLY Shine? (The Sun Is A Miasma Of Incandescent Plasma). As for the rest of the songs, only time will tell...

Theatre
  • In Hamlet, the line "Doubt thou the sun doth move" was written under the contemporary thinking that the sun revolves around the earth. It's not entirely wrong, though, since the sun does move around the centre of the galaxy.

Video Games
  • Most works of fiction depicting the Milky Way galaxy portray it as a regular spiral galaxy, a shape taken for granted given our understanding of it, however, there has been evidence discovered of (what we currently believe is) its true shape. Mass Effect is an example that portrays our galaxy as a barred spiral galaxy.
    • Speaking of Mass Effect, they also managed to avert this by making the player unable to visit the Solar System's nearby stars (like Alpha Centauri or Sirius), giving the handwave that "Mass Relays allow to colonize more suitable systems that are much farther", since it's very likely that in the next few years we will discover whether those stars have planets or not.
    • However they also fell into this when they show several planets orbiting blue giants, which were beforehand discovered that their enormous energy output would practically "evaporate" any large chunk of matter, inhibiting planetary formation.
    • One work that gets this right is the video for Insane Clown Posse's "Miracles".
    • Halo 3 also got this right, when showing a view of the Milky Way in the sky of the Ark.

This Very Wiki
  • The Stinger for The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, meant to underscore the similarities between the aliens' MO and that of Iago, opens with an unidentified alien addressing the villains as "Zarminian dogs". However the existence of Zarmina, aka Gliese 581g, has since been disproved.

Other
  • Originally, scientists thought that the universe will end when gravity finally stops the universe from expanding and making it collapse back on itself in a Big Crunch. However, new observations show that the opposite is true: the universe is and will eventually expand forever, and its expansion is actually accelerating due to the presence of dark energy, which gradually weakens gravity as it accumulates over time.

    Biology 
Anime and Manga
  • Mew Zakuro of Tokyo Mew Mew, for a short time, faced the same fate as Sailor Pluto: as of February 2008, the grey wolf (Canis lupus) was removed from the Red List, but sadly for it and luckily for her, it came back in October of the same year.
  • Gundam X has a scene in which the protagonists meet an extremely intelligent dolphin, and Jamil says that dolphins have no concept of killing their own species. Well, this was a popularly-believed theory, but it turns out that it couldn't be more wrong...

Literature
  • Isaac Asimov wrote a short story titled "Pâté de Foie Gras", which scientifically analyzed the goose that laid the golden eggs, and asked readers to find solutions to the problem that since golden eggs can't hatch, there's no way to get more geese. In a comment years later, Asimov pointed out that advancing science caused there to be a better solution than the one he had originally intended.
    • For the curious, Asimov's solution was to feed the goose water with Oxygen-18 instead of the more common Oxygen-16, which due to the way he determined the gold production worked would cause the goose to produce gold at an accelerated rate until it was unable to continue, at which point it would produce regular eggs. The simpler solution which came later is to just clone it.
  • Multiple sci-fi works have used the theory of memory RNA to justify one character getting the memories of another. The experiment that supposedly proved the theory has since been discredited.
    • More than just memories in some cases. In several episodes of The Invisible Man series, the protagonist's invisibility gland takes over his personality with RNA injected in it. He essentially becomes that person.
  • A good portion of the 15th book of Ovid's Metamorphoses has Pythagoras giving a lecture on the fundamental role played by, well, metamorphoses in nature. In a matter of speaking, Ovid has laid the entire epic poem's thesis on this section. Naturally, almost all of Pythagoras' examples, pulled from science of the day, are complete bunk. For example: if you watch a horse's corpse a hornet will (always) come out of it (ostensibly because it turned into one).
  • Robert Heinlein again. In Starship Troopers the planet Sanctuary has very low radiation level and colonists supposedly risked to "stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them", but "it's a bit safer — leukemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there". While "more advanced" Terran wheat beats local weeds. There are problems. First, usual set of bugs with Evolutionary Levels. Second, while major radiation poisoning causes particular forms of cancer, there's no compelling reason to tie most cases to the normal radiation background. Third, a result of the previous two: conditions for evolutionary adaptation include gamma rays just like everything else, so modern radiobiology pulled the low end of the scale out of Oven Logic.note  E.g. rats grown (not even born) in a low radioactive background have health and development problems, thus some background seems desirable. Sanctuary's choice could boil down to "eat radioactive isotopes or slowly die out". There is some discussion in the book about detonating nuclear weapons on a regular basis to increase the background radiation, but there is a difference between steady but low-level radiation and acute, high levels.
    • An even more fundamental error: the main driving force behind evolution is competition for survival and for mates, the only needed force is a means for introducing genetic diversity (spontaneous mutation will occur without radiation present), and therefore Sanctuary will not be a stable island of unchanging organisms. All the details of DNA replication were not known in 1959, as its structure had been announced only in 1953.
      • In Starship Troopers at least these could be in-universe mistakes made by the protagonist, who is narrating the story in the first person. While he's a top-notch Space Marine and definitely not stupid, he is explicitly stated not to be strong in science (particularly mathematics).
    • Stars!, on the other hand, got it: whether gravity, temperature or radiation on a planet are out of the species' acceptable band to either side, you're in the same amount of trouble.
  • A curious example of this comes from Juvenal's satires, which brought us many still popular phrases and concepts such as 'Bread and Circuses' to keep the masses happy, wishing for 'a sound mind in a sound body' or asking 'Who Watches the Watchmen??'. He also coined the phrase of a 'rare bird in the land' such as 'black swan' meaning to him a nonexistent thing. For many centuries afterwards and in many languages the phrase meant something that did not exist until somebody discovered a black swan in Australia. The phrase changed its meaning and nowadays is used to describe an idea based on a hypotheses that can be disproven by a single counterexample or are extremely hard to predict or anticipate events that throw everything into chaos.
  • Alan Dean Foster's Midworld, from 1975, makes ample use of the then-popular notion that a rain forest's ecosystem was sharply divided into "levels", top to bottom. This concept is now downplayed in ecology, as it's turned out that very few species are actually restricted to one "level", and this mode of thinking had ignored numerous other factors of topography and microclimate that can impact a forest's environment just as much. (The 1995 sequel, Mid-Flinx, makes almost no mention of "levels", indicating Foster has Marched On along with the science.)
  • In Edwards Le Comte's autobiographical work In and Out of the University and Adversity, Edward, who had brown eyes, was told in 1934 by someone looking at a color photo of his mother that he must have had a brown-eyed father. When he asked why, the woman said because two people with blue eyes cannot conceive someone with brown eyes, and that "Biology doesn't lie. People may." She seemed to have noticed his alarm because the next time she saw him, she informed him that he actually had hazel eyes. Nevertheless, in the following years he would from time to time ask people he met what color his eyes were. However, he seems to have come to terms with the question by the time the book was written (in 2001), writing that, "Half my heredity is a blank. At eighty what matter?"
    • We now know that two people with blue eyes can produce a child with brown eyes, as eye colour is not determined simply by one gene. It's actually quite common for a blue-eyed person to carry a gene for brown eyes that can be passed on to his or her children.
  • In James Blish's novella "Surface Tension," the protagonists are genetically engineered humans the size of large protozoa (one hundredth of an inch), living in a puddle of water. In the introduction setting up the story, we hear one of the genetic engineers say that the people can be so small and still be intelligent because their cells are the size of viruses. When the story was written, we did not realize viruses are not cells.
  • In Cherry Ames: Cruise Nurse, a little boy shows Cherry his stuffed panda. She pities him, because he had asked for a "teddy bear", and his grandmother had given him a panda, which "isn't even a bear." Since the 1940's, during which the book was written, DNA tests have proven that pandas are in fact bears.
  • In Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis writes that Reepicheep wanting his tail back was mainly a matter of mouse pride. This book was written in the 1950's- before it was known that mouse tails helped regulate body temperature.
    • Then, with their greater size, talking mice probably had to have their temperature regulation jiggled a bit too.
  • In the Lord Peter Wimsey story "The Image in the Mirror," a left/right inverted man is experiencing mysterious circumstances. Finding that the man is inverted, Wimsey infers that he must have a opposite (an Evil Opposite) twin who is causing all the mystery and cites experiments with salamander eggs tied off with threads. The experiments were real and important in understanding how the left/right gradient is formed. However, while left/right inverted twins do exist they are vanishingly rare. Most twins are not left/right inverts and most left/right inverts are not twins.
  • In The Tar-Aiym Krang, Flinx's adoptive parent Mother Mastiff is said to resemble the Terran canine, both in appearance and in her irascible, unfriendly personality. While this may have been the stereotype for the breed back in 1972, when Krang was published, breeders already saw this as a negative trait for mastiffs even then, and most mastiffs today are calm, good-natured, and easy-going animals.
  • In the Ringworld series, Chmee the kzinti is de-aged by a variant of boosterspice, then confronted with the fact he won't be able to prove his identity if he returns home. Larry Niven wrote this before DNA testing had been established as a legally-valid means of identification. (And yes, kzinti must have DNA, as nearly all organic life in Niven's Known Space series evolved from the same strain of yeast.)

Live-Action TV
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Violations" Geordi and Data are discussing human memories, and explicitly state that memories are stored as RNA molecules in the brain. Although we still do not know exactly how memory functions, we can by now fairly safely say that our memories are not stored as individual strings of RNA.

Webcomics

Real Life
  • Any discussion of "pack dynamics" in wolves (Julie of the Wolves comes to mind.) Modern research has shown that wolf packs are more or less nuclear families, with the "alpha" male and female simply being the parents of the rest of the pack. They still let strangers in, but it's mostly based on one family.
  • Any depiction of dolphins or other whales mating for life. A nice romantic notion in its day, but it turns out they're promiscuous breeders at best and into sexual harassment or gang rape at worst.
  • The dynamics of various animal groups are far too complex to go into here, but suffice to say that none of them fit the antiquated view of herds as roughly mirroring human social groups, with an alpha male leader who calls all the shots. In many polygynous species the "alpha male" is (in effect) nothing more than a walking sperm bank.
  • For the longest time, people believed snakes to be deaf since they had no external ears. It's now been shown that snakes can hear to an extent (to what extent is unknown) by picking up vibrations from the air or ground through their bodies and processing them through the inner-ear. In fact, loud noises can actually cause stress to snakes.
  • Taxonomy runs into a lot of problems with this trope. Due to a complicated hierarchy and scientific species names based on species' places in the hierarchy (i.e. the binomial nomenclature of Genus species), every time new information on evolutionary lineage is discovered, binomial names or the bigger groupings higher up in the ranking may have to change and go obsolete (see the Brontosaurus example in Paleontology and Anthropology's section below for the exception to this rule). It's confusing enough to change the old lineages, but that's the way of science—but changing the names of species is simply confusing. There is currently a campaign attempting to abolish the binomial system and give each species an unchanging monomial name.
    • This problem largely arose with introduction of genetic studies; before that, taxonomy was largely based on morphology. Modern molecular biology has shown that many taxa previously thought to be monophyletic (that is, sharing a common ancestor that's not also the ancestor of anything outside that taxon) are actually just examples of convergent evolution.
    • Genetic studies also introduced problems in that not all taxa are equal. Let's take the most well-known example - the different groups of vertebrates (Kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata), such as Mammalia, Reptilia, Aves (birds), and Amphibia. The problem here is that they didn't diverge at the same time, and so these groups are not a dependable way to distinguish amount of genetic difference, i.e. what actually differentiates species. The common ancestral species of amphibians diverged from the common mammal-reptile ancestor before mammals and reptiles diverged from each other, and birds are technically a subset of reptiles according to genetics, only considered different due to morphology. Therefore, if the proper way to denote an amphibian is Animalia Chordata Amphibia etc. etc., the proper way to denote a bird while still maintaining accuracy would be Animalia Chordata Reptilia-Mammalia Reptilia Aves. That's a mess, and we're only up to the class! Likewise, within mammals, the common ancestor of monotremes (such as platypi) diverged from the placental-marsupial common ancestor before placentals (e.g. humans, dogs) and marsupials (e.g. kangaroos) diverged from each other, making them not on the same level. For these reasons, classical taxonomy is beginning to be abandoned.
  • One of the unspoken justifications for early "Lost World" fiction was the tacit belief that God wouldn't really allow any of His creations to be killed off entirely, so there must be some hidden region where organisms that had vanished from the landscape were still around. Only as more and more species were wiped off the map by humans and an ever-growing variety of fossils were discovered did the idea that extinction was a real phenomenon take hold, relegating the notion of such isolated refugia to Speculative Fiction.

    Chemistry 
Comic Books
  • Tom Strong references this trope and uses it in a Post Modern sort of way: Tom comments that scientists proved that “liquid heat” could not exist after his nemesis Paul Saveen had successfully created it. The wink at this trope seems like Alan Moore making a statement about how everything is fair game in a story until science disproves it, and writers need not be ashamed of using a cool idea that was later discredited.
    • Which is supported by similar events in his run on Supreme, where Billy Friday points out various scientific or logical flaws in Supreme's past adventures, seemingly ignorant of the fact that they still happened just the same.

Literature
  • In an H. G. Wells novel, The First Men in the Moon, gravity is said to be travel as waves that can be blocked by a phlebotinum alloy of metals and helium called “cavorite.” This is how they get to the moon.
    • Jules Verne complained about the gravity blocking metal, calling Wells a hack for not taking science seriously enough. On the other hand, there is a book from as late as the 70's calling Wells' conception of time as a fourth dimension ridiculous, and, though Wells himself couldn't have known it at the time, relativity and quantum physics have since given credence to the idea of gravity waves and a graviton particle. We still haven't found any Hive Minded alien insects on the moon, or gravity-repelling metal alloy, though.
      • Also, Verne had to hand-wave away a basic problem with the physics of his moon-shot launching system (the acceleration required to reach escape velocity within the length of a gun barrel would reduce the passengers to chunky salsa). Although it seems that this was due to Hetzel, Verne's publisher, who thought a self propelled rocket wasn't believable (or maybe cool) enoughto the audience. Hence the problem which had to be explained away.
    • The basic physical considerations (like energy conservation law) suggest that all the energy obtained from canceling gravity must somehow be introduced into the system in some other way — most probably, during the manuacture of the very gravity-canceling material, which would make it hideously impractical, if not outright impossible, in the first place.
  • The original Buck Rogers novelette had a form of antimatter called "inertron" that flew towards the nearest vacuum rather than explode.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Slithering Shadows", gems fused with radium glow — except that the light can be turned on and off by rubbing them.

Live-Action TV
  • New radioactive elements are being synthesized, which may only last as much as a millionth of a second before they decay. They have been granted official names and chemical symbols, causing at least one incident of an inaccurate periodic table of elements being portrayed in Star Trek.
    • Lampshaded in Tom Lehrer song "The Elements", in which Lehrer sings the names of the different elements of the periodic table (at the time the song was written). He ends with the following: "These are the only ones of which the news have come to Harvard, and there may be many others, but they haven't been dis-kah-vd".
    • An in-universe case of this happens in Singularity; when the Russians discover a unique element with properties that put most Phlebotinum to shame, they classify it as Element 99, or "E99," and you can even see some periodic tables in the labs printed shortly thereafter with E99 in the correct place, and highlighted. Despite this, the research is very secretive, and the discovery is made before Einsteinium, the element that actually goes into that spot. Shortly before the discovery of Einsteinium is made public, the research into E99 is shut down and completely buried, so the rest of the scientific world has Einsteinium as 99 in their periodic tables.
  • In both the Star Trek episodes "The Naked Time" and "The Naked Now", both episodes' versions of the Enterprise comes under the influence of polywater, a syrup-like form of water created from massive compression of normal water that has a lower freezing temperature (which allowed it to stay fluid despite the environmental controls on the space stations the substance was on being set to freeze everyone onboard to death) and the ability to convert any other water it touches into more of itself (leading to the "drunken" states of anyone "infected" with it). Thing is, while polywater was debated as a viable substance in the 1960s (when "The Naked Time" was made), by time "The Naked Now" was shot, it has since been proven to be bogus (forcing a rather awkward change of the term used to describe the substance from a water to a virus).
  • QI had en episode where Dara O'Briain remembers and states the "Triple point of water" where water exists in all three states of matter, which was 0 degrees of celcius. Two series later the viewers at home had apparently sent in so many letters correcting him which had been adjusted to 0.01 degrees. They deducted points from his then-current score.

Video Games
  • The original XCOM game introduced the alien element Elerium-115, so called because it is supposedly the 115th element on the periodic table. This was perfectly feasible when the game originally came out, but the 115th element has since been discovered. It has a thoroughly boring name (Ununpentium) because it hasn't officially been named yet, but it is known that it would not display any of the properties of Elerium shown in the game (particularly the stability). There is a campaign to name Ununpentium Elerium, though.

Real Life
  • Not SF, but Older Than Radio: Dr Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and surgeon general of the Continental Army, was also a temperance activist. In 1784, he published An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and Their Influence upon the Happiness of Society, describing the negative physical and social effects of distilled liquor such as rum and whiskey ... but fermented drinks like beer were good, because they didn't have the same type of alcohol as distilled drinks. (To be fair, Rush couldn't exactly do a chemical analysis to see that ethanol is ethanol. He was having to go off the way people acted after a few mugs.)
    • The same idea was expressed decades earlier by William Hogarth in two prints. The better-known one (and likely Hogarth's best-known work) is "Gin Lane", and shows the very real horrors brought to London by the trade in cheap gin. The lesser-known print, "Beer Street", shows the benefits of good English ale. This being Hogarth, nothing is quite as clear-cut as it seems; some critics believe that aspects of the prints point to Hogarth blaming the despair and poverty seen in Gin Lane on the smug and self-satisfied inhabitants of Beer Street.
  • Look no further than old chemistry texts for good examples of this. General Chemistry by the great Linus Pauling and a former standard first-year text has element 104 on its periodic table as kurchatovium; you might perhaps know it as rutherfordium. (A number of transfermic elements suffered from dueling names for decades during the Cold War; for instance, element 105, now called dubnium, was referred to as "hahnium" and "nielsbohrnium" by American and Soviet chemists respectively, and many periodic tables simply called it "unnilpentium" until a consensus was achieved.) For fundamental particles, it makes reference to there being eight each baryons and antibaryons (there are considerably more), eight mesons and antimesons (again, more), eight leptons and antileptons (there are twelve, six each), and lists the graviton, which is entirely theoretical. In many other respects, however, it's entirely accurate to a modern understanding.

    Geology 
Film
  • The film Crack in the World, whose creators prided themselves on scientific accuracy, had the extreme misfortune to be released in 1964, very shortly before the phenomenon of tectonic plates was confirmed. This instantly made the film's premise of the Earth having a completely solid crust which is endangered when it develops a crack quite laughable.
  • The original Total Recall (1990). Mars having an ice core was pure fiction when the film came out, but later studies proved it to be partially Truth in Television. The latest research and pictures taken from satellites have proven that there actually is ice right under the surface in some areas of Mars.
    • On the other hand, there is still a pretty huge difference between "ice right under the surface of some areas" and "ice core".

Literature
  • H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness got it right by going against conventional scientific belief when he uses continental drift at a time when most geologists didn't accept the idea. Subsequent scientific marching has proved the story mostly right on this point. But he got it wrong when he wrote about continents rising and sinking from the ocean. He also wrote that the Pacific ocean had been created when the moon was separated from Earth, and that parts of the Antarctic had remained unchanged for almost 4 billion years. And the aliens in the story (as well as in Whispers in the Dark) could travel between planets by flying through æther. Later Cthulhu Mythos stories typically retcon the Elder Things' space flight as their wings being biological solar sails.
  • In several of his novels (Around the Moon, The Mysterious Island), Jules Verne states through his characters his conviction that the Earth is getting colder as its core is dying, and that in a few hundred thousand years it will be as cold as the moon. Earth's core is indeed getting colder, as the heat is at least partly produced by decay of radioactive material. However it would take longer than the current age of the universe for it to cool down completely.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth is a story about men of science journeying to the center of the planet that was written before any definite theories were made in regards to Earth's interior. The book (and subsequent film adaptations) depicted the center of the Earth as a large ocean in a world inhabited by long-extinct prehistoric life forms, which is accessible through a series of caverns starting with an extinct volcano. On the other hand, the narrator, Axel, who is a geology student, repeatedly lampshades how incompatible is their journey with then current scientific theories. More an example of the Rule of Cool and Artistic License - Geology.
  • In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Watson ponders the Neolithic stone artifacts of Dartmoor and feels a bit sorry for their builders, whom he presumes had been forced onto such poor land by aggressive neighbors. It's now understood that millennia of human agriculture created the acidic soil conditions in Devon, which had previously been covered in forests.

Live-Action TV
  • The earthquake episode of Spike TV's Surviving Disaster takes place in a city along the New Madrid fault line, a fault in the midwestern US that the host claims scientists were predicting was far overdue for a big shake (it hasn't had a big shake since 1812) and would receive one in the next couple of years. It aired in late 2009, but it's clear that it took its info from an assessment made in 2008, because in 2009, two studies were made (one on the same month that the episode aired) that gave convincing evidence that the fault line was shutting down, and would hence never have the kind of devastating quake predicted by the episode.
    • That's still up for debate. Another possibility mentioned in the same article is that the strain is accumulating elsewhere, perhaps in another local fault that hasn't been discovered yet. The USGS has also said that ten years of direct measurement isn't enough to persuade them to ignore the 4,500 year history of large earthquakes in the area.

    Geography 
Literature
  • California (!) was originally a literary invention, a golden island full of amazons in various adventure novels written in 16th century Spain (the same novels Don Quixote mocked). When some land was eventually named California by the Spanish (inspired by the books), the idea it was an island persisted in many maps up through the late 17th and early 18th century.
  • L. Frank Baum's Land of Oz (if you piece together the clues) appears to be in the deserts of the American Southwest in the first books, but as the series went on, it got shifted to a Pacific Island of some kind, within the author's lifetime, to escape this trope.

Multiple
  • The Lost World — even Magical Land — is situated just outside the bounds of known geography. Geography tramples all over these and has for millennia.
    • The Trope Namer, The Lost World, whilst falling afoul of this trope six ways from Sunday in most other aspects of its plot, actually manages to just barely dodge this one through the narrator being intentionally vague about its location and geography.

    Mathematics 
Literature
  • Martin Gardner's short story The Island Of Five Colors is about the - then unproved - Four Color Theorem being proven false. Since the theorem has been proven true in Real Life, the story is no longer included in later collections, and Gardner claimed that "the tale is now as dated as a story about Martians or about the twilight zone of Mercury".

Live-Action TV
  • A 1989 episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation refers to Fermat's Last Theorem, a then-350-year-old unsolved problem in mathematics, as being still unproven in the 24th century. Five years later it actually was proven.
    • This was referenced in some dialog from an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, probably to address the earlier gaffe.
    • Fermat's Last Theorem was indeed proven in 1995 — but it was done using advanced mathematical techniques invented in the 19th and 20th centuries of which Fermat could not have known. Fermat's original "truly marvelous" proof remains a mystery — though there is reason to believe that if he had indeed discovered a simple proof, he later realised that it was flawed, abandoned work on it when the flaws proved irreparable, and then disposed of the workings some time before he died.
    • The same is true in an even earlier Russian children's book series about a teen-sized android named Elektronik. A young math whiz in class proves Fermat's Last Theorem for 600 different cases over the summer break and presents it to his teacher. His 8th grade teacher is skeptical but agrees it looks promising. The notebook with the proof is then put near a flashlight supposedly run by a perpetual motion device and forgotten. The boy who wrote the proof later takes the notebook and destroys it.

     Medicine and Health 
Anime and Manga
  • The Medical Drama Iryu Team Medical Dragon revolves around the Batista procedure, which reduces the size and volume of an enlarged heart. While the procedure may have been considered promising when the original manga was written (mid-1990s), by the time the Live-Action Adaptation came around in 2004 the procedure's effectiveness had been largely discredited.
  • In one episode of Yakitate!! Japan, Azuma and Kawachi were tasked to develop a butter-less bread that could be eaten safely by those allergic to milk. Azuma completed his task by using goat milk in his butter. While it was once believed that goat milk could safely be consumed by those allergic to cow milk due to its lack of alpha-s1 casein, this has since been debunked since goat milk contains other milk allergens, i.e. beta-lactoglobulin and immunoglobulin-E, which would trigger cross-reactivity in people allergic to cow milk.

Comic Books
  • In Camelot 3000, Sir Tristan's constant angsting about having been reincarnated as a woman seems bizarre in a series set a thousand years in the future. Apparently, doctors in that Verse were too busy finding ways to turn dissidents into Neo-Men to bother developing gender-reassignment surgery.

Film
  • Parodied as long ago as the 1973 Woody Allen movie Sleeper, a Rip Van Winkle comedy in which the protagonist wakes up in 200 years to discover, among other things, that wheat germ is bad for you and deep fat, steak, cream pies, and hot fudge were health food and cigarettes were the healthiest thing on the planet.
  • In the 1950's scifi classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), two doctors sit and discuss Klaatu's race's amazing health care - as they both smoke cigarettes inside the hospital.
  • In UHF in the restaurant scene at the very beginning, you can see a sign saying that they cook all of their meat medium with a pink center unless otherwise specified. This was in 1989 and not a joke, as it was before the 1993 Jack-in-the-Box E coli disaster in which four children died and hundreds of others became sick in the Seattle area as well as California, Idaho and Nevada, after eating undercooked and contaminated meat from Jack in the Box. These days all meat in fast food restaurants is cooked well done, while in dine-in restaurants, the menus have mandatory warnings against eating undercooked meats. This way no one eats undercooked meat unless they ask for it (and many restaurants have a required minimum cooking temperature as well), thus keeping the restaurant from being sued.
  • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, released in 1982 and set in 2285, Kirk receives reading glasses from McCoy because he's allergic to the drug that's normally prescribed for vision correction, implying there is no other option to fix Kirk's eyes. Within 3 decades of the film's release, and over two and half centuries before the film is set, laser corrective surgery of vision is a routine procedure.

Literature
  • L. Frank Baum's Oz book The Patchwork Girl of Oz features a subterranean race called the Horners who attribute all the wonders of their society and long-lasting good health to a miracle substance called radium. Made all the more tragic by the many, many real-life cases of anemia and cancer due to people actually believing radium, a radioactive element, was a cure for everything — some people even brushed their teeth with radium-laced toothpaste.
  • The Dracula Tape, Fred Saberhagen's snarky Perspective Flip of Bram Stoker's Dracula, hangs a lampshade on the fact that Lucy Westenra receives blood transfusions from four different people. The initial scientific discovery of blood type groups came four years after the original novel was published, so Saberhagen's Count — as something of an expert on matters of blood by necessity — turns her into a vampire only to save her from immediate death brought on by the inevitable complications, of which van Helsing's companions, if not necessarily the doctor himself, were blissfully unaware. (It's actually implied that van Helsing, a rather less heroic figure in the retelling, may have inadvertently killed other patients in this fashion before.)

Live-Action Television
  • An example concerns the discussion of anti-bacterial hand soaps, which carried over onto episodes of ER, Scrubs, and House. When the soaps came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s, nobody bothered to do the research to see if they worked better at killing germs than regular soap. It turns out that various studies have suggested little relative benefit. Additionally, it has been suggested that overuse of anti-bacterial soap is promoting resistance to Triclosan, the active ingredient, and has the potential to promote development of resistance to similar antibiotics.
  • Invoked in the television series M*A*S*H. In "The Red/White Blues", everyone was supposed to take chloroquine to prevent malaria. By mistake, primaquine was sent instead, but this causes anemia in black people. When Klinger and another Caucasian (Corp. Goldman, who is Jewish) suddenly got strange symptoms, they were found to be anemic; the doctors eliminated all but the medicine. Klinger and Goldman were fine once they stopped taking it. The credits mentioned the medicine was later found to also negatively affect those of Mediterranean descent.
    • In a non-invoked example, Frank once voiced an intention to remove a patient's perfectly-healthy appendix, simply because the abdominal surgery he was performing gave him access to it. While this was once a common practice to avert the (low) risk of future appendicitis, it's now known that the appendix plays a role in immunity and in maintaining the bacterial flora in the event of severe diarrhea, so is no longer done merely as a precaution.
      • Some doctors still take out the appendix "because it's there".
  • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation Worf comes down with a disease most Klingons get as children. Dr. Polaski compares it to measles, implying that even centuries into the future measles is a common childhood disease, while in actuality measles is now almost unknown in the US at least thanks to vaccines.
    • Thanks to anti-vaccination campaigners, measles outbreaks are on the uptick again.

Meta
  • Even some of the humor on the "Other" page for Better Than It Sounds on this very site about unborn babies being "parasites" falls under this. While a popular analogy used to promote abortion in The Seventies, modern science now questions how fair the comparison is, as fetal cells have been shown to have healing properties in the mother.
    • On the other hand, some actual parasites now appear to have beneficial side effects on their human hosts, such as the suppression of autoimmune diseases and exclusion of other, more harmful parasites via competition.
      • For example, leeches are sometimes used for modern day bloodletting in reattached limbs because they naturally produce a substance that prevents clotting, which keeps the blood flowing to the limb.

Stand-Up Comedy
  • In his 1983 comedy show Delirious, Eddie Murphy expresses fears about having a girlfriend that spends time with homosexuals, worrying she might kiss them and get AIDS, and then give him AIDS when she kisses him. Scientists have long since disproved the idea of getting AIDS by kissing, barring circumstances like a sore or bleeding inside the mouth. Plus the difference between contracting HIV and getting AIDS. It should also be noted, for those too young to remember, that back in the 80s, homosexuals were seen to be the origin, or more often the sole victims, of AIDS. Later research proved that this wasn't the case, it was just that the symptoms of AIDS appeared in homosexual communities sooner than straight communities, for reasons best not discussed here.

Real Life
  • It was once believed that the third finger of one's hand contained a vein that led directly back to the heart. Thus, wearing a wedding ring on that finger originally symbolized the joining of the married couple's hearts.
  • Associating the heart, an organ that propels blood, with the capacity for love is an even older example. Ancient peoples noticed that its beat sped up when someone's emotions were aroused, not realizing this was a secondary effect of feelings arising in the brain.
  • The big one is bloodletting, which is perhaps the oldest medical practice in the world. It was in use for literally thousands of years, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, and all that time it was considered an awesome way to treat basically everything. In comparison, bloodletting has only widely been considered quackery for about a hundred and fifty years. Why did the practice continue for so long? Well, patients thought it worked due to the Placebo Effect. Plus, doctors thought they ought to be doing something and they had no idea what actually caused disease. More than anything else, it was the discovery of germs which brought an end to bloodletting.
    • Bloodletting does work in certain specific circumstances - such as the relief of laminitis in horses (who of course are not susceptible to placebo effects). One of James Herriot's books describes his horse-expert boss doing it to a pony suffering from severe acute laminitis, to the astonished horror of both Herriot himself and the gipsies who owned the pony. It worked.
    • Blood-letting is also a useful treatment for compartment syndrome and for re-attachment of severed body parts, in both cases because deoxygenated blood that's trapped inside a crushed or newly-reattached appendage can accumulate so much pressure that no new oxygen-rich blood can enter to keep its tissues alive. It is also used to treat hemochromatosis (iron overload), these patients are very reliable blood donors.
  • Another idea discredited by germ theory was that of the "four humors", which was developed in Ancient Greece and lasted over two thousand years. Humorism held that illness was caused by imbalances in the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) and health could be restored by restoring that balance. This is tied into the prevalence of bloodletting, as this theory held excessive blood to be one of four possible causes for disease. Some modern English words come from the "four humors" theory. For example, excessive blood was believed to lead to excessive cheerfulness, which is why "sanguine" means both "bloody" and "cheerful". Similarly, black bile was believed to be the cause of depression, hence the word "melancholy" literally means "black bile". There are also numerous references to the four humors in the works of William Shakespeare.
  • In the mid-19th century, the prevailing theory of disease was miasma theory, which blamed disease on bad air and smells. It is from miasma theory that we get our word "malaria", meaning "bad air". Although the theory was wrong, its focus on sanitation improved the treatment of disease from what it had been like previously. For example, Florence Nightingale's work at improving sanitary conditions in hospitals was based on miasma theory.

    Paleontology and Anthropology 
Film
  • It wasn't established that Dromeosaurs weren't scaly when Jurassic Park came out in 1993; but it was already considered quite dubious among paleontologists. Likewise, swamp-dwelling sauropods and “kangaroo stance” tyrannosaurs persisted in fiction long after they were proven incorrect, and they still show up sometimes.
    • Amber does not preserve DNA. So there goes Jurassic Park's premise.
      • Even if it did, there's no way anything resembling a dinosaur could be pulled out of it. DNA decays over time. Under ideal preservation conditions, it is considered unreadable by modern technology after 1.5 million years, and completely decayed (all bonds broken) after 6.8 million years. The oldest DNA found so far is about 450,000 to 800,000 years old.
    • Incidentally, Jurassic Park references the old swamp theory when Ellie sees a sauropod for the first time, and remarks in astonishment that, "This thing doesn't live in a swamp!" Obviously, this is for the benefit of audience members who may not be up on current theories. An actual paleontologist would not be surprised by this in the early 1990s, as it would require her to be twenty years behind in her own field. Possibly she was just poo-pooing ideas she'd already known were archaic, not discarding her own disproven belief about sauropods.

Literature
  • H.P. Lovecraft made frequent references to the Piltdown Man, a famous fraud with a mix of human and ape bones, in his works.
  • The horrors of World War II made many anthropologists of the 50s drop the idea that Humans Are Special, intelligent, tool-maker conquerors of Nature (see Literature section) and switch to Humans Are Bastards instead, the only primate that is a carnivorous, egotistical, weapon-making killer beast that loves violence and is doomed to destroy itself. The influence of this idea can be noted in Pierre Boulle's novel La Planete des Singes, which would later inspire the Planet of the Apes movies, as apes were then regarded as what "we" should have been before becoming homicidal beasts: peaceful leaf-eaters sitting in the rainforest, and that once we've wiped us out ourselves they'd built an real harmonious civilization. However, when primatologists actually began to study ape communities in the wild in the 1960s they found that apes (especially chimpanzees) weren't that peaceful in reality and actually had their share of hunting, fights for supremacy, stealing, rape, infanticide, war and cannibalism. As Jane Goodall once declared (paraphrasing): "I came thinking that apes were better than us, and I discovered that they were just the same".
  • Despite having Shown His Work, author and illustrator James Gurney fell victim to this with the earlier Dinotopia novels. The latest book showing up-to-date dinosaurs is evidence of this.
  • Although Robert J. Sawyer definitely shows his work in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, a key plot point hinges upon humans and Neanderthals not being able to interbreed. Subsequent research indicates that interbreeding was actually fairly common.
    • In fact there is the theory that the red hair gene in modern humans actually comes from our Neanderthal ancestors.
    • Recent genetic studies are hinting that Neanderthals disappeared not because they were driven extinct but because they simply were absorbed into the much larger Homo sapiens population they lived with.

Live-Action TV

Webcomics

Web Original

Western Animation
  • One strange example and correction of this is the designs of the Dinobots in Transformers. In the original designs their alt-modes showed many inaccuracies to fossil records that their Animated counterparts corrected: they're no longer bow-legged or sluggish and Grimlock is no longer in the "kangaroo stance" but the proper bent-over position.
  • At the time of its creation, The Land Before Time actually took several pains to be accurate (disregarding a few temporal mishaps). Now, a large portion of its portrayals— its elephant-footed sauropods, single-horned infant triceratops, Ptero Soarer Pteranodons and swimming duckbilled dinosaurs — are outdated.
  • Disney's Fantasia not only featured inaccurately-drawn dinosaurs, but at the very beginning of the "Rite of Spring" segment, we actually see the Earth being formed from material thrown out from the Sun, the Sun itself being made of fire instead of hot gas, and at the end, the dinosaurs go extinct as a result of a global drought caused by climate change rather than by a meteorite impact.
    • The global drought caused by climate change extinction scenario does resemble the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event, however.
    • Meteor impact near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is one theory used by Creationism to explain The Great Flood, with the extinction of dinosaurs happening a short while after the Flood. Not due to a subsequent drought as depicted by Fantasia, but due to climate change wiping out a lot of the plants that dinosaurs were accustomed to eating. They simply couldn't adapt to a radically altered world, which favored warm-blooded animals and smaller reptiles.
      • Which makes more sense when you consider that such and impact and rupture of highly pressurized underwater reservoirs all around the world would have carved new landscapes dramatically enough in a short while, and erupted violently enough, to affect the Earth's tilt on its axis. Even a slight alteration of tilt can radically alter seasonal patterns, as was feared would happen in 2004 during the volcanoes and subsequent tsunami.
    • Interestingly enough, the film was originally going to have an accurate (for the time) Tyrannosaurus rex. Paleontologists hired as consultants for the film insisted that the T.rex be portrayed with only two fingers. Walt Disney stated that the T.rex should have three fingers in the film because he believed that audiences wouldn't be able to recognize it otherwise.
      • It has been discovered that T.rex does have three fingers. The only problem is that said third finger is vestigial and would not be visible on the hand.
  • Dinosaur Train does its best to stay on top of current discoveries, but sometimes it finds itself the victim of this. For starters, Eoraptor probably isn't a theropod after all, but a sauropod ancestor. Brachiosaurus never lived in Africa; that was Giraffatitan. Also, Stygimoloch may not represent a distinct creature after all, but the subadult form of Pachycephalosaurus. Whether or not it is different, young pachycephalosaurs probably had flat (if somewhat knobbly) heads, growing domes as they aged.

Other
  • Inversion: in 1879, paleontologist Othniel Marsh misidentified an Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard) skeleton as a new genus, which he named "Brontosaurus" (thunder lizard). The error was pointed out in 1903, but the newer name proved more persistent in pop culture; even when the more proper term is discussed, it's often related as if Science only recently Marched On. (E.g. this ''Sheldon'' strip.)
    • There is a loophole in the form of a grandfather clause: "The prevailing usage must be maintained" when "the senior synonym or homonym has not been used as a valid name after 1899" and "the junior synonym or homonym has been used for a particular taxon, as its presumed valid name, in at least 25 works, published by at least 10 authors in the immediately preceding 50 years". Looks like "Brontosaurus" missed by only a few years, but thank goodness Tyrannosaurus rex slipped in, otherwise we would be calling him "Manospondylus gigas".
      • Scrotum humanum for Megalosaurus (maybe).
    • The Science of Discworld defends “Brontosarus” as being a much better name.
    • The Brontosauri in the 2005 King Kong were consciously called Brontosaurus as a homage to the old use of the name and (in associated in-story material) because the name was recycled for the newly discovered creatures.
    • The Brontosaurus was also provided with an incorrect skull — a Camarasaurus skull that Marsh incorrectly figured would be close enough to what its real skull probably looked like — but, contrary to popular belief, this problem is entirely unrelated to its being renamed. It wasn't even definitively proven until 1970 that the skull was incorrect.
    • In another twist, it's possible that "Brontosaurus" may still have hope for revival after all; if Supersaurus is indeed found to be simply a Apatosaurus species, A.excelsus would end up as a different animal to A.ajax, A.louisae and Supersaurus.
  • In the late 19th century, a sculptor named Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built massive statues of what the current science thought dinosaurs looked like, as they had only been recently discovered and rarely in complete skeletons, most of which run contrary to modern science's view. His most famous mistake was the Iguanodon that walked on all fours and whose thumb was placed on its nose. These sculptures still exist, and can be seen in Crystal Palace Park, London, UK.
    • More precisely, the sculptures represented the theories of paleontologist Richard Owen, who in fact coined the name "Dinosauria". Other scientists like Gideon Mantell thought that Iguanodon could have, from time to time, stood on its hind legs. However even he imagined the animal as a gargantuan iguana with a nose-horn, and he sadly didn't live to see the discovery of several well-preserved Iguanodon fossils a couple of decades later, which drastically revised science's ideas about the animal and consequentially caused a drop in the Crystal Palace dinos' popularity.
    • After finding complete skeletons, Iguanodon reconstructions for a long time also suffered from the "kangaroo stance"-fallacy. Later it turned out that they were indeed at least capable of walking on all fours. The latest reconstructions are nevertheless still a far cry from Hawkins' rhino-lizards.
    • One of the greatest differences between old and modern models is that up to a point in time, it was believed that the legs of quadruped dinosaurs were bound exactly like crocodiles' (since they're also reptiles, right?). This is also linked to the "kangaroo stance" theropods mentioned above.
    • And the long-held view that dinosaurs dragged their tails along the ground. It wasn't until the late 80's that this began to change, considering the structure of the hips and tails wouldn't have allowed it. Also the "swan neck" many sauropods were depicted in (with the exception of the Brachiosaurs, sauropods couldn't lift their necks more than 30 degrees above the horizontal).
      • And in yet more Science Marches On, there's now paleontologists arguing that the thinking on sauropod necks went too much the other way: that many were actually flexible enough to make an S-bend, and probably were held in that position normally.
  • Kennewick man ("the one that looks like Patrick Stewart"). Nobody actually believes in "race" per se anymore, and American Indians were only considered "mongoloid" for phylogenetic, rather than anatomical, reasons. Finally, even creationists acknowledge variation within a species. Despite this, these errors were deliberately made "in the interest of science" during the Kennewick man debacle. That the media repeatedly misstated that until then human habitation in the Americas only went back some 8000 years, when it had been known since the 1920s that humans had been in the Americas for at least some 12000 years, only made it worse.
  • As more and more studies are made about the bone structure of dinosaurs, how their bones connected and just how flexible the joints were, the smaller details of the way we perceive how the animals might have looked and behaved changes so fast, media and the public have a tough time keeping up. One of the more "radical" findings that frequently gets overlooked when it comes to depicting dinosaurs is the revelation that most dinosaurs couldn't rotate their hands the way humans can, and that their palms were almost permanently stuck facing inward. Thus the classic (and to most people, standard) way of positioning their hands the kangaroo-way became as obsolete and incorrect as the kangaroo-stance itself. But it's such a relatively insignificant detail that most pictures/movies/sculptures/toys still get it wrong.
  • It was formerly believed that feathers originated in the theropod lineage at some point during the Jurassic period, with small, arboreal theropods such as archeopteryx evolving them for flight. However, molecular evidence has shown that the origin of feathers go even further back than that. A paper published in 2006 confirmed that alligators possess the same gene for growing feathers that birds do, which would punt the origin for feathers back to the common ancestor of birds and crocodilians, sometime back in the Triassic period. Indeed, it would appear that bird feathers, dinosaur protofeathers and pterosaur pycnofibres are all variations on the same basal archosaur fuzz, which evolved as a form of insulation rather than for flight.
    • As an addendum to the above point, pennaceous (ie: bird-like) feathers have been pushed back farther in the line of feather evolution; the so-called "protofeathers" are actually just crushed pennaceous feathers; thus animals like Velociraptor (which has quill knobs, a dead giveaway of pennaceous feathering) or Yutyrannus (with it's featther imprints on the fossil slab it was perserved in) sport pennaceous feathers. Another feathered theropod, Sciurumimus, is an incredibly basal coelurosaur; it was only slightly more advanced than the megalosauroids (and was even jumping between being a coelurosaur or megalosauroid for a while).
  • Utahraptor was originally what amounted to "a giant Deinonychus". Recent discoveries, though, made it anything but a giant Deinonychus; it not only had a stumpy tail (a trait commonly associated with oviraptorosaurs, not dromaeosaurines), but procombent teeth. That means the teeth of Utahraptor were something like those of Masiakasaurus, or that they curved out along the jaw.
  • Edmontosaurus actually had a crest after all.

    Physics 
Literature
  • This happened so often to Robert Heinlein that he decided to stop re-writing his short stories and instead create an Alternate History instead. His editors decided to call the whole "series" Future History.
    • His story "Blowups Happen" centered around a nuclear power plant consisting of a solid two and a half ton ball of uranium-235. Blowups don't just happen, but are inevitable when you try to exceed critical mass (in this case, 52kg). Considering that the story was written in 1940 and Fermi wouldn't even get to the University of Chicago for his famous experiment until 1942, he can probably be forgiven.
      • Considering also that Heisenberg himself - yes, that guy, and a number of other nuclear scientists - also thought the same thing - supposedly Heisenberg's 1940 calculations on the "random walk" principle gave him a figure two tons for sustained criticality.
    • In another later version of the story, he changes it to 10 tons. It's not exactly a solid ball, though; in both cases the fission reaction is keeping the fuel in a liquid state. There's another error, though: even the ten-ton version simply would not contain enough energy to produce the world-wrecking detonation the story posits, it would make a Really Big Boom, many megatons, but it would not be a world-wrecker, it wouldn't even equal many historic volcanic events. It would, OTOH, release a ghastly amount of radioisotopes into the environment when it blew.
  • In his Lensman novels, E. E. “Doc” Smith justified both FTL and Constant Thrust Equals Constant Velocity with the inertia-negating "Bergenholm" device. At the time of writing, the negation of inertial mass, though hideously energy-intensive, was believed theoretically possible. Advances in relativity and quantum mechanics have since destroyed the concept's viability.

    Also, the first novel, Triplanetary, had fish-like aliens (more indifferent to humanity than actively hostile) raiding near-ish future Earth to steal iron to fuel their atomic star drives. Humans rapidly copied their tech and developed atomic iron star drives of their own. The problem is that there are two ways of getting energy out of atoms; fuse light ones together, or split heavy ones apart. As atoms' weights move away from the extreme light and heavy ends you get less and less energy out as you fuse or split them, and in the middle there's an element that's the atomic energy equivalent of a deflated balloon; fusing or splitting it releases no energy, and you actually need to pump energy in to change it in any way at all. That element is iron - the absolute worst possible choice for a nuclear fuel. At the time the specifics of the nuclear binding energy curve wouldn't have been well known, so there's every chance Smith chose iron simply because we use a lot of it on Earth, making it a good candidate for a material avaricious aliens might want to steal.
    • More specifically, Smith applied the iron (later uranium) in a way that did not involve fission or fusion (Triplanetary and First Lensman were both written when atomic technology was only in the research stage; from Galactic Patrol onward, power technology progressed towards the more-novel idea of harnessing cosmic rays): he used an unheard-of allotrope (alternate molecular arrangement) that allowed it to be harnessed more completely. All of this is considered out of the bounds of prevailing theories on atomic and quantum physics.
    • The point of Smith's fictional allotrope of iron was simply that it was much denser than "ordinary" iron (and a liquid to boot), which made it much easier to transport and handle in large amounts. It is the existence of such an allotrope which is contrary to current theories. As an energy source, the iron was used by complete conversion of its mass to the energy equivalent according to E=mc^2; neither the fictional allotropic form nor the binding energy confusion have anything to do with this. Complete conversion of mass to energy is theoretically possible - though the methods permitted by current theories (such as lowering it into a black hole on the end of a very long string) have no relation to anything in the Lensman series.
      • According to Triplanetary, this allotrope was novel because it was found to be easy to completely liberate unlike the known allotropes. It essentially jumpstarted everyone into using atomic liberation as their power source until the time of Galactic Patrol (when cosmic rays became the novel energy source of choice).
    • Complete mass to energy conversion is also possible by the mutual annihilation of matter and antimatter. This concept does appear in the Lensman series in the form of the negasphere, which is essentially a planet-sized sphere of antimatter which is used to "eat" planets (in the process disappearing itself). In terms of Science Marches On, this point is affected by Smith's idea of antimatter being much closer to the tentative ideas that Dirac came up with when first considering the concept than to the modern conception of antimatter. It is also affected by Smith plain getting it wrong, in that while he correctly states that the energy is released in the form of floods of energetic gamma rays, he does not envisage these as having any effect other than radiation poisoning for anyone nearby - whereas in reality the gamma rays would be absorbed by nearby matter and their energy converted into heat, resulting in a massive explosion as opposed to the spooky silent disappearance of matter which the books describe.
  • Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (the early silent film of which provides the page photo) describes the astronauts and their spacecraft being fired from a giant gun. Launching a spacecraft in that manner would thoroughly kill the astronauts from excessive G-forces, which is why real manned spaceflight is done with staged rockets. This was thoroughly discussed by the characters themselves and Hand Waved away by Captain Nicoll inventing an ingenious shock absorber device (which wouldn't work anyway, really). Now it is thought that the gun thing was suggested to Verne by his publisher Hetzel, who thought that the rocket (which Verne envisioned originally) wouldn't be cool enough.
    • The book also mentiones zero-G environment only for a brief moment when the projectile was passing the point where the gravities of Earth and Moon cancel each other out. The better application of the mechanics well known even in Verne's time would show the zero-G state prevailing for the whole flight, as it happens in Real Life.
    • There's is one even worse offender: in the book, the heroes get rid of their dead dog by opening a window on the bottom of the projectile and throwing it out. They are concerned about the loss of air, but they do it fast enough that "only a few particles" of air escape. It's mentioned they later casually get rid of litter this way throughout their voyage.
  • H. G. Wells has his explorers in The First Men in the Moon travel to the moon by means of a metal that is "opaque to the radiant energy of gravity".

Video Games
  • The X-COM series makes much use of a Mineral MacGuffin called Elerium, an element that forms in yellow crystals and has an atomic number of 115, and among other interesting properties is vitally important for the construction of anti-gravity drives. This was probably based on claims made about element-115 in the 1980s by a UFO enthusiast with the splendidly appropriate name of Bob Lazar. These claims were considered exceedingly dubious even at the time, but it wasn't until element-115 was successfully synthesised that they were fully debunked.

    Other/Multiple 
Comic Books
  • One Buck Danny story set in the Korean war had a major antagonist codenamed "Ivan", an Ace Pilot so skilled he shot down planes without the pilot seeing him coming or going. The big reveal was the enemy's use of guided missiles.

Literature
  • A few decades after it was written, in Speaker for the Dead the very bright and well-educated xenologists seem terribly narrow-minded in what might be possible in alien cultures. In some ways, this is actually Science Fiction Marches On, as writers explore more ideas that might be used in the future.
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea: A great deal of biology is now known to be erroneous (evil sperm whales and the bottom of the sea being totally lifeless, for starters), but one of the more bizarre ideas to a modern reader is that the main characters find electricity so amazing, noting that their rooms wouldn't be out of place in a grand hotel if it weren't for the electric lights or that the Nautilus is powered by electricity instead of steam. It's likely for this reason that the Disney film has the Nautilus run on nuclear power instead.
    • It is worth mentioning that the "evil sperm whales" is an idea actually held by Captain Nemo, prof. Arronnax doesn't necessarily agrees with him on it, and is taken aghast by Nemo's brutal slaughter of the animals in question. It was probably included more as a sign of Nemo becoming progressively unhinged with time than an actual scientific tidbit.
    • Aside from the biology, there's also some very big geography/geology weirdness in how the Nautilus can sail straight to the South Pole under the ice when we now know the South Pole is over land. Exploration of the Antarctic continent was just beginning when Verne wrote the the book, so it was plausible at the time, but now it just looks weird. (Of course, the NORTH Pole is over water, and submarines regularly have and do travel to it under the ice— and the first to do so also happened to be named "Nautilus".)
  • This was the downfall of The Urantia Book, a book whose publishers purported that it had been channeled from alien Energy Beings. It combined the basic events of The Gospels with an elaborate history of the universe, in an attempt to bring The Bible more in line with scientific principles as they were then understood. Problem is, "then" was the 1930s, and the book's science included the now-discredited Chamberlin-Moulton planetesimal hypothesis, Mercury being tidally locked to the Sun (which it isn't), and an endorsement of eugenics.
  • Isaac Asimov cited this (in the foreword to the book) as one of the reasons why he decided to write Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (despite the name, it is pretty much a remake) — the novelization to the movie had been as scientifically accurate as he could make it within the confines of the movie's plot, but that had been in 1966, and by 1987 some of the biology and physics were dated (the other reason was, of course, that he could veer farther from the movie's plot and therefore fix even more problems).
  • John Varley's novel Millenium was about time travelers who go back to the past to rescue people who are about to die in accidents. If they have to, they take people off of a vehicle before its destruction but it's much easier to just bring the vehicle itself forward in time if it was historically never found after its destruction. Varley uses the Titanic as an example of a ship that the time travelers were able to bring to the future because it was never found. The novel was published in 1983, just two years before the wreckage of the Titanic was found.
  • In the late 18th century, Italian scientist Luigi Galvani used electricity to make a dead frog twitch. We now know that he had accidentally invented the battery, but some scientists of the time (including Galvani himself, by the way) thought that he had unlocked some sort of mysterious life force. In the following years, the "galvanists" used electricity to perform various macabre experiments on dead animals and even human corpses. It should come as no surprise that it was around this time that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.

Radio
  • The radio series Tom Corbett: Space Cadet went to some trouble to get the science right as it was meant to educate as well as entertain children. This leads to odd moments such as when a rocketship runs out of reaction mass (as opposed to “fuel”) only to land on Jupiter (which we now know is a gas planet).

Tabletop Games
  • This trope is a major setting element in Genius The Transgression. A Genius's inventions may very well work on outmoded principles, but that's because it's their inner madness fueling the devices, not any sort of consistent physical principle. Also, there are entire realms of existence where outmoded models of the Universe are the predominant mode, such as a Ptolemaic universe where the planets really are crystal spheres pushed through seas of phlogiston by humongous archangels, or a version of Mars that's a lot like Barsoom.
    • Similarly, the main antagonists, the Baramins of Lemuria, have a tendency to believe in outdated scientific, philosophical and/or political theories (ranging the Luminiferous aether to still being upset that Aristotle’s organon replaced Platonic philosophy!). They don't realize their inventions are powered by their own madness; they just think something went wrong with human development, and work constantly to “fix” it. Which is a problem if you're one of the people that needs fixing...

Other
  • "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years": A widely-publicized set of predictions for the 20th century as seen from the year 1900 included the hope that all these annoying flies and mosquitoes, along with their breeding grounds in the swamps, marshes, and other wetlands, would finally be completely eradicated. Now scientists are fighting tooth and nail to preserve these areas in order to combat the loss of biodiversity and the protection these areas provide against flooding and coastal erosion. Meanwhile, wetlands and swamps are still being drained, paved over and polluted with alarming speed; and mosquitoes are killed en masse to this day. The loss of mosquitoes would kill off many animals that eat them and without wetlands serious pollution problems would occur to a lot of water supplies.
  • Various megaprojects:
    • USSR planned the change of the courses of the Russia's large rivers (Ob, Yenisei, Lena) which flow to the Arctic to flow to the Southern Russia. This would have caused an eco-catastrophe.
      • Of course "changing the flow" was just a myth invented by the project's detractors. What really was planned is a diversion of a small percentage of the flow (about 5-7%) to pad the water balance of the two main rivers of Central Asia, Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya, that were largely used up for various irrigation projects and led to the below mentioned drying up of the Aral sea. Still a major intervention, but on the much lesser scale than it was often told, and there's currntly no agreed upon idea about how it would turn out in Real Life.
    • Drying up the Aral Sea was accepted as inevitable by the Soviet planners. It went as proceeded but produced some unexpected results. This overlaps with Technology Marches On; had the same irrigation projects used modern (or even high-quality) concrete and canals, the sea would still exist today. This means there is some hope for it to return in the future.
      • Although Kazakhstan is doing a decent job on their side,note  the other former Soviet republics around Aral (especially Uzbekistan) just don't seem to care.
      • Uzbekistan basically has nothing to export except cotton, oil and gas, all of which all but require the death of Aral — cotton requires water for irrigation (thus ensuring no inflow to the sea), and the former seabed just happen to contain some lucrative fuel deposits.
  • Eugenics. 100 years ago, it was accepted as scientific truth that some races/phenotypes were inherently inferior/superior. Although there is no technical reason the human gene pool couldn't be altered through selective breeding just like is done all the time with domestic plants and animals, the concept of "race" itself is now considered biologically meaningless.
  • Any work that uses psychology that references Sigmund Freud. Though influential on early psychology and still well known in media, Freud's theories have long since been discredited by serious psychological research.


Once Acceptable TargetsTime Marches OnSociety Marches On
Science Is WrongTropes on Science and UnscienceScience-Related Memetic Disorder
Schedule SlipTriviaScrewed by the Lawyers
Science FantasySpeculative Fiction TropesSci-Fi Counterpart
A Trip to the MoonImageSource/Live-Action FilmsTroll 2
School NurseImageSource/PhotographyScunthorpe Problem
No New Fashions in the FutureFailed Future ForecastSpace Clothes

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