Follow TV Tropes


Reed Richards Is Useless

Go To
You're smart enough to invent it. Therefore, you're surely smart enough to duplicate it, changing human society forever! ...Right?

"Stardust, whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived, devotes his abilities to crime-busting..."
Stardust the Super Wizard, Fantastic Comics #14

The observation that in some genres, characters can have fantastic technology far beyond our own, yet this technology only gets used to solve equally fantastic problems.

A person who controls weather will never make it rain in drought-stricken areas, or stop the rain during terrible flooding, or stop a heatwave. A person who can control water will never douse bush fires or burning buildings, or get a job at a power station. And a supergenius (such as Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four) can save the life of starving demi-god beings like Galactus, but will never take a weekend to duplicate and market Doctor Doom's burn-victim cure device or release his inventions that could solve a variety of real-world problems (and earn their creator millions of dollars). All potential solutions to real-life problems will only be done in novel (fictional) situations — useless. Status Quo Is God, and the status quo of the real world even more so. It's the same reason you can't stop Hitler from starting World War II.

There are several typical motivations for this:

  1. To keep the world similar to the real world. This is particularly common in an Urban Fantasy, superhero, or other series whose setting is superficially similar to the real world. Unlike, say, Star Trek or The Lord of the Rings, one of the key draws of the series is that it could take place right outside the reader's window, which is lost if you make the fictional world too fantastic in comparison. This is particularly common in comic books, where major modifications to the world are only done to fictional locations, and often only to current levels of technology. Here's a video of late Marvel editor-in-chief Mark Gruenwald explaining the reasons for this in some depth.
  2. To ensure that there's some level of drama in the story. If the super science or magic can literally do anything, then there's no reason the heroes can't just figure out a creative way to get them out of any jam. Goodbye potential conflict. In the case of Star Trek, there were tons of things the replicators and transporters should have been able to do which would have ruined the plot of half the episodes, necessitating a lot of Holding Back the Phlebotinum to maintain drama. As well, it could very easily be that the technology itself has some limitations, as "It can do anything you can imagine." is quite a bold statement for anyone to make.
  3. To keep the hero unique. If the hero shares their technology, magic, discoveries, or other advantages with the world, they'll cease to be uniquely special. Iron Man isn't Iron Man if he sells his suits on every street corner or shares the technology so anyone can produce them, necessitating an explanation for why he doesn't. This is why the Disposable Superhero Maker is disposable in the first place — to avoid flooding the setting with superheroes.
  4. To avoid trivializing real-life problems. If Mr. Fantastic actually does cure HIV in the Marvel Universe, there will be plenty of real people still HIV-positive, and plenty of researchers still investing untold millions of dollars and work hours to fight HIV when they finish the comic. This can make creators wary of tackling such issues, as it can be considered insensitive to have such a heavy burden in real life be casually miracle-cured in fiction. Also, in the interest of representation, disabled people exist in universes where science should theoretically be able to cure their disability. However, either the disability is so ingrained as a facet of the character's portrayal or curing them could be seen to detract from their mass-market appeal as someone that other disabled readers can relate to. This is probably why Professor X always ends up back in the wheelchair after regaining use of his legs. One possible In-Universe explanation is that they simply chose to live with the disability for whatever reason (for example, it gives them some advantages, or they feel it as a part of who they are). Similarly to point one, this is generally more of a concern if the world is supposed to reflect the real world closely; if it's explicitly an Alternate History or Alternate Universe, or the future, then there's greater room to play with this without potentially causing offense.
  5. To keep multiple titles within a Shared Universe consistent with one-another; comic book universes would approach a new level of Continuity Snarl and Depending on the Writer if writers had to keep track of every published book in their universe for which major diseases/blights had been cured by the heroes and which ones weren't. Sometimes it's hard just to justify a side adventure going on during the Crisis Crossover, which is why Superman Stays Out of Gotham.
  6. The technology does exist but is being actively kept out of the general public's hands. Reed Richards, for example, has developed countless mundane inventions that would shut down entire industries overnight, leaving countless people out of work. As a result, companies often pay him millions not to put his gadgets on the market. In addition, many super-scientists have a problem with having their life's work fall into the hands of the military or other people whom they consider to have less than good uses for it (see: Alfred Nobel and the creation of dynamite, which was a safer alternative to nitroglycerin in mining — but also safer for military usage)
  7. The character may simply not be interested in mass production. In the real world, any sort of new medical device has to undergo years of rigorous testing to prove that it is both safe and effective before it can become available to the general public. Other inventions may have other concerns; your miniaturized nuclear reactor or tiny batteries have to be demonstrated to be safe and that they won't catch on fire, explode, or undergo a deadly meltdown. A character may simply lack interest in dealing with the bureaucracy involved, and may not trust anyone else to bring their products to market on their behalf. Especially given that half of the major corporations in these worlds seem to be run by villains.
  8. The technology itself and/or its components are all Awesome, but Impractical, at least in regard to mass-production and/or maintenance. The Unobtanium needed to make the device work is too expensive and/or rare for it to be mass produced: a suit of impenetrable super-metal armor might be a great idea for equipping soldiers with, but if that single suit represents 80% of the known stockpile of the metal and cost more than an aircraft carrier, it's not something that can really be issued to the troops. Additionally, it's exceedingly dangerous, difficult and/or expensive to get a hold of (such as extraterrestrial materials or exotic states of matter that require millions of dollars to produce and maintain). Often overlaps with New Tech Is Not Cheap, as while the fancy new phlebotinum can be produced in enough quantities for a single gadget-using hero to use, it can't be cheaply mass-produced for the masses yet.
  9. Related to the above, the lack of reasonable infrastructure needed to mass-produce the items, techniques, etc. It's likely many of the wondrous inventions and/or technology require large amounts of complicated parts and pieces that need to be assembled and handled in certain and specialized methods for it to be built and functioned properly; all of which requires a lot of time, finances, material, equipment, skilled labor and logistics for, something that humanity (or whatever race) lack the economic and or technological infrastructure in regards to mass production/maintenance. Sure you can have a design for an awesome spaceship, but the amount of raw materials, processing equipment, skilled workers and logistics to create one would be a massive undertaking that only a global superpower (nation or otherwise) could even try with a reasonable chance of success. For an entire fleet, it would be a project that only a Planetary Nation or One World Order could do so on a practical level and reasonable chance of success than a Multicultural Alien Planet of varying powers with different goals, agendas and alliances.
  10. The inventors or creators are often too busy dealing with more immediate emergencies or dangers by supervillains, especially those who use their brilliance for their own selfish ends or for dangerous ideas. Sure it would be nice to be able to tackle some large-scale issues, but it's hard to think about that when you have to save a bunch of people or stop a mad genius from using their smarts from hurting others.
  11. It just didn't come to the creator's mind.

This trope is often associated with An Aesop that these problems don't have easy solutions in the real world, and any proposed sci-fi solutions will have negative side-effects or potential for abuse that justifies completely abandoning all hope of trying to solve the problem. However, during times when superhero comics especially begin to explore the ramifications of their characters on real-world settings more closely, this question is raised and addressed more frequently. It is sometimes lampshaded as making people "too dependent" on superheroes: good thing that Jonas Salk didn't feel that way.

Smaller-scale continuities such as newly created Superhero universes with a single author to explore the fictional world in 1 or 2 titles are more likely to avert and examine the concept of super-technology's effect on modern society, especially if the writer is trying to make a geopolitical statement. Larger superhero continuities, such as Marvel Comics and DC Comics, are established to have upheld this trope as their Earths have been explored in extensive detail. The trope can be inverted by having a hero "inventing" a technological revolution that already exists (for example, the Ultimate Marvel Iron Man apparently invented the MP3 player).

An explanation that is often used is that the invention is a product of The Spark of Genius; either the inventor couldn't remember how it works after they come out of their inventing frenzy, or their notes were incomprehensible, or it simply doesn't work for anyone else because it is really Magic-Powered Pseudoscience or something similar. This is more commonly found in Deconstructions, such as Wild Cards, where explaining this sort of plot element is a part of the purpose of the story.

Closely related to Misapplied Phlebotinum. See Plausible Deniability and Mundane Utility for aversions, and You Are Not Ready for a Deconstruction. Antonym to Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome. Compare Super Prototype, Superman Stays Out of Gotham and Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help. When gods are the ones not doing anything, it's The Gods Must Be Lazy. When applied to supervillains, see Cut Lex Luthor a Check.


    open/close all folders 

  • There's a commercial where a couple train their son to be able to dunk a basketball, in order to obtain scholarships later. The kid looks to be about five or six. The implication is that they trained the kid personally, not hired someone, in which case thousands of parents would give their eyeteeth to give their kid that kind of skill. If this ever occurs to the couple or gets out, they're likely set for life. If someone else did it, that person should be set for life. They might be able to revolutionize teen and adult training, fitness, and physical therapy.
  • There are many food commercials that sidestep the "you have to pay for this product" issue, leading one to wonder why it isn't just handed out to the hungry people of the world.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bennett the Sage points out in his review of the 8th Man After that it makes no sense why the scientist who created 8 Man (a robot-human hybrid), has been withholding drugs from the world that allows people to receive cybernetic limb implants without going insane.
  • In Episode 57 of Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, Sasuke explains that Naruto is able to make over 1000 shadow clones of himself (after Boruto makes an excuse about shuriken skills not being his specialty). And yes, we have seen him use these clones to do visits to people while he's stuck at his desk. But ummmm, why doesn't he use them to do paperwork? Even ten of him could help sign off on forms, or stamp things, while the main one makes the executive decisions. Instead, these mountains of paperwork grow over the series, until by this point they consume his entire schedule and he has to miss Himawari's birthday by having his shadow clone fail. This is less a profit motive, though, and more an "avoiding overtime" motive. With his clones, he can have more family time and even have a more personal role as Hokage, but instead he uses about one clone, and just to attend meetings or media interviews.
    • It should be noted that the Shadow Clone jutsu, when dispelled, will cause the memories of the clone to go to the user. Additionally, the clones may end up thinking differently than the original. Perhaps Naruto is concerned over information overload or that the clone may make a different decision than the original.
  • Deliberately invoked by Academy City in A Certain Magical Index. They are estimated to be several decades ahead of the rest of the world in terms of technology, and some of the stuff they take for granted could easily revolutionize various sciences and solve a ton of problems. However, they also want to remain on top of the tech tree, so they refuse to share their technology until after they've made it obsolete. But even then it's still cutting-edge to the rest of the world.
  • Death Note features a Deconstruction. Light finds the titular book and initially thinks it should be exploited to kill criminals. As the series goes on, he goes through Sanity Slippage to become a murderous Knight Templar.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Dr. Gero's Android 17 and 18 have infinite power cells, that never run dry no matter how long they live or how much power they put out in a fight. They do seem to be limited in how much power they can put out at once, though, which keeps them from being complete Game Breakers. Output limitations or not though, Dr. Gero apparently managed to invent a Perpetual Motion Machine. Had he marketed that, he could have instantly become the richest man in history. However, he did work for the Red Ribbon Army, an organization wanting to take over the world and when Dr. Gero lost his son (a soldier of the RRA that he would eventually base Android 16 on), he utterly snapped. He spent the rest of his days devoting to killing the one who destroyed the Red Ribbon Army, Goku. Heck, Piccolo himself lampshades this by calling it a "waste of technology", somewhat acknowledging how much good Gero could've done.
  • In Gundam Build Fighters, scientists 20 Minutes into the Future have developed special particles that allow certain inanimate plastics to move... and the only use this technology sees is in high stakes duels using plastic Gundam model kits. Lampshaded by the character Nils Nielsen, who enters the Gunpla Battle tournament to investigate the Plavsky Particles and see if they can be used for other, more practical pursuits.
  • My Hero Academia: Uraraka's powers are lampshaded as an example in the Smash extras. An object that doesn't conform to gravity would be a priceless boon to science (as an objective yardstick in a relative universe), but nobody ever thinks of this.
  • In Neko-de Gomen!, the inventions made by both Kuroda and Yayori's father could change the world in many ways and make them very rich if they were to patent them and sell the designs to the proper company or the government.
    • The trope is played with in one chapter, where Kuroda, after seeing the popularity his "cosmetic surgery gas" (it's applied the same way as one uses a perfume and makes its user stunningly beautiful during its duration) causes Reiko, decides to sell it to the public, starting with the school, to enrich himself. Unfortunately for him, its side effect of causing the user to become much uglier than the user looks originally after the duration passes ensures that he'll never get to do so again.
    • Yayoi's father's intention behind his creation of the teleporter is actually to get himself a Nobel Prize (and most likely enrich himself and his family as a result), but it's broken soon after use, so he can't have it patented. He manages to fix it in a chapter, but it gets broken again at the end of said chapter, more permanently this time note .
  • Justified in Neon Genesis Evangelion, where futuristic giant robots exist but most civilian technology isn't terribly more advanced than what we have in the real world. It's noted that the Evangelions are horrendously expensive to produce, and after Second Impact some countries can barely feed their citizens, much less create innovative new technologies. There's a bit of Fridge Brilliance with this in the manga: in the reset world where Second Impact never occurred, the technology and fashion seem more in line with the real world version of the 21st century, rather than what the show predicted in the 90s.
  • One Piece: Played with. Vegapunk is the greatest genius of his time, able to invent things centuries ahead of his time. However, the only time his inventions seem to affect the status quo is something created to help the World Government stomp out pirates like the Pacifistas, the Seastone-encrusted battleships, artificial Devil Fruits, and the Seraphim. When the Straw Hats visit Vegapunk's base, he unveils tons of more non-offensive inventions like holograms, a food matter replicator, rocket boots, teleportation, high-speed transport tubes, and weather control machines. However, he laments that he has no way to mass produce these inventions because creating such cutting-edge tech is incredibly expensive and nigh impossible for normal engineers to replicate his blueprints.
  • At the end of Space Battleship Yamato (the first series), Yamato is saved from Desler's final attack by a reflective force field Sanada erects just in time to deflect the beam back at the Gamilon flagship. This reflective forcefield never appears again, nor is it incorporated into Andromeda or the rest of the new EDF fleet (who do however get their own Wave Motion Guns). It would have made the battles between the Comet Empire, Dark Nebula, Bolar, and Dinguil a lot less bloody, hence a lot less dramatic. But most likely, they didn't realize that Yamato would see a popularity surge three years after its unsuccessful run (the original series was truncated due to low ratings).

    Fan Works 
  • Lampshaded and averted in Alexander Doom when the fragment of Doctor Doom still inside Xander's head says he could use his powers to fight small time crime and save dozens of lives. Or he could work in a lab and develop technology that would save millions.
  • Child of the Storm has this trope discussed several times.
    • Asgard is very, very cautious about giving humanity any Magitek or even tips beyond 'how not to blow yourselves up', and mostly restricts itself to protecting humanity from things it can't fight. The reason for this is very simple and it's called Atlantis. It went very well, right up until it went horribly, horribly wrong. As in, it created vampires, nearly wiped out humanity, along with the planet, and possibly the universe, given the use of the Darkhold.
    • Dumbledore is generally frustrated about the deliberate inertia in much of the magical world and the separation of wizards and muggles - and even more so that the first real open collaboration of modern times is between the Death Eaters and HYDRA. However, with the recruitment of Arthur Weasley by Stark Industries before he's promptly murdered, and the likes of Jane reverse-engineering Bifrost technology into a teleportation device of various sizes (as in, a 'Nexus Engine' large enough to teleport a helicarrier, or a wrist strap capable of personal teleportation).
      • It should also be noted that Project Pegasus provides very clear reasons why poking magic you don't understand with science is a very bad idea.
  • In Harry Potter fanfic Disillusion, by Hermione Granger Hermione tells, in an essay format, how Harry, after being artificially grown older to kill Voldemort when he is six years old, decides to, essentially, "give magic to Muggles" by developing feasible Magitek and discovering the physics behind magic, while selling technology in the magical world. This causes job losses, riots, deaths, and could have easily started a war if it weren't for the very hard work of many people.
  • Averted in The Institute Saga. Superman slowly releases Kryptonian tech for its general use, such as healing pods, one of which heals Charles Xavier, allowing him to walk again.
  • In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, John admires Theecat's totemen and suggests that he could make money by churning the things out for general sale (they only take three days to make) rather than slogging through dangerous lands fighting monsters and the like. Theecat responds by noting that he already made his fortune back home, and finds adventuring on C'hou much more interesting than his civilian life.
  • Superman justifies this in The Last Son. Kryptonians once gave one of their energy generators to a planet that had just suffered a meteorite strike. When they came back a week later, the survivors had all killed each other over the generator. This led to Krypton passing the Law of Riona Prime. Superman argues that The World Is Not Ready for his technology, but many factions are constantly demanding that Superman hand over the technology even though he has told them that Earth's technology level would not be able to support it, to the point that human technology wouldn't even be able to power the weapons he's demonstrated so far.
  • A magical variation in Lost in Camelot; Merlin is unable to send Bo and Kenzi back into the future, or find a cure for Freya's curse.
  • Michael McCole in A Twelve-Step Program to Omnipotence averts this, though only to make himself and his group too public for SHIELD or anyone else to disappear. Though a couple thefts against Obadiah Stane and Justin Hammer, he and Samuel Sterns manage to create a slightly less efficient arc reactor which they then patent and sell to companies all over the world, solving the world's energy crisis. Alongside Noah Burstein and Mason Phineas, they also create a functional cure for Alzheimers (requiring only a shot every couple years) and a fountain of youth that de-ages an eighty year old woman forty years in half an hour (it can go further but they worried her body wouldn't be able to handle the strain). Even though both products are years away from being marketed due to FDA regulations, they're still held as outright heroes to the masses. While less groundbreaking, they also use the same method that made Luke Cage (and Michael himself) bulletproof on cow hide to make cheap bulletproof vests for the NYPD.
    • Said actions make Tony Stark feel inadequate as he feels this new company, Titan Solutions, has done more to help humanity as a whole than he has. In response, he starts marketing some of his Iron Man technology, though still nothing that can be used as a weapon.
  • Mannequin from Atonement once planned to avert it. Now he enforces it by seeking out any Reed Richards who's not being useless and killing them, because he can't stand that others could be successful at changing the world, when doing so cost him everything.
  • In Kara of Rokyn, Lex Luthor grumbles about Superman squandering his godlike powers, knowledge and futuristic tech in endless battles against petty costumed criminals instead of changing the world for the better... and then he conveniently hands waves the fact that he has squandered his prodigious intelligence in endless battles against costumed heroes instead of changing the world for the better.
  • Crimson Dawn: In an Omake chapter, the Emperor of Mankind during the 80s is depicted as a young man enjoying a hedonistic lifestyle, nightclubbing, doing drugs and womanizing rather than using his wisdom and intellect to guide humanity.
  • In Calvin & Hobbes: The Series, Calvin uses his potentially world-changing inventions for things like duplicating a pizza.
  • Superwomen of Eva: Legacies: True Blue: Ted Kord tells Hikari that he stopped being a superhero because it seemed like the world needed scientists more after Second Impact. Yet despite being a comic book super inventor (who apparently had a shrink ray sitting in storage), his scientific exploits have had little or no effect on the world that the story has shown so far.
  • Utterly averted in Future Shock in which a time travelling Kara puts sharing Kryptonian tech at the forefront of her mission to improve humanity. Not all of it, not all at once, but starting with fixing the energy crisis, providing easy space lift tech and 100 percent recycling methods it later extends to site to site bulk transport and medical tech. One particular politican uses this as part of her election campaign to 'prove' the insidious influence of aliens on earth.
  • Raise features a type 8 in Jaune. He does want to help people as much as possible, but he has a limit to how many resurrections he can handle at a time. This is seen best in chapter 5, where he pushes past his limits to resurrect one last child for the event and he collapses from the strain. It is noted that there were still more families hoping for his help that will not receive it because Jaune genuinely can't give anymore. His Semblance is renewable but limited and there will always be people who never receive his help because of that.

    Films — Animation 
  • Flint Lockwood from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs creates a seemingly indestructible adhesive, a powerful hair restorer, a complex AI out of an old television, an animal translation device out of a Speak & Spell and is such a master of genetic engineering that he can make a machine that turns water into any kind of food. However, because his inventions rarely work the way he initially intended he views most of them as failures and the rest of his town views him a worthless troublemaker, with no one acknowledging that his inventions and skills could bring both him and the impoverished town untold fame and fortune if he marketed it to the right people.
    • Flint also seems to have a serious problem with commitment, abandoning his inventions at their first hurdle instead of trying to iterate on the designs. For example, it takes until the third-act crisis of the film for him to revisit the concept of the flying car and consider adding wings.
  • Referenced by The Nostalgia Critic:
    • In Raoul Puke's review of We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story, Puke has this to say:
      Raoul Puke: So the Neweyes fart tells them that he can use the time machine to travel back in time to grant the wishes of all the children of the world. I would have used it to stop 9/11... unethical jackass. I mean, the Kennedy assassination? The bombing of Pearl Harbor? Really? None of these are more important than entertaining whiny little bastard children? Well, while you're taking requests, here's a kid named Hitler. He just wants to start his own Third Reich and bring joy and happiness to the world. Why don't you grant him that wish? Huh? HUH?
    • Also mocked in the review of Doug's 1st Movie where he talks about how dumb it is that a Shrink Ray is just used for a gag and would be more important than finding a swamp monster.
  • In Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase the gang goes to visit a friend who has made a video game based off their adventures only for them to discover that he has invented a laser that can digitize and rebuild matter (ala TRON), but instead of testing it as a possibility to solve world problems like hunger or extended/more efficient space travel he stores real items in his game for lazy coding. Eventually Mystery Inc. is transported in and out as well showing that even living things could be moved over great distances.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Subverted in The Absent-Minded Professor: Brainard immediately tried to sell flubber to the government after he realized its potential, but the Obstructive Bureaucrats he got on the phone weren't interested.
  • The Amazing Spider-Man averts the age-old complaint about why Peter Parker doesn't market his web formula. In this movie, he doesn't invent it; OsCorp owns the patent and manufactures the stuff, selling it, among other things, for use as light-weight emergency cabling. Peter does invent his web-shooters using off-the-shelf technology, but there aren't as many applications of that without the webbing. We do learn that the webbing itself was made by Peter's father back when we worked at OsCorp, which was why Peter was able to recreate it.
  • Lampshaded in Back to the Beach where Bob Denver — clearly playing Gilligan — is working as a bartender, and complains to a customer about being stranded on a deserted island with a guy so smart he could make a nuclear reactor out of a couple of coconuts... but who couldn't fix a two-foot hole in a boat.
  • Back to the Future: That 1.21 gigawatt nuclear reactor in the back of the car is an astonishing creation on all levels. To get that kind of energy output with current technology requires a huge reactor structure that costs hundreds of millions to build, while Doc Brown's reactor is about one cubic meter in size and he built it in his garage with the kind of resources a single well-to-do private citizen can muster. If this technology was allowed to spread, it would completely change the face of the global energy market. Even if you Hand Wave it by saying the reactor isn't suited for continuous energy production but it expends the whole fuel rod to give about ten seconds of electricity, that is remarkable for other reasons, such as being able to contain the rod without it melting its way through the bottom. Doc Brown does however eventually realize the time machine has done more harm than good, so presumably he thinks the same of the nuclear reactor.
    • Alternatively he observes that within the next thirty years someone will invent Mr Fusion, an even more compact reactor running on garbage materials and putting out a comparable amount of energy, and decides that a compact fission reactor won't be needed after all.
  • The premise for Batman: The Movie and the Batman TV Series is that that incarnation of Batman only fights supervillains (and nothing more). At the end of the movie, Batman quickly refuses Robin's idea to better the world by making a "Freaky Friday" Flip with the United World Organization security council, arguing that they shouldn't try to tamper with the laws of mother nature. Then happens exactly that, (but arguably, the Status Quo Is God still applies) and Batman takes responsibility just before going out inconspicuously through the window.
    Batman: Who knows, Robin? This strange mixing of minds may be the greatest single service ever performed for humanity! Let's go, but, inconspicuously, through the window. We'll use our Batropes. Our job is finished.
  • In Bruce Almighty, not only is Bruce incredibly stupid but he seems to have no desire to use God's power to make this a better world. His only attempt at this really involved more of "how can I get people to quit bothering me" and that was handled so stupidly it defies belief. However, the whole point of the movie is that Bruce is essentially not cut out to be God in the first place. A deleted scene would have justified this somewhat, with God showing Bruce the results of his reckless "grant everyone's prayers" policy. Some of the people Bruce "helped" would have been better off without it. For example, he made one kid who was bullied grow bigger, but had he remained small he would have grown up and used his experiences to become a poet whose work would inspire millions.
  • In Casper, it is revealed that Casper's father created a serum that can bring back the dead, but, unfortunately for the characters, there is only one. It is used to bring Kat's father back after his accidental death. Not once does it occur to anyone that they should perhaps give it to a scientist so that the formula could be duplicated.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Willy Wonka can make a meal come out of gum, an ice cream that stays cold and doesn't melt in the sun, build a chocolate palace without a metal framework, teleport things into TV screens, and has anti-gravity technology—yet he only applies his know-how to candy. Lampshaded by Mike Teavee in the 2005 movie: "Don't you realize what you've invented? It's a teleporter! It's the most important invention in the world! And all you think about is chocolate!" That movie at least has the justification that Willy Wonka hated adults and seeing as teleporters would belong in the hands of adults, he wouldn't have wanted to share. Given what happens to Mike after he tries to prove he's right (he shrinks), you can't really blame Wonka for not using it to teleport people. In the book the "meal from gum" candy actually was intended to end hunger, but Wonka says he hasn't perfected it yet. Given that it turns anyone who eats it into a blueberry, he's right not to market it yet. This works since the entire premise is that Wonka has become a recluse and refuses to allow others to see how his factory works as rival companies sent in spies to steal his recipes. He created the Golden Ticket tour to find a worthy heir, who can presumably change the company for the better as he finally allowed people to see his factory.
  • Chronicle ends with Matt, the only surviving character with superpowers, realizing that he needs to use his powers to help the world as he and his friends were just using it for fun and personal gain before. He also vows to find out how they got their powers in the first place to help other people with that knowledge.
  • Cracked frequently discusses this trope:
  • Alfred is constantly harping on this trope to Bruce throughout The Dark Knight Rises, pointing out that if he shared his innovations he could do as much or even more good in Gotham as he tries to as a masked vigilante. Somewhat subverted when a great deal of those innovations are stolen by Bane, including a fusion energy source Bruce had shelved for exactly the reasons it becomes used for. Additionally, the whole reason Bruce was able to get his hands on the tech is because a lot of it was in the "dead end" department, usually things deemed impractical or too costly for mass production. For example, the Tumbler's purpose was to jump rivers and build temporary bridges. They were able to get the jumping to work but not the bridge-building, so the project was scrapped. The advanced bodysuit was deemed too costly for equipping every single soldier with it. On the other hand, Bruce also has no right to take that stuff, as it belongs to his company and investors rather than him personally (although he does own, at least, a controlling interest in the company and it was started by his father). If it ever comes to light, then he'll be up on embezzlement charges note .
  • In the Darkman film trilogy, the titular character has developed synthetic skin which can mimic the appearance of anyone's face for 90 minutes (after then, the skin then dissolves). The titular character is not satisfied with the invention until the synthetic skin is permanent and therefore has not released the technology to the public.
  • In Dungeon Master, the main character has invented a pair of glasses that can control numerous electronic devices such as traffic lights, and ATM machines. He doesn't bother to market the invention (to be fair marketing a tool whose primary purpose is casually breaking laws would be a bit problematic, but then if he's capable of making something like that...), and remains stuck as a low-paid IT assistant.
  • In Ex Machina, Nathan — working by himself — makes real, working sex and house-servant robots. His robots also walk on two legs like a human, something 2015 robots have a devil of a time with. The rest of the world evidently doesn't have any of this, or Caleb wouldn't have needed it explained to him. Instead of making more money in dumb robot tech, he keeps it to himself and plays with putting AI in the bodies.
  • In Flubber, the Robin Williams remake of The Absent-Minded Professor, Professor Braniard (Williams) has to come up with some sort of scientific breakthrough to secure enough funding to keep his college solvent. If only he had some sort of supertech available to show potential investors... like a flying, self-aware Robot Buddy. Oh, wait... This is later justified when he explains that Weebo was a "happy accident"; he actually has no idea why she's intelligent. To figure that out would probably involve dismantling her... i.e., "killing" her. Weebo herself managed to figure it out, though, and leaves behind a set of blueprints that will allow Braniard to re-create the process. It's also explained that his previous successful inventions have been stolen by a rival.
  • Parodied in The Nude Bomb. Among other Shoe Phone gadgets, Maxwell Smart is shown a desk that can be driven, which runs on ink as fuel. He exclaims that this is the solution to the energy crisis, only to be told that the ink has to be specially made in Saudi Arabia.
  • The Ghostbusters movies (and the 2009 video game) play with this. While they do use the technology they've created for personal profit, the game has them as licensed contractors for New York, and they ignore the potential profit they could make from developing that tech for other uses. One of the upgrades for one of the weapon modes in the video game sort of lampshaded the use of the tech by saying that while it can punch small holes in the fabric of reality, the holes can't even be used to dump away trash.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Zig-zagged. Technology in this universe is more advanced than the real-life standard, with reverse engineering of alien technology immediately approved for study. Sure, anything too dangerous is locked away in a lab for further study, but Captain America: Civil War has Tony unveiling new hologram-based technology designed for therapeutic purposes. He admits it's not really practical, which is why he's financing MIT's student projects. All of them. Yet all the advanced tech made by the superheroes and agencies are still not shared with the population at large, as the world is virtually indistinguishable from the contemporary one.
    • Justified with all of Arnim Zola's laser weapons that were invented during World War II but never seemed to enter circulation or change technology as we know it in any meaningful way. While they were years ahead of even our time, let alone the 1940s, they also are powered by batteries which are charged by drawing power from the Tesseract. Without access to that your shiny laser gun becomes a useless movie prop as soon as it runs out of juice. It's later revealed in The Avengers that the folks who had the Tesseract did keep the weapons and put them to use, albeit strictly in an experimental capacity as they still didn't wholly understand what the artifact was truly capable of yet.
    • Those who found the Tesseract, S.H.I.E.L.D., managed to create some incredible things, such as advanced aircraft (Quinjets) and a flying aircraft carrier (Helicarrier), yet remain keeping that tech for themselves. They also decided that to research the cube, they could use the help of actual government agencies, namely NASA and the Air Force - and as Captain Marvel revealed, by the 1980s this resulted in an experimental faster-than-light engine, though once the prototype exploded (or rather, was shot down by aliens - the same species that the lead scientist of the project had defected from) they never attempted to go this path again, no matter the potential.
    • Discussed in Iron Man. Tony Stark's power cell is stated as being able to generate 3 gigajoules per second of energy — which is 3 gigawatts of power generation. This is about as much power as produced by the largest man-made nuclear reactor and about 15 times the power of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Tony is adamant that the technology stays in his hands and his alone so that it doesn't fall into "the wrong hands", and part of Iron Man 2's plot revolves around Tony's attempts to prevent his technology being forcibly acquired by the US government or other outside parties; it's also shown that whilst various other nations (as well as his business rival Justin Hammer) have attempted to duplicate the Iron Man tech for themselves, none have so far succeeded... until Ivan Vanko shows up.
    • Justified with Bruce Banner's blood in The Incredible Hulk. It's revealed that scientist Samuel Sterns has manufactured vast quantities of Banner's irradiated blood to supplement the samples Banner had sent to use in his experiments searching for a cure, since the samples Banner sent him were too small and limited to get reliable results from; Sterns did this in a noble (if dangerously naive) attempt to "unlock thousands of new cures" and make humans impervious to disease, upon learning of the regenerative nature of Banner's DNA, which has been exposed to both a version of the Super Soldier Serum and gamma radiation. However, on discovering this, Banner insists that the blood samples be destroyed, since the government forces and General Ross don't care about using the blood as a cure, only as a weapon, and it's too dangerous to fall into anyone else's hands - he's proven right when Emil Blonsky, already exposed to the Serum, coerces Sterns into giving him a transfusion of Banner's blood, turning him into the Abomination.
    • In The Avengers, Tony announces that Stark Tower is now "a beacon of self-sustaining, clean energy" powered by the Arc Reactor. He seems content to leave Stark Tower as nothing more than a beacon however, as there's still no indication he plans to actually share this revolutionary technology with anyone apart from himself and his own company. It's a bit odd to want to inspire others to develop clean and safe energy when he already has the answer, just refuses to share it with anyone because he only trusts himself to use it. Best case scenario is somebody else develops the same or similar technology independently, in which case he'll have no control over it.
      • It is at least in keeping with the rest of his character at this point in the story. He shuts down Stark Industries' weapons division because "selling arms is wrong," but doesn't actually stop making weapons - just keeps them all to himself, including one of the most powerful weaponry technologies in the world: the Iron Man suit. Moreover he refuses any oversight of that technology or even his own actions. (His attitude notably changes in later films. Still doesn't give free, clean energy to humanity though.)
      • In fact, he takes a world-changing power source that was formerly used to keep himself alive and throws it in the ocean for catharsis (assuming he didn't remove the actual vital parts first and throw away the case). That's leaving aside that every single technology that goes into his armor is a world-changing technology, from its potential for advanced prosthetics to his insanely advanced AI butler. And that's not even mentioning the casual, almost throw-away introduction of Nanomachines in Avengers: Infinity War.
    • His father Howard also has this problem. Leaving aside the arc reactor, he also, as shown in Captain America: The First Avenger, invented an anti-gravity device in 1942. Sure, he hadn't worked all the kinks out, but he had a freaking anti-gravity device three years before the invention of the A-bomb. Though Agent Coulson gets to make use of it. One theory is that the anti-grav device was actually the prototype of Stark Industries' repulsor tech.
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron gives us a subversion in that Tony's desire not to be Useless leads him to mess with things he doesn't fully understand, resulting in the creation of a genocidal AI. note 
    • Spider-Man again is a teen who discovered a superstrong adhesive to use as his webbing. Though this time another person at least manages to duplicate it, given Spider-Man: Homecoming shows that Tony Stark created special Spidey suits that generate the web and can even shoot it in different ways.
    • Justified and discussed in Black Panther. Justified when it is stated that Wakanda doesn't send its tech to the world as they think it will cause war. This is proven right when Killmonger gets control and starts sending weapons to war dogs in other countries. However, many characters think that Wakanda would be able to provide aid and technology on an unprecedented scale, which is what it starts doing at the end of the film. Though by the sequel, they're still rather reserved with their vibranium and derived tech fearing to be exploited by other nations (though losing their king between movies didn't help).
    • Possibly the ultimate throw-away version is presented in Avengers: Endgame when one of the failed attempts at the time machine turns out to age people up to geezers or down to babies. It's treated as a wacky failure rather than the key to immortality, since the heroes only have so much Pym Particles to use, and there's no indication they can do it precisely, on command.
    • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has Scott mentioning Hope is trying to avert this, using the Sizeshifter nature of Pym Particles to help those in need (specifically mentioning hunger given they can enlarge food, and housing for allowing to reduce locations).
  • The Men in Black possess enormous amounts of confiscated advanced technology. While they do release some of the technology to the public, holding the patents on numerous alien technologies sold to the public — velcro, microwave ovens and CDs, to name a few — they are doing a great deal of constant memory erasing to hide alien existence to avoid possible panic. This is further shown in the animated version, where the MIB puts a waiting period on each piece of confiscated tech, which runs into centuries in some cases.
  • In Moonraker Sir Hugo Drax has built a fleet of space shuttles and a large functioning space station years before the International Space Station, and all the heroes do is blow them up rather than taking them over and using them.
    • However, one should keep in mind that this installment of the Bond franchise (which constantly runs all over the Sliding Scale of Continuity) does not even appear to be set in the real world of The '80s. Rather it is set in some Alternate Universe, is set 20 Minutes into the Future, or at least takes HUGE artistic liberties, (or possibly combines all three concepts) since the governments' armed forces in this world also display advanced space technologies and weapons equal to those of Drax. So it appears that these technologies have already been developed and used by other people.They just have not been used to start the The End of the World as We Know It.
  • In the MST3K-treated Time Chasers, the hero needs funding to continue to develop his working time machine, so he signs away his rights to a cacklingly-evil venture capitalist, even after someone points out to him that he could get rich by going back in time and starting a savings account.
  • In The Prestige, Nikola Tesla makes magician Robert Angier a machine which was intended to be a teleporter but turns out to be a matter replicator. It could be used to make unlimited quantities of food, clothing, machine parts, construction materials... It could put an end to hunger and material poverty for all time. But Angier can think of no better use for it than a stage-magic act. Discussed in that Tesla himself is aware of the duplicator's full potential and feels The World Is Not Ready for such a revolutionary invention. He only gives it to Angier because Angier will waste its potential on magic tricks. Besides, his rival Thomas Edison sends men to destroy Tesla's work so this doesn't happen.
  • Another example from MST3K is The Projected Man: the protagonist has invented a matter transporter capable of transmitting matter instantly across great distances, but everyone involved considers it a failure because it doesn't work with living creatures. It never occurs to anyone that they could become filthy rich in the parcel shipping business.
  • In Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Will develops a drug that completely reverses the effects of his father's Alzheimer's for eight years, although followed by rapid regression. This drug is a potential pharmaceutical goldmine, but he throws it away and starts over from scratch because it didn't give a permanent effect. Justified as his father's death likely messed with his judgement.
  • Played with in Secret Headquarters. On the one hand, the only person with access to the Source is the Guard. All that infinite energy and ability to fabricate fantastical gadgets are only available to one person. This is somewhat Justified by the fact that the Source seems to predict widespread war, famine, and even extinction if the wider world gets access to it. On the other hand, the Guard has been a massive force for peace worldwide. By the time of the movie, defense firms are starting to worry he'll single-handedly render them obsolete.
  • In Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, NASA has a satellite that can apparently shoot lasers capable of dismantling a wall of sharknadoes. If this technology could take down massive storms like these and prevent the loss of human life, why couldn't they have people stationed up for regular hurricanes?
  • Shin Kamen Rider (2023) uses this as the reason why the titular Kamen Rider's creator decided to rebel against SHOCKER: he created bio-augmentation technology which allows an ordinary human to gain superhuman powers and be freed of most bodily needs, all fueled by the prana generated by other humans and absorbed from the air. When he realized the fatal flaw in this concept, that the system needs most people to not be super so they can generate the prana that the handful of supers use, it drove him to abandon the technology.
  • SpaceCamp has a sentient, AI robot which is capable expressing emotions and bypassing failsafes to launch a shuttle, but NASA itself is still counting on the shuttle and mindless computers. The robot is too vulnerable to background radiation to be used in outer space or hazardous environments, and despite their best efforts they were unable to fix the design flaws. They keep the prototype around because they've already paid for it, but it's too delicate and temperamental to actually have any practical use as far as they're concerned.
  • Star Trek:
    • In Star Trek (2009) Scotty (with a little help from the future) quickly modifies a transporter so it can send people across vast interstellar distances. This is used to get Scotty and Kirk onto the Enterprise (which has been travelling away from their starting point for hours at high warp speeds). So the transporter modification is used to resolve a dramatic point in the plot, but no one seems to realize it could also be used for routine travel between star systems. The transport doesn't have the necessary accuracy yet; it nearly got Scotty killed when they used it. Addressed in Star Trek Into Darkness; Scotty mentions that his transwarp beaming equation was confiscated by security, allowing John Harrison to beam from Earth to Qo'noS.
    • By the end of Star Trek Into Darkness, Bones manages to synthesize a formula that can effectively resurrect the dead, though only if very recently deceased, as Bones' has Kirk put into cryo to preserve brain activity, meaning it's a narrow window of opportunity, but still useful. No mention is made of future use of it.
  • In Superman: The Movie and sequels our hero has a Fortress of Solitude filled with "the accumulated scientific knowledge of dozens of different worlds". Rather than flying around stopping one-off accidents and robberies, wouldn't he make a far greater contribution to humanity if he just used that technology to, say, cure cancer? Looks like Luthor was right about him: "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in little red capes and don't share their power with mankind." (Not that Lex has any room to talk, as he squanders all manner of advanced technology on attempts to kill Superman.) Jor-El orders him to not interfere in human history, giving reasons like over-reliance from humanity and making a target out of his loved ones. And the one time he tried a direct approach was in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the lesson here apparently that trying to force humanity forward will result in people trying to capitalize on your attempts.
  • In her review of Teen Witch, The Nostalgia Chick points out Louise could use her magic powers to fix the world but instead uses it on petty gain.
  • In defense of the Transformers series, Optimus Prime says explicitly that humanity is not ready for the Autobots' advanced weaponry. The same is not said about the Autobots' other significant technologies, such as (apparently) FTL travel, mindblowingly advanced computer miniaturisation, robotics, and fabrication. This is particularly egregious since in the first film Simmonds expressly says that much of humanity's best 20th century technologies — from the CD player to the microwave to the internal combustion engine — derives from what they learned studying a trapped an unconscious Transformer. Imagine how far they could have pushed if they had a consenting friendly one around to fill in the gaps. In the fourth film, one tech company manages to get their hands on "Transformium", the stuff Transformers are made of. Except their version is the raw stuff, giving it far more shapeshifting capability. We see it taking shapes like children's toys and handguns and their own Transformers which they lose control of in short order — wait, maybe Optimus was more right than we thought. To be fair, though, the only reason they lose control of Galvatron is because Megatron downloaded himself into the new body.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit gives us Marvin Acme is Useless. Some of the things Eddie encounters in the warehouse could be incredibly useful, especially the Portable Hole. Marvin just sells them as jokes.

  • This trope is deconstructed in the Animorphs series. The Andalites, a Higher-Tech Species, have developed amazing technologies including hyper-realistic holograms, faster-than-light travel through "Z space" (warping into another dimension), and—of course—the ability to morph into animals. While their refusal to conquer the universe with their inventions can be chalked up to their generally peaceful lifestyle, the question as to why they didn't freely share their tech went unanswered for the first few books in the series. Ax eventually admitted the truth: an Andalite named Seerow came across a primitive race of aliens that was barely thriving. Seerow took pity on that race and taught them all kinds of scientific secrets to help them advance...unfortunately, he was inadvertently helping the Yeerks, a group of mind-controlling slugs who immediately set out to conquer and destroy every planet in existence, which sparked a galactic war. This tragedy, known as "Seerow's Kindness," is the greatest shame in Andalite history, and led them to adopt a strict and permanent Alien Non-Interference Clause.
    • As the series continued, two new characters—the Ellimist and Crayak—were added to the lore; since they were both Reality Warpers who even the Andalites feared, the trope came up again (why didn't the Ellimist simply get rid of the Yeerks or Crayak decimate the Andalites?)—and was again deconstructed. The Ellimist and Crayak, as mortal enemies, have been battling each other for millennia, but they've both become so powerful that attempting to fight directly led them to wipe out entire star systems, and that was before they Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. If they tried to duke it out again, they would annihilate all of existence, themselves included. As such, both of them agreed to use the galaxy as a Cosmic Chess Game instead: each is allowed to pick various races to advance their own goals and subtly influence those races, but the rules of the game (which they both accepted) state that they can't directly interfere (at least without making concessions to the other).
  • For all their devotion to private enterprise and the profit motive, the heroes of Atlas Shrugged never bother much about making money, and nobody less than John Galt. He invents an engine that makes power from nowhere ("from static electricity," which is to say It Runs on Nonsensoleum), but gets so annoyed at his employers' failed attempts to make the firm into a workers' co-operative that he walks away from his unfinished prototype and only builds one more, as the power plant for his mountain hideout. He also invents a large scale hologram projector that could revolutionise cinema and TV, and uses it to hide the Gulch from passing aircraft. Justified in-universe in great detail, and indeed the producers' reasons for withdrawing from the world and withholding their talents/inventions make up the central theme of the book. Even the title highlights their "going on strike" as the focus of the story.
  • The Belgariad, and related expansions explain away why sorcerers, who can do literally anything, don't just fix everything: Just about anything they do Butterfly Effects EVERYTHING. Minor changes here or there generally do not result in anything horrendous. Creating a thunderstorm to scare two armies into silence so you can badmouth them for an hour about how stupid their war is results in four other sorcerers spending years trying to get the weather patterns fixed proper. They could literally end wars with their power, but the methods might destroy the planet.
  • A staple of Michael Crichton's books:
    • In Jurassic Park, InGen has perfected ancient DNA extraction and cloning technology enough to resurrect species that have been extinct for dozens of millions of years. All they want to do with it is a zoo/theme park hybrid with living dinosaurs, and little is said about actual scientific study done with the animals. Some characters do point out that they can't be sure that these animals are correct recreations of the dinosaurs of old, and it is explicitly stated that 1) the dinosaurs have behavioral problems derived from being brought into a world where they don't have parental guidance (and humans have no way of replicating or supplanting it) and there is not an ecosystem they can be successfully introduced to since many other organisms their species evolved with are not available and 2) escaped dinosaurs might become invasive species in modern ecosystems that aren't prepared to regulate their numbers. None of these problems would exist if InGen just plain forgot about the dinosaurs and directed their efforts into resurrecting species that have been driven to extinction in recent times, whose original ecosystems continue to exist, just with their place in them currently vacant, and that could be raised in captivity by similar living species; and by being much more recent there would be more uncorrupted genetic material available and they could be cloned more easily and successfully. The first novel goes as far as saying that InGen's first success was cloning a quagga in the early 80s, but we never get word that quaggas were returned to the wild in their native South Africa.
    • In Timeline, a corporation has invented both time travel (which, unlike in The Film of the Book, can take you to any place and any time, not just to The Hundred Years War France) and a small, easily concealed universal translator headpiece. Their plan is to study life in past times and sell the information to theme parks trying to recreate them.
    • In Congo the corporation's expedition discovers both the ruins of a lost civilization and a new species of big ape in Darkest Africa, but they only care about the diamond deposit beneath their territory.
    • Perhaps the only justified example happens in Eaters of the Dead, where the main character Ibn Fadlan discovers a population of living neanderthals. While an intelligent and learned man, the story takes place in The Middle Ages, and so Ibn Fadlan does not realize the importance of his discovery.
  • Played with in the Dirk Pitt Adventures. Valhalla Rising starts off with a ship powered by a magnetohydrodynamic drive, which is shortly set ablaze. It turns out to be sabotage to discredit the drive, and it apparently works. The eponymous ship of The Oregon Files' has those same drives, but it's mentioned that most countries' maritime boards banned them after "a fire" onboard "a ship" with them until they could be tested. The Oregon flies the flag of Iran, since they have "cavalier" attitudes towards maritime law. There are several revolutionary technologies in the series that don't become available to the public because of this trope. Valhalla Rising, for instance, ends with Pitt discovering a functioning teleporter. Presumably it's still a national secret.
  • On the Discworld, Lord Vetinari keeps Leonard of Quirm under lock and key for the express purpose of ensuring that Reed Richards Remains Useless. It also helps that inventors like Urn realize that they're better off being useless, and that the magical equivalents of things like movies, rock and roll, and guns are powered by evil or destructive forces. The occasional more-or-less harmless one like ball-bearings are allowed to slip through, though.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Turn Coat explores this. The more powerful wizards can travel through hyperspace, albeit a dangerous version, be One Man Armies with proper training, and generally do things that modern science finds difficult if not impossible. And yet they generally remain aloof from political conflicts, even major wars, except for when magic users are already involved. The reason so far given is that if mages were to be part of the world they would become part of the political process. Wars between Muggles would become wars between mages; and then nobody would be able to stop the vampires. Whether this is a good reason is left open...
    • In Dead Beat it is implied that WWI was caused by a necromancer who wanted a lot of bodies to work with, so some wizards have been involved in history. The bad guys start events and the White Council tries to counteract them.
    • It's shown in later books that the White Council is stretched to the breaking point just keeping up with their war with the vampires, so attempting to take a proactive stance in the affairs of normal humans is something they don't have the resources for to begin with.
    • Cold Days shows that it's not vampires the White Council and other forces responsible for the masquerade have to remain vigilant against, so much as Eldritch Abominations.
    • In general, it should be noted that it's in everyone's best interest to keep up the masquerade, as normal humans are basically treated as the nuclear option. An average human basically can't do anything against most supernatural beings, but humans massively outnumber supernatural threats and have a whole lot of firepower to back it up. The publishing of Dracula allowed humans to push the Black Court Vampires to the edge of extinction.
  • A Ray Bradbury story, "The Flying Machine", is set during the Han Dynasty. The Emperor of China witnessed a man flying by means of a bamboo-framed dragon kite, similar to a hang-glider. The Emperor, after confirming that no one else saw the man fly, ordered the kite destroyed and the inventor executed. When the inventor asked why, the Emperor explained that he feared this invention would be ultimately used by China's enemies to attack China. The Emperor admitted that he had no desire to kill the inventor, but felt that it was necessary to safeguard his people.
  • Attempted in the Roald Dahl story George's Marvellous Medicine where the titular character does somehow come up with a medicine that increases the size of livestock that could in theory end world hunger. However, he never knew the recipe for the medicine, since he made it out of dozens of random items by pure accident, and all his attempts to recreate it result in increasingly bizarre results.
  • Gladiator: Even in the very first superhero story. Danner is only able to save a handful of lives, from fires and the like. Once he enters the war, he can only kill soldiers in a berserk rage — when he finally acquires an airplane and can fly straight to the Kaiser to force an end to the conflict, it's too late because the Armistice just happened. His attempts to intimidate amoral lobbyists fail because Humans Are Bastards. Professor Hardin suggests using the Super Serum to create a whole race of idealists like Danner, but this never happens because of Danner's swift death. He can't even save his girlfriend from poverty— she leaves him because she thinks that she would hold his college education back otherwise.
  • Similarly, from Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens:
    "Think of all the things you could do! Good things!"
    "Like what?" said Adam suspiciously.
    "Well... you could bring the whales back, to start with."
    He put his head to one side. "An' that'd stop people killing them, would it?"
    She hesitated. It would have been nice to say yes.
  • In Harry Potter, the Ministry of Magic keeps the existence of wizards secret from Muggles because, as Hagrid puts it, "They might want magical solutions to their problems." It never seems to occur to any wizard to ask, "Well, why not?" In the Muggle world, wizards could become simply one more category of useful, respected, highly-paid professionals... though admittedly it could go horribly wrong. The prejudice against so-called "witches" is implied but never reinforced by anything worse than domestic abuse the protagonist suffers from his relatives. In the modern day, this is true, but wizards are also stuck in the past, and they well remember the witch hunts of previous centuries. It's implied that they are afraid of another one, and judging from the stories of wise men and local healers one can find in the Middle Ages, they probably did assist Muggle civilization before the witch hunts and Statute of Secrecy. (It also doesn't hurt that, as Hermione points out in Prisoner of Azkaban and again in Goblet of Fire, large concentrations of magic interfere with modern electronics.)
  • Hurog: In Dragon Bones, magically bound ghost-slave Oreg tells Ward that he must do whatever Ward wants, and has great power. What does Ward ask him to do? "Protect my sister, and report to me each evening". Later on, Axiel, the Battle Butler, notes that Oreg is obviously trained as assassin. This fact is ignored for the rest of the novel, no assassination orders are given. Oreg does some magic, but mostly just hangs out with Ward, and does whatever Ward is doing at the moment, or assists with some magic. Justified by the fact that Ward is a decent person, and thinks of Oreg as a kind of additional brother to be protected, not a thing to be used. (It is also implied that Oreg's power may be weakened by the distance he is away from castle Hurog, but is not explained in detail.)
  • Journey to Chaos: Tariatla is an Urban Fantasy world and it is an aversion. Magic is used for many mundane problems which then creates a world that is both similar and different to contemporary real life. In Mana Mutation Menace, this becomes a plot point. Eric (an otherworlder from "Threa", i.e. "Earth") talks about all the problems that plague his homeworld which Tariatla has conquered through magic. He does this to convince them to continue working towards a solution to their own magic-based problems, such as mana mutation, instead of a more drastic solution (like submission to Order). By the end of the book, they have indeed made progress.
  • In Aleksandr Zarevin's Lonely Gods of the Universe, a teleportation device is developed independently by a Human Alien on his homeworld and a modern-day human. However, neither tries to sell the device or use it for commercial applications. The alien, being a college student, tries to use it to stage a revolution on his home planet. His attempt eventually results in a nuclear war, with him and a dozen others being the only known survivors, as they manage to teleport to a planet they call Pearl, populated by primitive humanoids, not long before all hell breaks loose. Not surprisingly, "Pearl" turns out to be Bronze Age Earth, and the aliens (who accidentally become The Ageless) help jump-start the early Greek civilization and end up becoming responsible for any non-black hair color as well as both the Classical Mythology and the story of Atlantis. Specifically, the part about the aliens helping the Atlanteans develop a powerful civilization with a strong navy averts this trope, and the inventor being unable to recreate the device on Earth is justified by the fact that he requires a key mineral that he is unable to find. His 20th century Russian counterpart is a young student who likes to tinker. Him and his friend end up going farther and accidentally invent a device that transports through both space and time. Naturally, they keep it to themselves and forget all about it until years later. They are eventually approached by the aliens (who've been living among us all this time) and hired to continue their work in a state-of-the-art lab. The aliens' main concern for the technology is to figure out how to use it to go back in time to Atlantis and warn their past selves about an impending cataclysm about to destroy the island. In the end, the protagonists realize that they're stuck in a time loop that threatens to unravel after several iterations, and they resolve to erase themselves from existence to survive (yeah, Timey-Wimey Ball is involved) by preventing their own conceptions. It's not clear if the technology eventually ends up making it into public hands.
  • Another novel by Shefner, The man with five "No"'s, or the confession of the simple-hearted (released in the US as The Unman), has the (not particularly remarkable) main character meet several inventors during his life. One of them is a man who accidentally develops a youth serum when working on a drug that would prevent someone from dying by falling from a window (inspired by his baby brother's death). The drug turns out to be useless for its original purpose, as it has to be taken minutes before falling. An unexpected side effect of taking it and falling (or jumping) out of a window is the more youthful appearance of the person. When the news leaks, dozens of people demand to use the serum. Eventually, stressed out from the unending stream of people seeking the Fountain of Youth, he jumps out a window but forgets to take the drug (it is unclear whether the formula was lost, but it's not mass produced). Another person is a chemist who decides to help her father's liquor business. Inspired by the story of Jesus turning water into wine, she resolves to re-create it using chemical means. She succeeds and makes a number of bottles whose insides are coated in special chemicals that, when filled with water and exposed to sunlight for a few hours, turn into the chosen alcoholic beverage. Much to her dismay, her father condemns the invention, claiming it will destroy his business, as a customer only needs to buy a single bottle to keep a never-ending supply of a particular drink. She ends up not selling any of the bottles and dies before the end of the story, taking the secret to her grave (although, admittedly, the invention did cause quite a bit of trouble in the two cases it did get out).
  • The Modest Genius by Vadim Shefner is about a brilliant but timid inventor whose greatness no one recognizes. It's occasionally lampshade, when his Love Interest's best friend keeps mentioning how ordinary the protagonist is and that she's looking for an "extraordinary man". She appears to find and marry one, and occasionally excitedly describes his new inventions. They're all horrible and needlessly complicated ideas, such as square spokes for bicycle wheels and a building-sized can opener. Meanwhile, the protagonist has developed Artificial Gravity (he keeps his desk on the ceiling to create extra space in the room), a camera that shows the future (he accidentally predicts World War II), a spray that allows one to walk on water, a youth restoration device, and many other much more useful inventions. He never sells any of them and destroys some for fear of misuse. Both his wife (who later leaves him for another man) and his son think he's a failure. He eventually reunites with his original Love Interest (who left him after the same future-seeing camera showed him marrying another woman, thus creating a Stable Time Loop) when they're both well past their prime. He uses the above-mentioned youth device, the last of his inventions, to turn them both into their 20-something selves (that device is justifiably useless, since it was shown to require the entire power output of the Sun just to restore them).
  • Whole premise of Monday Begins on Saturday is an aversion—it takes place in Soviet research facility, dedicated to sharing benefits of magic with mundane part of humanity. Some of projects include wide distribution of Living Water (bottled healing factor), creating solvents for grief and hatred, seeking the meaning of life etc. Though most of their real successes are mentioned off-screen, while book concentrates on hilarious failures and research process itself.
  • In More Than Human, the protagonist, Lone, invents an anti-gravity device, in order to prevent his stepfather's old farm truck from continually getting stuck. Justified in that though he is a telepathic genius who is part of a superhuman gestalt, he is also, in the words of the book, "an idiot", as in extremely low intelligence.
  • Night Watch (Series):
    • The Others do interfere with human affairs, but an elaborate system of mutual sanctions makes sure that interference isn't overt. The sanctions were set up to preserve the Balance, which, in turn, was established because open warfare between the Light Others and Dark Others left catastrophic casualties on both sides (and untold collateral damage). This doesn't stop each side from trying to find an advantage that would allow them to win without triggering Mutually Assured Destruction. Later they have to be even more careful, as regular humans are also fully capable of Mutually Assured Destruction, partly due to the Others' interference.
    • The great danger in Final Watch is a group of Others hiring human mercenaries and giving them enchanted weapons. Anton is a Light mage Beyond Categories (i.e. extremely powerful). Even he is powerless when a merc is aiming a submachinegun at him with bullets that kill anything up to three Gloom levels. The only thing that saves him is a Heroic Sacrifice by a female werewolf, a Dark Other. Also, the same Others start using top-of-the-line human weapons like remote-controlled turrets to take out powerful Others.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, Penny's father is a retired superhero with a brilliant mind. He spends a lot of his time trying to analyze inventions made by Mad Scientists to see if they have applications elsewhere. Penny's inventions are one-offs. She has no idea how they function or even how to repair them. In fact, the latter is an issue for most Gadgeteer Geniuses and Mad Scientists. It's far easier for them to come up with a new invention than to try to fix one that's broken. Despite this, the level of science in this 'verse is noticeably higher than in Real Life, implying that this trope isn't entirely averted.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, the Order of Solomon ruthlessly stamps out all knowledge of powerful magic; Miranda and her siblings and father are effectively immortal, for instance. However, the effect is to invert this trope: once they no longer realize they can traffic with evil spirits for power, mankind turned to science instead. Which even produced better results for people in general. Similarly, the Unwary in her Rachel Griffin series are kept ignorant of magic because their attempts to gain such magic for themselves can be disastrous.
  • Deconstructed in The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. People are constantly wondering why the Elders and the Immortal Humans don't use their fantastic powers to intervene and help mankind. Nicholas and Perenelle point out that centuries ago, the Elders did live amongst the humans and help them but that civilisation did not progress at all until they left and the humans had to fend for themselves.
  • In Stardust, the protagonist Tristan burns his hand, and his Love Interest Yvaine limps from a broken leg — and as a result, both are somewhat crippled for life. However, they are in a land full of magic and eventually become king and queen, so it's difficult to believe that no cure at all was available for them. Perhaps they eventually just chose to keep their handicaps.
  • In Super Powereds, Gadgeteer Geniuses have only recently been classified as Supers (after a criminal genius used a custom-made weapon to kill a Hero everyone thought invulnerable). While some try to use their skills to become Heroes or criminals, others opt to lead ordinary lives, trying to sell their inventions. The problem is that it isn't always easy to reverse-engineer them, so not all inventions end up being mass-produced by normal means.
  • Theodicy is essentially the study of why God, the main character of The Bible, doesn't just solve all of our problems in Real Life. Is it possible that Status Quo Is God?
  • Justified in The Tommyknockers. Havenites altered by the buried spaceship can create anti-gravity, telepathy, teleportation, and all sorts of physics-defying goodies, but the same process affects their mindset so that they never think of using their fabulous inventions for anything greater than everyday concerns and are unable to problem-solve their way around anything making their creations Awesome, but Impractical (for example, the anti-gravity is battery-run because it needs direct current, but nobody even thinks of building their own DC generators or buying AC/DC converters).
  • In James Blish's story "Titan's Daughter," one of a race of persecuted genetically engineered superhumans discovers a non-Newtonian force, a thrust at a distance with no recoil. Obviously this has applications for everything from mining to flying cars, so he develops it industrially to become rich and powerful enough to help his fellow superhumans... No, of course not, that would be too simple. He uses it to build power armour so they can try to take over the USA.
  • Generally averted in Villains' Code. The de facto leader of the League of Villainous Reformation, Doctor Mechaniacal, spends most of his time running his tech company, using his Mad Scientist genius to make billions on his inventions. The "capes" have their own counterpart in the form of Professor Quantum, although he tends to spend most of his time in his own private island lab, so it's unclear if any of his inventions end up being sold to the public. The general tech level is roughly the same as in Real Life, though, so Mechaniacal's inventions must not be anything overly revolutionary. To be sure, he does have tech that's light years ahead of the curve (Powered Armor, Artificial Gravity, Brain/Computer Interface) but he's keeping it for himself.
  • Wearing the Cape:
    • Verne-types (gadgeteers) are superhumans who can create impossible Weird Science stuff, like powersuits and antigravity pods — but only for themselves; nothing can be mass-produced from the designs and formulas they create. If anyone else tries to build their designs, they won't work. In the second book, the team's Verne-type is said to be creating custom prosthesis for veterans and children in his spare time, so while they're not completely useless, they're of limited utility.
    • Japan gets around the limit of Verne-tech simply by drafting all their Verne-types and putting them to work on national defense. Sure, they can't produce enough Powered Armor and Humongous Mecha to give to civilians, but the first time a Kaiju crawled over the wall and got shot by a few hundred remote-piloted mechs, they proved their worth. They also have defenses against more exotic things such as Hope's quantum link with Shell, and other nations suspect they have the ability to detect supers entering their country.
    • On the other hand, a benevolent time traveler mentions that he's been speeding up technological progress, especially in medicine. He travels to various potential futures and brings back things that will improve current technology by a few years at a time. Non-lethal weapons are far more advanced than they should be, and it's implied that Hope only survived her childhood brush with cancer because of advancements he brought back.
    • In Team-Ups and Crossovers, Hope visits a post-apocalyptic reality where the team's Verne-type has set himself up as a benevolent overlord of a large city with his inventions. When she hears about all the stuff he invented that made him so powerful, she mentions that he invented all that in her reality too — and while it's made him rich, it's not as newsworthy in a world that hasn't been knocked back to the Dark Ages due to a giant EMP.
  • In The Wheel of Time, due to the various reasons, namely corruption of male channelers, massive loss of knowledge, dwindling numbers and growing public distrust, Aes Sedai of the Third Age mostly provide community service as healers, political advisors and negotiators, not to mention the search for potential male channelers to neutralize them.
  • For the majority of 'super-inventors' in Wild Cards, their creations are actually an expression of their wild-card talent—the device doesn't work for others because it is really powered by their psychic abilities. It is mentioned that attempts to reverse engineer such 'inventions' often find things like apple cores, Klein bottles (which are impossible in a 3-dimensional space), and/or schematics of the desired circuits where the circuits should be.
  • The main character of The Witches of Bailiwick controls weather, noted as a perfect example at the top of this page. Even stranger, the protagonist's weather control ability is always treated as mundane and relatively useless.
  • In the universe of Worm, several factors contribute to this:
    • The way Tinker powers work in the universe make it such a pain to make Tinker-tech compatible with mass production and maintainable by ordinary human beings that most Tinkers don't try. There are a handful of mass-produced Tinker products (such as the PRT's containment foam), but they are in the extreme minority.
    • Every few months, massive Kaiju with superpowers emerge and attack a major population center, often resulting in millions of casualties. Most science and gadget heroes are understandably focused on this issue. There are strong suggestions that the Endbringers actually target people who try to avert this trope, as in the case of Mannequin.
    • As the nature of super powers are explored it is gradually revealed that the entities fueling them are hard-coded to seek conflict as part of their reproductive/evolutionary pattern. They subtly and sometimes overtly influence their host's minds to use their powers, and actively sabotage efforts to reduce conflict and prevent the sort of suffering that drives humans to trigger in ways the entities find interesting.
    • Accord, a supervillain, attempts to avert this trope using his superhuman planning skills—he has a plan that could end world hunger within twenty-three years—but generally fails due to his psychosis and the fact that nobody takes him seriously due to said psychosis.
    • Panacea has the power to heal pretty much any disease or injury. She manifested this ability when she was 13 or 14 (she's about 16 at the start of the story) and spends a good chunk of her time going to hospitals and healing. She's constantly riddled with guilt about never doing enough, and is occasionally tempted to make a mistake to lessen the expectations on her—and then feels guilt about those temptations, leading her to loath herself and to irrationally resent those she heals, leading to greater guilt.
    • This is at least partially enforced, in that there is an entire suite of laws designed to make it as difficult as possible for parahumans to use their abilities for anything other than combat. The official purpose of these laws is to prevent unfair competition, the semi-secret purpose is to force parahumans to join the local Mutant Draft Board. And the totally secret purpose is so that the conspiracy which is secretly running the world and trying to prepare for the alien Big Good to turn Big Bad and go on a rampage has as many combat-focused, powered people on hand as possible when the time comes. Once again, this is partly engineered by the entities to encourage the sort of conflict they find educational.
  • Averting this is explicitly one of the goals of Merlin in David Webber's Safehold series, in which the protagonist is an android with access to huge caches of lost tech and is working hard to spread that knowledge around, allowing locals to 'discover' it and reap the benefits. He of course doesn't really care who invents the tech, since his goal is to generally uplift the entire world.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 4400:
    • The 4400s in general were supposed to have powers that could radically change the world to avert a futuristic catastrophe, but humanity's general fear & paranoia kept this from going beyond isolated examples of killing specific people who would cause harm or fixing up a single neighborhood park. The whole "Ripple Effect" from the first season became something of an Aborted Arc.
    • Collier shows that his supers can use their powers for good by getting one of them to turn a square mile of the Sahara into wheat fields... and never does it again. The only message this should send to normals is that the 4400s could help you out, but they won't 'cause they don't give a shit.
    • Collier's movement from Season 4 tried to avert this. He sectioned off an abandoned part of Seattle and his newly-empowered followers had powers that could fix many problems, such as a woman who could de-pollute a lake just by swimming in it. All the government heard was "Collier took a piece of land that technically belongs to us" and started a mini-war, ensuring that none of his improvements spread beyond that part of the city.
    • One guy's saliva could cause weight loss. Companies sought him out to potentially market a revolutionary weight-loss drug. But it turns out that the saliva doesn't stop working and eventually the people who were under its effects become emaciated .
  • Averted in Arrow. Felicity was shot in the Season 4 midseason finale and left in a wheelchair. Within a few episodes, Curtis was able to use advanced technology to invent a chip that will allow her to walk again. It apparently can't be reproduced, but the implications alone are staggering. The criticism this drew (see motivation 3 at the top of the page) from viewers and even the actress who plays Felicity demonstrates why this trope is usually played straight. Later on, Felicity and Curtis form a start-up with the specific goal of replicating the prototype and mass-producing it. Curtis even manages to make a similar chip to overcome the nerve damage in Diggle's hand. However, the falling out between the original Team Arrow and the new recruits may put an end to the start-up.
  • In an interesting sitcom example, the premise of The Big Bang Theory is about young, incredibly smart geniuses working at Caltech and their adventures trying to navigate a normal life. They have specialties ranging into high-end theoretical and experimental physics and are depicted as giving lectures, having papers published and even going on scientific expeditions. But it is nothing truly groundbreaking or it would make them celebrities. This is lampshaded by Leonard in the third episode. When Penny asked if anything was new in the physics world, his response was a bemused "Nothing". He explained that all basic physics concepts have been in place since the 1930s and most of physics work today is basically advanced theories that can't be proven, only internally consistent. The show does break out of this on a few occasions, but most of these are things which, even if they are implemented, wouldn't be particularly notable:
    • Howard had been established early as being an engineer for NASA and designs the toilet on the International Space Station (which apparently had a design flaw they spent an episode trying to fix). This connection with NASA leads him to be chosen as a payload specialist for a new piece of tech going up, with him getting the opportunity to brag about actually being in space.
    • Sheldon formulates the creation of a new superheavy element, which is initially confirmed by other research teams. This earns him some significant prestige at the university, but nothing exceptional or worldwide news. Humorously, he discovered his math was off (by a factor of 10,000) and the discovery was a fluke, which infuriated him. But in a later episode Leonard manages to disprove the results and he actually didn't discover anything.
    • When talking to Penny about his work, Leonard had a "Eureka!" Moment when it came to superfluid helium and interaction with the universe, and he partners up with Sheldon to flesh out the theory. Their idea quickly makes the rounds in the scientific community, praised by no less than Stephen Hawking, and in swift order they start getting published in science journals and lecturing at other universities. This ended up being the longest and most well-developed Story Arc of the series, as Howard ended up suggesting a navigation system that would be possible based on their theories and they go in together with a patent. Said patent later catches the attention of the military and all three end up with a military contract to develop it. Once completed the military let them go without ceremony, although they later juggle offering other technology that could be developed based on their original idea.
    • In the 12th and final season Sheldon and Amy develop a new physics theory "Super Asymmetry" and find themselves up for a Nobel Prize. Given the general accuracy of the math and science on the show, it ran straight into the problem of even a technical adviser not being able to produce a genuinely award-worthy theory. The reactions of most physicists to questions about its validity have been at best a shrug.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Magic can only be used to bring people back to life if they die by supernatural means. So Buffy can be brought back after her death that was caused by leaping into and closing Glory's portal in Season 5, but Joyce and Tara have no such luck after an aneurysm and gunshot wound, respectively. The Urn of Osiris, which resurrected Buffy, was also the only true way of bringing someone back from the dead, body and soul intact. When Willow acquired it, she was lucky, because that was the very last one, and it was smashed and defiled, so if it had been pieced back together it still would have been useless.
  • Invoked in a later episode of Charmed, when Paige's newest romantic interest discovers the fact that she's a witch, and, upon parsing the reality that magic exists in the world, he wonders why the supposedly 'good' witches don't use their powers to better mankind. By the end of the episode, however, he understands the evil that also exists has to be held back by said witches.
  • Doctor Who and its spin-offs repeatedly stress the idea that interfering in human history more than necessary will cause a lot more problems than it solves. Although touched on in the original series (as noted in the examples below), the revived series in 2005 introduced the phrase "fixed point in time" to describe moments that the Doctor cannot tamper with. So, for example, he cannot prevent Hitler from starting the Second World War (despite another person attempting this in "Let's Kill Hitler") or prevent 9/11.
    • In the William Hartnell era, full of 'pure historical' stories, much is made of how the Doctor is unwilling to change history, with virtually no justification given (especially as this only applies to events on Earth, and not other cultures). While this restriction is not explained, the other characters regard it as atrocious in-universe (particularly in "The Aztecs", where Barbara attempts to use time travel to end the Aztecs' human sacrifice, and "The Massacre", where Steven is outraged by the Doctor refusing to intervene in a genocide in France). Presumably, these are the fixed points that must happen, and which the later series discusses.
    • The Pertwee era has a couple of stories ("The Green Death" and "Planet of the Spiders") which involve a Metebelis sapphire, a stone capable of a variety of psychic effects including curing mental disabilities. The Doctor gave it away as a wedding present. Its recipient sent it back to him, but he never used it ever again (except for appearing as a prop amongst a bunch of Cow Tools in a typical Fourth Doctor pocket gag in "Genesis of the Daleks"). Considering how much trouble they caused him, this isn't surprising.
    • At the start of "The Ark in Space", Harry suggests that the Doctor could sell the TARDIS technology and set it up in Trafalgar Square. The Doctor appears to view this idea as an insult and Sarah snaps at Harry for babbling.
    • The Time Lords zealously guard time travel from falling into the hands of other species, though this one is half fears of the damage other species would cause and half the Time Lords being selfish, pompous jackasses. Considering the ways some people abuse time travel, this isn't entirely unjustified. The Doctor also relates one example of where the Time Lords tried to help a neighboring planet by giving it advanced technology: the Time Lords got "kicked out at gunpoint. Then they went to war with each other, learnt how to split the atom, discovered the toothbrush and finally split the planet."
    • A more traditional example in "Dalek": Henry Van Statten discovers the cure for the common cold in alien bacteria but keeps it secret because there's more money to be made selling palliatives.
    • The premise of the Expanded Universe book Interference is that the Doctor's metafictional constraints that prevent him intervening with real-world events make him useless. He spends most of the book being powerlessly tortured in a Saudi prison.
    • In "Victory of the Daleks", Churchill berates the Doctor for confiscating sophisticated technology that would win World War II overnight, but begrudgingly accepts that the Doctor knows what he's doing.
  • As part of its shift from Dom Com to sci-fi comedy, Family Matters had Steve Urkel successfully invent numerous devices (on top of numerous unsuccessful ones that would usually damage the Winslow's house) with potentially world changing effects, but the rest of the universe was identical to the real world of the '90s. It was occasionally justified In-Universe, like when Steve withdrew the transformation chamber from a public contest since he feared what society would do with such a thing.
  • Played straight in The Flash. Cisco and Caitlin are brilliant scientists, whose inventions can revolutionize the world, and yet they never bother to do anything with the tech that doesn't help Team Flash. Averted in the Flashpoint timeline, where Cisco is the richest man in the world, using his genius to run a tech company. Also averted on Earth 2, where "Harry" Wells has made great strides in technology by selling his inventions. As an example, Cisco is the inventor of Captain Cold's gun, a device the size of a bulky handgun capable of producing a stream of absolute zero. To put into context how revolutionary this is, in 2001, a team of researchers were able to achieve 170nK, which is warmer than that, and won a Nobel Prize. Other inventions include handheld dimensional-portal creators, and goggles that induce lucid dreaming which leaves the dreamer able to communicate with people who are awake.
  • On Fraggle Rock, Convincing John has the ability to convince anyone to do anything (even when they don't know it's him, such as in "The Secret Society of Poobahs"), yet he never thinks to convince the Gorgs into no longer being a threat to Fraggles, nor does Gobo think to have him go to "outer space" to convince Sprocket to not be his enemy.
  • In Heroes, the Healing Factor is so powerful and so intrinsic to an individual's cells that a single blood transfusion is shown to be able to cure a bullet wound to the head. There were at one point three main characters possessing this power (although admittedly one of them is a sociopath), yet neither them nor anyone else has even considered that they could save potentially thousands of lives every single day. Claire at one point wants to use her power for just this purpose, but is convinced otherwise by her father. However, during the eclipse Claire started dying because of an extremely large buildup of bacteria and viruses; apparently her powers prevent her from getting sick, but the high concentration of bacteria and such would certainly show up in any blood she donates, even if it wouldn't harm the recipient. An episode brought the idea back up to cure Hiro's brain tumor, and Claire's offer was immediately shot down by her father because the regeneration factor would make him die faster.
  • Knight Rider: While the technology that Wilton Knight produced can be extremely dangerous (KARR, the times when someone has taken over KITT or used KITT's body), they are overlooking one important thing: Wilton Knight built a self-driving car. Build a normal car without the Molecular Bonded Shell or the other gadgets his supercars have (like Turbo Boost or Microwave Jammer), maybe even dumb down the AI a bit (where the AI can still drive but it can't play trivia games). Now you have a vehicle that can drive itself with a 0% error rate and can take over driving if the operator cannot. Traffic accidents? Gone. Driver falls asleep at the wheel? No problem. Driver is intoxicated or is under the influence of drugs? The car can drive them home. It really flies in the face of "one man can make a difference" when fighting "criminals above the law" seeing as how KITT and Michael help just one person a week, when this technology can save hundreds every day. The only explanation why this occurs is when Devon explains to Michael that Wilton didn't allow his technology to be used is because some tech from Wilton had been stolen in the past.
  • There's a TVB historical war epic series titled Lady Fan, set in the Tang Dynasty, where the supporting character, Ying-Lung, is a genius inventor whose inventions takes Anachronism Stew to the extremes — including creating fireworks-propelled rollerskates, a sewing machine, Smoke Bombs, a Helicopter Pack made from bamboo, and a freaking motorcycle (in the Tang Dynasty!) in one episode... and for some reason, the other characters disregard Ying-Lung's inventions as "childish toys created by a rich playboy" and it NEVER occurred to any of them to mass-produce his inventions (despite the benefits, since the show is set during a war between the Tang Dynasty and the invading barbarian hordes) which could propel the Tang Dynasty a few centuries into the future.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of Legends of Tomorrow, where Thawne points out that Ray's dwarf star reactor could be used to cleanly power an entire city. Instead, Ray uses the technology to build himself the Atom suit, so he can play superhero. Even later, when he obtains enough of the alloy for a dozen suits, he still doesn't think to use the rest to help out humanity. This is despite the fact that he started out as a tech billionaire. Averted with Thawne himself in the world he creates using the Spear of Destiny. There, he is once again in charge of S.T.A.R. Labs (though with his own face and name this time) and is praised all over the world for helping to fix climate change, save the polar bears, and other global problems. True, he's still a murdering bastard, but at least he goes back to his roots of wanting to be the hero. Also averted in a Season 1 episode, where the Legends travel to the Bad Future not long before Savage takes over and discover that Ray's Atom tech has been "appropriated" by his younger brother Sydney after Ray's disappearance, and Sydney's descendants have used it to build Atom-like robots that serve as the police force of the Kasnia Conglomerate, enforcing the board's totalitarian rule. Ray isn't happy about how his tech is misused.
  • Now and Again:
    • Dr. Morris and his team successfully created an artificial human body with superhuman strength and a nanotechnology-based Healing Factor, and then successfully transplanted a human brain into it. Any one of the solutions to the problems they had to have overcome to do this would revolutionize medicine; for example, a method for reconnecting nerves would end trauma-related paralysis by itself.
    • The same goes for the force field technology demonstrated in one episode. Justified, as it is designed to be a missile shield and, so far, only works in a highly-ionized atmosphere (i.e. a thunderstorm), which can't be created on demand.
  • Person of Interest. Lampshaded at the beginning of Season 2 when Finch (creator of a supercomputer which analyses all surveillance data in the country so as to predict threats against national security) is kidnapped by sociopathic hacker Root. Root realises that the true implication of the Machine is not its potential misuse as a tool of Big Brother — to successfully predict human actions, Finch has created the first true artificial general intelligence. Root can't believe that Finch's response to doing this was to Black Box the system and hand it over to a corrupt and power-hungry US government, and is determined to set the Machine free. By the end of Season 3, Decima Technologies, recognizing the power of the technology, has brought another AGI online in order to Take Over the World. The rest of the series explores just how dangerous that kind of technology can be if it falls into the wrong hands. When two AGIs go to war with each other, thousands of people die. Finch chose to severely limit the Machine's functionality after the first dozens of iterations all tried to kill him after being turned on.
  • In Power Rangers and Super Sentai series:
    • Humanity made First Contact in Power Rangers in Space, fielded an interstellar colony in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, and mastered Ranger technology by Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, with giant robots, plasma weaponry, and miniaturized antigravity backing it up. State universities offer courses in Galactic History and Mythology. And civilian technology remains exactly the same as real life, down to the four-wheeled road-bound fossil-fuel-powered internal-combustion-engine driven cars. Then again, it's implied that Ranger tech has a massive energy cost; you'd need the output of a nuclear power plant or more (like the megareactors seen in In Space and Lightspeed Rescue) just to field a five- or six-man team. Many of the Power Rangers' equipment, such as their Transformation Trinkets, their weapons, their Zords and any other pieces of equipment appear to run off of a quasi-mystic bioelectric force/dimension known as the Morphing Grid and judging by the name, it only works for Power Rangers.
    • Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters has as its central premise the development of Enetron, a clean and renewable energy source that's completely supplanted fossil fuels and nuclear power...and by the next series it's nowhere to be found. This may be justified since Go-Busters takes place in "Neo AD", but the team has appeared in several crossovers and nobody batted an eyelash. Former Power Rangers writer Amit Bhaumik cited this as one of the potential reasons Saban passed on adapting Go-Busters; his rejected proposal Power Rangers Cyber Corps would have resolved this by setting the series on Mirinoi, the planet colonized at the end of Lost Galaxy.

      In Power Rangers: Beast Morphers, we're treated to Morph-X, a special clean and renewable energy source powered by the Morphing Grid. Yes, the same Morphing Grid that gives all of our heroes their powers. The mayor of Crystal Cove, Mayor Daniels, is not too thrilled at this prospect because of how many evil threats from throughout space and time have gone after the Rangers' powers and now they have a big target on their back. Grid Battleforce, on the other hand, uses their research and technology to try and make Morph-X-powered equipment useful. Regular cars are still used, however.
  • Used (sort of an inverted lampshade?) by Rimmer in Red Dwarf, who scoffs at the idea that Jesus can do all these magic tricks and doesn't go into show-business!
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch:
    • One of the earliest episodes acknowledges this, with Sabrina vowing to use her magic to do nice things for people. Both her aunts and Salem warn her about bad potential side effects. Sure enough, she injures a first string football player so Harvey can replace him and rigs the Class President election so that Jenny wins instead of the more popular Libby. Harvey ends up injured due to his inexperience on the field, and Jenny realises she has no real power as president (since it is essentially a popularity contest). The big one however is when Sabrina makes Mr Pool rich by giving him a formula that can turn lead into gold. She gets in trouble with the Witches Council because she altered the laws of the universe.
    • Magician scientist Zelda Spellman tried to make a machine that would somehow, using de-ionization and the Hanta virus, process dirt into edible protein pellets and end the suffering of millions. When the first prototype blew up she became frustrated and quit trying, blaming her disinterest on a lack of electricity to power the device in the third-world countries that needed it.
    • Played with in one episode where Mr Kraft buys a magic box that he discovers can copy items. He uses it to duplicate his gold bars and briefly wonders whether it can be used for food and medicine as well, then promptly forgets about it and continues duplicating his gold bars.
    • The series does Hand Wave it in an episode that warns about the dangers of 'charitable magic'; Zelda using an example of a witch who magically got rid of her best friend's acne, and ending up ruining her future prospects of one day becoming a scientist who discovers a cure for acne.
    • One of the novelizations lampshades it. A magical 'wish dust' that will indeed grant the wishes of anyone who happens to be holding it gets lost around Westbridge High - and the idle wishes of teenagers even conjure up Hollywood stars. Sabrina panics about what could potentially happen, and Salem attempts to be reassuring; suggesting maybe someone will wish for an end to world hunger or the cure for cancer. Sabrina's only response is "at Westbridge High?"
  • Sesame Street:
    • In contrast to thunder and lightning being made when The Count finishes counting, whenever Countess Dahling von Dahling finishes counting, it rains. She could very well use this ability to make it rain in places that need water, and indeed after her debut there are at least two episodes concerning a city-wide water shortage.
    • In the direct-to-video The Best of Elmo 2, Elmo meets a Memory Bot, who is powered by other people's memories, and eventually learns to make its own memories. The robot's creator could very well invent other devices that run on memories.
  • In Smallville, Clark Kent discovers that his blood can bring people back to life, but the revived people have to keep taking it every twelve hours or else they die, for good. And, being around kryptonite hastens the time limit. In addition, they come back increasingly psychotic. Clark disposes of all the blood samples, deciding it isn't worth it. In one episode it was subverted when Clark used his blood to revive Zod of all people, not only bringing him back to life, but also giving him/releasing his locked super powers. No 12 hours limit there — possibly due to Zod also being from Krypton? Way to go Clark.
  • Stargate-verse:
    • The series begins with 1995 people using 1995 technology and the SGC really hadn't managed to collect much alien tech (let alone understand it). The end of the series has them in the possession of the full library of knowledge of two distinct intergalactic cultures, one of whom left detailed replication instructions for everything, and a bunch of alien allies and enough offworld colonies to solve every population problem (living space, famine, etc.) on Earth five times over. Getting public support would probably allow Earth to expand across the entire galaxy in the span of a few decades. While the later episodes indicate some of this tech is beginning to filter down (a prototype energy weapon, medical nanites in development, etc.), for the most part the government is unwilling to break the ruse since other groups consistently misuse the technology. It also helps that they're constantly in the middle of secret wars and probably don't want to reveal themselves at a "low point". They've also learned from the experience of one of their former allies, the Tollan, who shared their advanced technology with a neighboring world only to watch as that world destroyed itself, devastating the Tollan homeworld in the process. There's a good reason the SGC is introducing things slowly.
    • There were two times that they met with an alien race called the Aschen, who offered to solve a massive part of Earth's problems, and the heroes were more than willing to go along with it. The Aschen were actually evil and intended to turn Earth into farmland to feed their own population, at which point the whole thing was conveniently reset with time travel. Later, when their own technology went far beyond the Aschen, the masquerade still remained the primary concern.
    • One episode has Carter and Lee go to a public event showing off current advanced development. Their "inventions" include holographic technology (which they have already shown off to the world on live TV in an earlier episode) and a prototype plasma weapon. Lee laments how he is forced to deliberately show small, logical steps in development of Imported Alien Phlebotinum in order to make it plausible to the scientific community that advanced tech didn't simply appear out of thin air. They actually sabotage the plasma weapon in order to show a not-quite-finished design, until an alien bounty hunter tries to kill Carter. (Luckily, she was using a hologram.) Carter and Lee then quickly adjust the plasma weapon to actually work, and she uses it to kill the assassin in front of hundreds of viewers.
    • Rodney McKay in Stargate Atlantis frequently laments that most of what he does for the Atlantis expedition would award him the Nobel physics prize multiple times over, but since he works for the military, he's consigned to being a mere footnote in the scientific world. One episode has him visiting a convention, where Bill Nye the Science Guy and Neil deGrasse Tyson make fun of him for always bragging about his great accomplishments, despite having no published articles to show for it.
    • Tretonin is the perfect cure for AIDS. Once the drug has killed the virus, the patient could then be weaned off of it using the method devised by the Tok'ra, leaving them with a healthy immune system. This is never brought up in the series.
  • As mentioned in the page intro, Star Trek is rife with missed opportunities and blindness regarding the application of the technology available. There usually end up being more rationalizations and justifications as to why something doesn't do something useful than techo-babble about how it works in the first place. On the other hand, currency is unneeded, replicators can convert energy into matter to form nearly everything, planets are easily terraformed in a few decades, ships can travel between planets in a few days and across a galaxy in weeks. Star Trek: Enterprise at least has the justification that any technology is bleeding edge so even technology common in the Original Series is barely tested.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series had an episode involving a plant that could cure any disease, and regrow severed limbs. The characters work out how to reliably overcome the side effects by the end of the episode. The plant was conveniently forgotten in all future episodes.
    • Similarly in the original series episode "Plato's Stepchildren", Bones uses a mineral common on the planet of the week to produce a 'serum' that gives people telekinetic powers. Despite the obvious utility something like this would have, it is never used again. The episode does attempt to justify it by showing what jerkasses the Platonians have become thanks to their reliance on those powers, and the one member of their society who is unable to develop the power naturally due to a pituitary disorder (and has been subsequently tortured by the others because of it) flat-out refuses to take McCoy's serum because he doesn't want to take the risk of becoming like them. Knowledge of the serum is taken with the crew, though solely to be used as a reminder to the Platonians that subsequent visitors will be able to duplicate it and won't be pushed around like the Enterprise crew were.
      • In yet another similar case, the Next Generation episode "Attached" introduces implants that give anyone that has them implanted telepathic ability with at least one other person, yet this extremely useful technology is not explored or even mentioned in any future Star Trek series despite the obvious numerous potential applications. This one has stronger footing than some others. It was created by a race hostile to the main characters as a means of involuntary brain download (something Starfleet understandably frowns upon). It also gets more than a passing mention that if two people use the device for too long their personalities, memories, etc start to bleed over. Additionally going more than a few meters from the other linked user is excruciating. A simple Vulcan mind meld would offer the same effects with less danger to the people involved.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Rascals", they accidentally discover the secret of eternal life (by turning four crewmembers into children via the transporter, while they still retain their memory). No one ever tries to find out how that worked.
      • This also occurred in the second season episode "Unnatural Selection". After being artificially aged, the crew is able to revert Dr Pulaski to her normal age by means of a DNA sample and the transporter. Ironically, earlier in the episode as she was experiencing accelerated aging, she commented that she was getting a better understanding of Geriatrics. Considering that they seem to have found a cure for old age, this new understanding ought to be irrelevant.
    • The episode "Too Short A Season" where a Federation Admiral reveals that a legendary drug that reverses aging is entirely real, and it definitely works on humans.
      • After all these multiple instances of devices and drugs capable of reversing aging, somehow the entire plot of a movie manages to revolve around the ethics of moving or killing an entire race of people just so the Federation can get their hands on particles that can do the same thing.
    • By the end of the episode "When the Bough Breaks", the crew of the Enterprise basically has unrestricted access to the technology of the super-advanced Aldean civilization. This includes a shield and cloaking device that can protect an entire planet and a repulsor beam that can hurl a starship light years away from it. Yet no evidence exists that they ever even bothered to take detailed scans of the technology, much less tried to duplicate it. These things would certainly have been very useful in the conflicts with the Borg and the Dominion. Though the power source for the equipment was far beyond anything the Federation had seen.
      • In the later episode "New Ground", the Federation is experimenting with the "soliton wave", a means of propelling a ship to warp speed without it having a warp drive. The technology is risky, and indeed proves dangerous. Throughout the episode the Enterprise crew remains conspicuously silent about the fact that they had a safe and reliable version of this kind of technology in their possession years earlier and never bothered to document and copy it.
    • Replicator technology. Every sophont and his dog seems to get it shortly after developing warp drive. (It's a logical spin-off from transporter technology, after all.) And yet there are still traders who deal in small, easily portable, mass-produced items (which were probably made in a replicator in the first place). Artwork and particularly obscure substances/items a replicator can't (currently) produce make sense as trade goods, as do items too large to be produced by one, but given the ubiquity of replicators, the only reason that trading self-sealing stem bolts makes any sense is because the writers want a point of familiarity.
    • In "A Fistful of Datas", Worf makes a timed-duration personal shield using a communicator badge and 19th-century stuff lying around. Nobody except the Borg, kind of, uses personal shields even though there's plenty of episodes where it would have been incredibly useful. This ends up getting averted, though, in Star Trek Online.
    • Interactions with the Mirror Universe tend to occur under anomalous conditions, and traveling back from whence one came is usually a matter of reversing a problem. However, one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine sees Mirror!O'Brien abducting and returning Sisko to and from his universe, seemingly completely at will. Since this is possible, this poses the questions of why no regular avenue of transit is established between the two universes, and why the regular universe does not see an inundation of Mirror Universe refugees (given the Slave Race status of humans there).
    • In the much reviled Star Trek: Voyager "Threshold", Tom Paris successfully creates a way to make vehicles reach Warp 10 which is explicitly described as infinite speed. It is then completely scrapped because it causes the unfortunate effect of turning people into salamanders. No one points out the logical alternative of slowing down the vehicle before it reaches Warp 10, travelling only at the necessary speed to get back to the Alpha Quadrant and revolutionizing galactic travel. Even if the salamander thing still maintains, they managed to successfully reverse it with no adverse effects!
    • Patrick Stewart related a story where a reporter had asked Gene Roddenberry at a press conference how it made any sense that there was a bald captain in the 24th century, when surely they would have invented a cure for male-pattern baldness by then. Roddenberry's response was that by the 24th century, no one would care.
  • Government scientists in The Six Million Dollar Man can make artificial limbs that not only look indistinguishable from the real thing, but outperform their biological equivalents by an order of magnitude. Yet none of this technology is ever used to restore amputees or paraplegics—they'd rather keep it all for a one-shot test pilot super-agent. Even their previous use of this technology (with Barney Miller/Hiller, the 7 Million Dollar Man) is something they sweep under the rug. A possible justification is that 6 million dollars in the 1970s is a lot of money, making these too prohibitively expensive to produce. The fact that Jaime Sommers nearly died when her body rejected her bionic implant and initially survived with amnesia and subconscious episodes of agonizing pain also likely mean the Food and Drug administration would never approve bionics wholesale implementation until satisfied that problem was solved.
    • The technology would also have uses outside of artificial limbs. Consider, for example, the miniaturized power sources contained in such limbs.
  • Supernatural:
    • Castiel, when he is at full power, can bend time and space, teleport, can use telekinesis, and can read minds. On occasion, he is shown teleporting short distances for convenience and he reads the mind of a call girl with comical results, but there multiple examples of Castiel not using his powers when it would have been convenient. It boils down to the writers have Cas use his powers when they want to.
    • Similarly, Crowley is a super powerful demon with superstrength and the ability to teleport (which he does sometimes) but is very often shown not using those powers.
  • Averting this is the whole point of The Visitor (1997), as the protagonist Adam fled back to Earth from the aliens, who had abducted him, in order to find inventors and help them spread their knowledge for the betterment of humankind. Unfortunately, not everyone is of the same mind, which includes his fellow abductees and the US military. For instance, the guy who invents anti-gravity is put in a secret military prison, as the military claims his discovery is too dangerous, as it can be used to make black holes. Meanwhile, a scientist-farmer attempting to produce Anti Matter instead figures out a way to grow crops incredibly quickly. Adam tells the man that he can single-handedly solve world hunger.
  • Warehouse 13 is chock-full of great inventions that could revolutionize whole industries, but some of the inventions have unintended side effects, while others are only used by Warehouse agents. This includes the Tesla-made stun guns. Imagine issuing every cop a Tesla gun instead of a lethal weapon. The only side effect is short-term memory loss (i.e. the target doesn't remember the events immediately preceding being hit with a bolt). There's also Thomas Edison's Bioelectric Stagecoach, an old-fashioned car that runs off the minuscule bioelectricity produced by its passengers (rejected by Henry Ford in order to sell more replacement parts for regular cars).

    Myths & Religion 
  • Jesus made one blind man see but didn't bother to cure blindness the world over. Presumably that's within his power. Indeed, much of the drama of that story is the local leaders wondering "Why would he only cure this bum, if he's so all-powerful? There must be an ulterior motive, ergo Jesus is a scam."

  • In Adventures in Odyssey, Mr. Whittaker has invented the Imagination Station, a Virtual Reality device in all but name. In one episode, a throwaway line reveals that the machine has grown so sophisticated that the adventures no longer need to be programmed in: one merely needs to scan a book or even a painting to then experience its story in the Station. The Station's "death program" took Mr. Whittaker into a vision of Heaven so powerful that it nearly killed him, while causing the agnostic Eugene to experience an eternity of nothingness. What does he do with the Station? It sits at the back of his soda shop, where kids use it to experience Biblical and historical events. Even when people manage to steal the Imagination Station's technology — which people don't try to do nearly as often as you'd think — they repurpose it for such petty villainy as Subliminal Advertising rather than taking advantage of its unbelievable potential.
  • Much like Reed Richards' translator, Douglas Adams stated that the reason every alien language can speak English is because everyone has a Babel Fish (from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978)) in their ear to translate it for us. Not only did the Babel Fish's creation cause God to disappear in a Puff of Logic but it has caused bigger and bloodier wars than anything else in existence from its removal of all language barriers.

  • Ivy from Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues was granted a superpower that allows her to create revolutionary inventions that could change the world. Her reasons for not sharing them are twofold; firstly, her power is such that her genius only lasts as long as she's making her invention. Once it's over, she's back to average intelligence with no way to replicate her success. Secondly, pawning her inventions off would reveal the existence of superpowers, and thus get Ivy and friends on the government's radar, which they're trying to avoid for fear of their safety.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Aberrant:
    • Both averted and played straight with "Project Utopia", dedicated to using the new superheroes for the betterment of humanity, including greening the Sahara, patching the hole in the ozone layer, getting rid of pollution, inventing new technology, toppling dictators, etc. However it is also dedicated to regulating technology, especially that created by those super-beings who are hyper-intelligent, and hiding away those it deems society can't handle. Naturally, there is a thriving black market for such technology as a result; the Yakuza, and in no small way Japan as a whole, make excellent profits that way.
    • The Player's Guide provides options for keeping "super-science" from changing things excessively, providing those running games the means to enforce this trope as they see fit.
    • Prequel game Adventure! also has super-science. In this case, only the Inspired, the pulp heroes of the setting (not to be confused with Genius's Inspired, below), can create super-science inventions, but plenty of them are attempting to use said inventions to change the world. By canon, they largely fail; when the supers of Aberrant arrive on the scene, the world looks much the same as it does in our timeline.
    • This gets changed somewhat in Trinity Continuum, the Continuity Reboot of Adventure! and Aberrant's shared universe: the actions of past generations of heroes have resulted in a present day that looks like our own, but more optimistic, with more money in the space program and more environmentalism. However, it's also resulted in a secret history with scientific anomalies and causality issues.
  • Ars Magica is generally like the real-world Middle Ages despite the existence of the Gifted, and in particular, the magi of the Order of Hermes. The Order is mostly useless because of its own Alien Non-Interference Clause, keeping it from becoming involved in wars or from driving technological development outside of the Order proper when that might be taken as "interference with mundanes." However, one later book in the line, Transforming Mythic Europe, gives ideas and examples of just how much change the Order might bring to Mythic Europe if they really tried, ranging from counterfeiting silver and Magitek to creating a new island kingdom in the middle of the North Sea.
  • Like 50% of all the abilities in Bleak World involve some spectacular and easily created magic or technology, and yet the whole world is seemingly on the brink of destruction every seven seconds because of entirely mundane things.
  • Claim the Sky: Played straight and averted.
    • Played straight: Valerie Lincoln and Olive Majestic both create fantastic technologies which they mostly keep private; Olive, in particular, is keeping most of them within the family and only releasing some of her tamer inventions to the public.
    • Averted: Silver Sentinel prevented the 9/11 hijackers from hitting the World Trade Center, and Daiyo quickly found a cure for COVID-19 that prevented it from becoming a pandemic.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Not done with technology but with magic in most editions. Depending on the level of magic in a given campaign world, it may be hard to justify any famines, diseases, plagues, etc. An astute player may even realize with enough magic, it is possible to instantly transport goods an infinite distance every six seconds all day long, thus rendering ships, caravans, and the like impractical. Yet it seems most magic is only used to crawl through caves, kill ugly people, and take their stuff, while all the peasants can keep on dirt farming.
    • Teleportation aside (as it is fairly powerful magic), less potent spells should eliminate all kinds of hazards. Even low-level curative magic should prevent folks from dying from anything which doesn't kill them outright. Remove Disease costs a low-level cleric nothing to cast and a few of them could essentially eliminate the danger of sickness in a community (especially if they understand triage). Furthermore, spell casters should be researching spells and making items which aren't related to dungeon-crawling to use in their mundane lives. However, since no player is going to get excited about "Ripen Crops II" and "Plowblade of Quick Tilling," they won't be in more recent (3.0 and later) editions. Earlier editions actually had such mundane magic from time to time.
    • The third-party book A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe was based entirely on averting this trope by describing how magic could be integrated into an agrarian society for the betterment of all, from daily use of low-level magic to annual shots of high-level spells.
    • Eberron did a lot of work both averting and justifying this trope. Magic has been industrialized and (partially thanks to a recent war) a lot of people have two or three levels in various classes, making low-level magic a lot more prevalent and regularly applied to improving daily life. However, high-level magic is still rare, with only a small number of people able to pull off the grand tricks like teleportation with any regularity — and most can only do it once a day or just aren't for hire. As a result, people are healthier and more productive, but shipping via teleportation is prohibitively expensive and actually slower for bulk cargo, so you have to rely on old-fashioned mundane means like magic trains.
  • Genius: The Transgression features many of the Inspired trying to stop being useless, but it's not going well because normal humans cause Wonders to break, dissolve, or start hungering for their creator's blood.
    • This trope was played with in the Old World of Darkness. Spectacular changes like a Universal Translator or a superpowered healing magic were certainly available to player characters, especially in Mage: The Ascension. However, they were prone to malfunction because the world was a World Half Empty running on Clap Your Hands If You Believe and humanity just didn't believe in the super-tech or old magic. Many supernaturals and human groups also had very good reasons to enforce the masquerade, and would make sure any Reed Richards who drew too much attention was discredited and then buried in a shallow grave. However, using your power to make the world subtly better was certainly possible. Running around the hospital ward curing folks like a Dungeons & Dragons cleric was right out, but having a "health spa" that believably helped assuage sicknesses was possible. The Technocratic Union from Mage, in particular, were creating super-science and trickling it out to normal humans when "reality" could handle it, averting this trope.
  • Mentioned explicitly in GURPS with the "Gadgeteer" advantage, which allows characters to invent new gadgets more easily. While Gadgeteer allows characters to make gadgets for themselves or to solve problems that arise during an adventure, in order to sell their gadgets for money (or even outfit their teammates with gadgets) they must purchase additional advantages which cost more Character Points. This is something of a truth-in-television version of the trope, as there is a big difference between prototype construction and actual profitable scale-up to mass production, and convincing investors that you've got the second set of skills is, realistically, yet another set of separate skills.
  • Palladium Books' Heroes Unlimited, being a superhero game largely based on the Silver Age of Comics, has no shortage of high-tech gadgets, as well as super-genius inventor types who can whip up new technological marvels with surprising speed. Books past the core establish that while some tech does make it to the public, there are a lot of stumbling blocks preventing a genuine technological revolution. In particular, there's an Alien Non-Interference Clause preventing technology sharing with aliens (and the fallout of one character breaking that code created the entire Century Station sub-setting), a lot of supertech can't be mass-produced for various reasons, and corporate interests strangle anything too advanced to maintain their own profit margins.
  • This is a general rule for superhero gadgets in Hero System as well. Devices cost character points to have; while other people are allowed to borrow them once or twice, they can't keep one unless they pay the character point cost as well.
    • It is left open in both Hero System for 6th Edition and Champions for 6th Edition, with suggestions with how to handle it but not implicitly applied as hard rules. It even gives suggestions on letting players avert this.
    • Averted in Aaron Allston's Strike Force and in the 6th Edition Strike Force reintroduced.
  • Being a superhero RPG, Mutants & Masterminds can often turn into this. Given powers are scaled (logically enough) to value combat uses, a character could very well make 'world problem solver' a gimmick with a fairly light investment of points. In the first edition of the game the standard form of the Creation power could create any inanimate objects. Given the rate at which it can be used, even a low-level hero could probably have solved world hunger if they weren't off using it to make anvils over villains' heads. A liberal combination of Stretching, Gadgets and (depending on your opinion of him) Super Intelligence can result in you the player being Reed Richards. Subverting or playing the trope straight is up to you then.
  • New World of Darkness:
    • In the sourcebook Immortals, this trope is justified with regard to the procedures used to keep the Patchwork People alive: the book acknowledges that these techniques would revolutionize health care across the world, but points out that they were developed through horrific experiments on unwilling subjects and require forcible extraction of necessary parts from live donors. The doctors who developed them realize that if what they had done ever came to light, they'd be trying to outrun the Torches and Pitchforks, not stopping by Stockholm to pick up their Nobels. So they prefer to keep it a secret and sell their services to the rich and immoral.
    • There are people who have found ways to use the various supernatural forces of the World of Darkness to further science, but rarity — whether of the supernaturals, or of the resources available to the researchers — prices such advances out of the reach of all but the wealthiest or most powerful. One such example is Last Dynasty Inc. from Mummy: The Curse, which has discovered that the mystical force known as Sekhem can be filtered into medication, producing steroids with no ill side effects and possible cures for cancer and HIV. The problem is that Sekhem can only be found in divine, immortal killing machines ringed by cultists, and the Relics said killing machines and cults are sworn to protect.
    • This is part of why being a mage kind of sucks. You can change the world, such that it will never be the same again... and ten seconds after a Sleeper sees it the entire thing will come crashing down. Magic can't survive scrutiny by the nonmagical.
  • This is averted in Sentinels of the Multiverse with Dr. Meredith Stinson aka Tachyon who, unlike what you might expect from an omnidisciplinary super scientist in a world based on Comic Books, has actually released several world changing inventions and innovations including sending humans to mars, making it possible to get your gas mileage over 60 miles to the gallon, and discovering a freaking cure for cancer!
  • Space 1889: quite a few inventions appear in the stories with little or no account of how it would affect the world as large. Often the story ends with the invention and the inventor destroyed. At other times, the trope is averted and the story ends with some suggestions for how the invention will affect the campaign.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • This is explicitly enforced by the Imperium (or more specifically the Adeptus Mechanicus), declaring the invention of any new technology to be Heresy and focused only on recovering millenia-old Lost Technology. Furthermore, using Xeno technosorcery is strictly forbidden, and while that doesn't stop more wealthy/powerful individuals it isn't exactly helpful to the average human (of course, this only counts for the regular people and the low-level techpriests. The lords of Forgeworlds, more machine than man and 10,000 years old, couldn't care less about rules on research and this is unofficially tolerated by both the Mechanicus and the wider Imperium governments as simple necessity though extremely rigorous prototyping is needed to make sure what is supposed to be a more efficient combine doesn't end up spouting tentacles and eating farmers). This results in not only the technology of the Imperium as a whole remaining largely the same (or going backwards in some aspects), but also Feudal Worlds (technology similar to Renaissance Europe) and Feral Worlds (pre-agrarian) not advancing even if they've been in contact with the wider Imperium for millennia after losing contact with the original human government when it collapsed in the aftermath of a catastrophic AI rebellion and the collapse of practical FTL travel in the Age of Strife.
    • The Corvus Jetbike in possession of the Dark Angels has been implied to be destroyed several times over, but always reappears no worse for wear. It is unknown if the Dark Angel Techmarines are just that skilled to repair the thing each time, if they have a whole storehouse full of them, or if they have some ancient STC that allows them to build more. Seeing as the jetbike mounts a mobile plasma cannon as opposed to the bolters of normal bikes, this would be a great boon to the other space marine chapters if the Dark Angels really can build more of them. But if they were to reveal it, not only might they lose access to it entirely (due to the heresy of hiding tech from the Adeptus Mechanicus) but their other secrets (such as the betrayal at Caliban) might be revealed, so they insist that there is only one, which is a relic and they've lost the knowledge to make more, despite all of the contrary.
  • Zigzagged with Wild Talents. The designers created it to be both a superhero and alternate history game, placing emphasis on the ability of people with superpowers to shape the world around them, including the creation of fantastic technology. This is detailed in various pregenerated worlds, but not all of them follow the model. Worlds such as Godlike and This Favored Land both enforce this trope in different ways, resulting in histories that are the same as ours just weirder. The World Gone Mad, The Kerberos Club, and Progenitor, on the other hand, all avert this trope to the fullest, creating wildly different histories from our own.

    Video Games 
  • Klungo, Gruntilda's minion from Banjo-Kazooie builds a beauty-swapping machine, makes a mechanical body for Grunty's spirit to inhabit, makes potions for growth, invisibility and cloning, and then quits his job and makes a Heel–Face Turn. He could release all his inventions to the public and also continue to use his intellect to benefit his world, yet instead he becomes a video game designer.
  • Unlike Batman & Robin, where Mr. Freeze made headway into curing Nora's condition, the Batman: Arkham Series version had made no such progress. This is likely because of the third reason for the trope: avoiding trivializing real life problems as the film version of Nora has the fictional MacGregor's Syndrome, and Arkham Origins identified the disease Nora has as the real-life Huntington's Chorea. Arkham Knight's "Season of Infamy" DLC even has her come out of cryosleep and ask Freeze to let her Face Death with Dignity.
  • City of Heroes had the Medi-Porter, a device that instantaneously transports the user to the nearest hospital. It's used in-game as a rationalization for the game's respawn mechanic, but why not make them available for everyone? Instantly, every hostage situation, every attempted murder, even everyday heart attacks and strokes, all of them would be much less dangerous. The mission arc "Bad People, Good Intentions" explored this idea, with a group of rogue police officers stealing the technology in order to try and force the Medi-Corp company to make the teleporters available for everyone.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Magical healing is commonplace enough that every player character starts with it by default. Every major holdfast has a court wizard who can teach the basics of it to anyone willing to pay a modest fee. For those too poor for that, any shrine of the Divines can heal virtually any injury or disease short of death itself, and most curses, perfectly and instantly for free, and there is, again, at least one shrine in every major holdfast and most minor ones. Despite this, a simple arrow to the knee is all it takes to injure a promising young adventurer so badly that they give up on their dreams for good.
  • As seen in Final Fantasy V, where one of the main characters dies on an onscreen plot-related death and the rest of the party tries to use curative spells and items on him, but they turn out to be useless, as he dies anyway. This is because he used up his entire life in that battle (he keeps fighting at zero hit points).
  • In Mage Gauntlet, Lexi has an anti-magic curse that not only prevents her from using magic but also causes anything magical she touches to explode (with little harm to herself beyond the occasional Ash Face). There are at least four bossesnote  and types of enemiesnote  that are solely powered by magic, and that should die on contact with her, but it never occurs to Whitebeard to simply send her to flush them out by poking them before giving her the eponymous gauntlet, and find someone else (ideally an actual mage) to alert Arosh, Hapsgaff, and Tetramont about the seal. Partially justified in that Lexi can't be teleported, so she would only be able to reach two of those bosses and enemy types without putting herself in mortal danger. Completely justified in that Hurgoth isn't an actual threat, and Whitebeard is a Manipulative Bastard who just wants a sacrifice for restoring the seal and renewing his fame.
  • In The Great Ace Attorney, resident Great Detective Herlock Sholmes alongside his assistant Iris Wilson invented several potions and gadgets such as what would become fingerprint powder, stuff to make smells more pungent in case of suspicion, special edible caramel that is heavily-resistant to melting that you can also press intricate objects like keys into it for later recreation through the impression and notably proto-Luminol which also conveniently changes colour of the blood presumably based on blood types. However, since neither bothered to actually market them alongside their famous novels or officially register them for crime-solving, the court won't accept evidence discovered through their methods, as Baron van Zieks points out that their proto-Luminol changing colours is flawed in the fact that if the reagent turns a sample green, their logic means that the blood of someone else in the world won't also be green. The only thing they invented that the court does accept is Sholmes' rather wasteful security camera system that takes photos on special night-vision film on a half-hour basis which he sold to the victim of Case 5, who laments that they're expensive to maintain due to the cost of the film and the photographs hardly contain anything noteworthy.
  • Mega Man X is an example of why it's better for a scientist to be useless. While Doctor Light created X and his endless capabilities, the humans of the future couldn't fully replicate his design, nor did they bother to put their reploids under a special mental-stability diagnostic (X had undergone thirty years of moral testing while in stasis.) The result was a race of intelligent free-thinking androids that weren't completely stable, causing endless wars.
  • Path of Exile discusses this regarding Alva, who sends the player back in time to the ancient Vaal temple to influence its construction so they can storm the temple in the present and ransack it, then use time travel to do it all over again. Helena notes that while getting rich is a rather petty use of potentially world-shaking power, it's probably a good thing she doesn't have grander ambitions. The number of characters who did decide to use whatever shiny new magic they stumbled upon to "improve" the world and their general track record makes it hard to argue, especially given her time travel is powered by Blood Magic.
  • In Planescape: Torment, once the protagonist The Nameless One can raise party members at the end of the very first dungeon, he can always do so if that party member hasn't been removed entirely from the game by the player. Even the plotline deaths can be undone in the Golden Ending, except for the Nameless One's own death and acceptance of damnation. Given the Eldritch Abomination, Crapsack World, The Undead, The Legions of Hell, and all the other things arrayed against The Nameless One and cohorts, this isn't a Game-Breaker. It's not even a Disc-One Nuke.
  • In Pokémon, Bill has invented a way to store objects as data (and the ability to use this to transport objects cross country instantly) and time travel and all that comes of this tech is for trading Pokémon. This could apply to human civilization as a whole; Poké Balls are capable of converting living beings and objects into energy and storing them for indefinite periods of time, and yet everything else on Earth utilizes conventional forms of energy when humanity apparently mastered perpetual energy centuries ago.
  • In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon you can find an "element #115", which matches to the atomic number of Ununpentium, an element where all known isotopes have a half-life measured in milliseconds, that can stay in your items for the entire game. What do you do with this seemingly stable form of an element too short lived to research? Make swords! (Admittedly this is a Shout-Out to X-COM, a game made before the element physically existed.)
  • Relicta has the protagonist using gloves that let them remotely magnetize items, change their magnetic polarity, and disable gravity and friction for them. They're used for...solving puzzles about getting the protagonist from one side of a test area to the other. It's implied that the Relicta is causing everyone to focus on researching it to the exclusion of all else.
  • Touhou Project and its relentless Schizo Tech has a few exceptions, but for the most part Gensokyo remains at pre-Meiji period Japan levels of technology despite an abundance of tech sources, with various explanations. They frequently get items from the outside world, but most of the stuff requires electricity to work, which they don't have access to. Kanako tried to get an electrical system going by establishing a nuclear fusion plant, but the only thing it ended up powering is hot springs, because electrical devices are rather useless in a realm where everyone can use magic. The Kappa and the Tengu have modern or higher levels of tech, with the Kappa being the ones who actually built aforementioned fusion plant and Nitori being an outright Gadgeteer Genius, but they're both isolationist Fantastic Racist jerks who aren't interested in sharing. And the Lunarians are even bigger jerks with even less desire for the "unclean" to get anywhere near their Crystal Spires and Togas technology.
  • Deconstructed in Wolfenstein: The New Order with the Da'at Yichud, a secret society of Jewish scientists. They have invented technology hundreds of years ahead of its time, including a functional suit of Powered Armor that can allow a crippled person to walk again, and Set Roth, the surviving member Blascowicz meets, states that they have had a level of technology like this for centuries. So what does the society do with all their fantastical, world-changing technology? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. According to Set, they create their technological wonders solely as a form of worship so that they can feel closer to God. There was no point to inventing their machines other than simply inventing them and the scientists are happy to just let them collect dust in their various vaults around the world. This comes back to bite them hard when the Nazis stumble across one of the Da'at Yichud's vaults and proceed to reverse engineer their works, creating new weaponry that allows them to easily conquer every other nation on Earth and establish themselves as the rulers of the world before the Da'at Yichud can do anything to stop them. In short, the entire plot of the game is a direct consequence of this trope at work.
  • X Com Enemy Unknown: Averted, provided you fulfill the requests that Council Nations sometimes make. Providing Thin Man and Sectoid corpses allow for major breakthroughs in medical fields, Floater corpses enable advanced prosthetic limbs, Arc Throwers make quelling riots easier, reconstruction is hastened thanks to advanced new alloys being available, and militaries (and even civilians, in some cases) can field laser and plasma weapons, as well as advanced body armor and enhanced electronics.

  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dracula found the cure for cancer. He hid it on Mars. Also, he lives on the moon and has a teleporter, and seemingly has some kind of immortality serum and/or time machine, since his castle is full of supposedly-dead famous people. He's not really good or evil and rarely uses any of his technology for anyone else's sake.
    • This is also true of Doc himself, to an extent. He doesn't have much in the way of advanced technology, but he does have advanced degrees in dozens of fields (thanks to experimental cloning technology, which itself is an example since the only other thing he's used it for is to resurrect Ben Franklin) and rarely uses any of this vast knowledge. Instead, he runs a family-practice clinic and spends his free time emulating Batman.
    • Doc's brother, "Dark Smoke Puncher," is a genius robot engineer who uses his skills solely to build attack-bots that patrol his family's territory, and occasionally engages in Hollywood Hacking when supervillains come knocking. It's implied that his and Doc's narrow and impractical ambitions are probably caused by their parents, who consider ninja-ing the only appropriate aspiration for anyone in their family.
  • Played with in El Goonish Shive. Tedd has access to Magitek that could help quite a lot of people, and he desperately wants to use it to do so... the problem is that the tech only works within their small town, due to an overabundance of magic in the area. Anywhere else, it's useless. Furthermore, magic in this universe is a self-keeping secret: if the masquerade was broken, magic would alter its own rules so that very little worked the same as it had before, rendering old magic artifacts useless. Tedd's dream is to find some way around this and make magic available to everyone... though it's an on-going theme of the comic as to whether that would ultimately be a good thing for the world in general if it did happen.
  • Evil Plan: Invoked by the corrupt superhero union. They have incredible medical technologies and inter-dimensional travel, but in their minds, giving any of it away wouldn't make them worshipped by mortals. Instead, they run a media empire centered around getting as many heroes hooked on their contracts (especially medical) as possible. It becomes clear that the union cares more about being adored than fighting villains; keeping their audience technologically stunted makes them praise the floaty man even more.
  • Subverted in Genocide Man. Most normal diseases including HIV and all forms of cancer were quickly cured. Then they were replaced with impossible-to-treat bioengineered plagues and super-soldiers created by Mad Scientist characters. In fact, one big reason the world had such a rough time after that is that everyone had their own idea as to how the world could be improved, as to how the human race could be improved, and now that they had the technology they started to act on them. And since some of those ideas included "[Ethnicity] would be better off dead"...
  • Girl Genius serves as a good example of why anachronistic world-reshaping technology isn't going to do anything good. An awful lot of inventions come from insane epiphanies that can't be reproduced, most of them are dangerously unstable (e.g. most things remotely self-aware try to maim their creators), and many of them are built and used for the express purpose of destroying the inventions of rival mad scientists. Scientific miracles abound, but most of Europe seems to be stuck in a Dark Age most of the time. Commoners have little access to all the technological wonders but plenty of exposure to many technological horrors, and many see the Sparks as "witches" (you can't really blame them if you consider what a Spark can do), so even if Richard tried to be useful they would just give him the Burn the Witch! treatment.
    • Europe ended up dominated by the Mad Scientist who mostly curbed the usual Control Freak streak and got the special talent for... reverse engineering. Instead of building whole armies upon powerful, but one-gimmick inventions he found in his and others' crazy gadgets material for a few robust and mass-produceable systems and still had time for refining them. By the same token, found good use for a wild variety of monsters.
    • Lampshaded when it's revealed that the people that actually keep everything running are the *minions* and not the sparks, with young Wulfenbach initially falling for the heroine in the course of trying to steal her on the assumption that she's a mechanically competent non-spark assistant, and later pretty much the entire cast of mad scientists fighting over the services of the one non-mad mechanic in the cast even harder than they defend their own lives. So even the mad scientists realize that dependability and steady competence are more generally useful than bouts of inspiration.
  • In Grrl Power, this is part of the reason Gadgeteer Genius supers are fairly rare according to Word of God, with only Dabbler getting any real screen time as of yet, preventing a tech spiral that would render the world unrecognizable compared to our own (in addition to that, supers only recently emerged into the public eye). Part of this (for Dabbler at least) overlaps with Alien Non-Interference Clause, and causes her to make certain her tech is transported back to her lab after being separated from her for too long to prevent others from reverse-engineering it.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court has a considerable amount of Magitek that is never used for anything outside the Court. They also have a whole society of sentient (if a bit nutty) robots, who mostly keep to themselves. Many of the higher-ups think they shouldn't even use this technology themselves, because they don't actually understand it. The guy who built the robots is long dead and left very few notes, and the operational code of his robots is incomprehensible to most humans; the "ether" part of their magitek is fundamentally irreducible. Kat, the one person who seems able to figure out how the robots work, made an anti-gravity device from Noodle Implements as part of a science fair project. No one else ever used her invention for anything; perhaps because, as with the rest of their technology, they mistrust it due to not understanding it.
  • Jayden and Crusader has a character Smic who is apparently a genius, inventing an infinite pizza machine, a working time machine, man-eating anteaters (presumably genetically engineered) and a steam powered time travelling hover-cycle. However he never seems to have turned his skills on anything useful in the slightest.
  • Justified in Lady Spectra & Sparky—Lady Spectra promised her husband on his deathbed that she would not let their inventions fall into the hands of the military.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a comic that explores how to utilize Superman as efficiently as possible: having him constantly power a giant electric generator so the world can enjoy free, clean energy.
  • Averted in Schlock Mercenary. The Toughs are initially the only ones with Teraport tech, but their plans to sell it are what's driving the plot during those arcs. The results of the tech becoming known to the galaxy at large are literally explosive, and before long the technology is simply the new status quo for the galaxy.
  • In alternate dimensions of Sluggy Freelance the Plot Technology of the usual mad scientists were used to change the world, sometimes for the better and getting themselves canonized, sometimes just improved what might've been a crappier-sack world, and in one storyline what looks like a change for the worst. And in the main dimension of the series, it looks like Schlock is attempting to avert this by selling Riff's robot design to the Department of Defense. Riff gets called out on this (albeit inadvertently) by a character where Riff devoted his time and brainpower to building devices to help disabled people (among other things) rather than just building cool weapons for his own use.
  • When Big Killhuna, a Mad Scientist from Super Stupor, hears that his favourite writer, Terry Pratchett, has Alzheimer's, he wants to help him by... building a doomsday device and threatening the world with it until all scientists on Earth agree to work towards a cure. Because he flunked out of "Useful Sciences 101"...
  • Justified in Widdershins, where magic is significantly weaker away from the Anchors (a few Eldritch Locations that seem to anchor magic to the Earth)—many people have a tiny gift for magic, but never discover it unless they visit an Anchor, while true wizards who can perform magic in the broader world aren't very common. Certainly not enough to build a Magitek Industrial Revolution around, nor is it very feasible to run one entirely out of a handful of small cities around the world.
  • xkcd points out the problem in the context of time machines. If you're going to dick around time having wacky adventures, why don't you also try and save people from disasters?
  • Three Panel Soul lampshaded and discussed this trope in this comic:
    Child: Captain Incredible, why don't you ever use your power to fix the really big problems?
    Captain Incredible: Well kid, if things kept getting better, the audience wouldn't recognize our world as being like theirs.

    Web Original 
  • On Atop the Fourth Wall:
    • This is something of a pet peeve of Linkara's, as is chronicled in the comic book section. Regarding the Trope Namer, Linkara points out that Reed Richards seems too busy with inventing useless stuff like air signals that can change their own writing as opposed to something useful like curing cancer.
    • In-universe, most of Linkara's own technological inventions can't be shared because they're not real inventions, just enchanted toys. The real technology he possesses is mostly spoils of war and he doesn't trust anyone else with it — but he will deploy it on missions for the government as long as the tech never leaves his hands.
  • Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Too bad Chuck Norris has never cried. Selfish bastard.
  • The title character of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog invents a "freeze ray" which stops time, which he only thinks to use to defeat his arch-nemesis. He could preserve the lives of accident or disease victims until they can get help, prevent nuclear reactor meltdowns, revolutionize physics, or do any of a dozen other things, any one of which could raise enough money to produce a lot of the "social change" that he claims he wants. Justified in that he is a villain, and the social change he wants is closer to facism than socialism ("Anarchy, that I run!").
    • One of the prequel comics brings back the briefly mentioned hero Johnny Snow, who has a straighter form of a Freeze Ray. Despite the numerous possible applications of the tech, he only uses it to fight crime.
  • The Editing Room at times will point out this. For instance, both the Sizeshifter technology of Ant-Man and the time manipulation of Doctor Strange (2016) are highlighted as potential fixes for world hunger.
  • Enter the Farside: Averted. Artifex is a Fartouched with the ability to simplify technology. It's explained that "he can take an existing piece of technology and make it half as big, twice as quick and three times as energy efficient." He uses his powers to make his factories just as efficient this way, so he can market his improved devices for the same price, for less materials and time required to make them. The National Farside Unit have him under contract to make armour, weapons and technology for themselves.
  • Justified in Fine Structure, which makes this a plot point. Scientists would like to use The Script for teleportation and other discoveries, but they'll only work until the the fundamental laws of the universe are changed by Something so it can never be used again.
  • The creators of Honest Trailers, in their review of the 2018 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture, apply this to Daniel Day-Lewis (if you think of his extreme Method Acting as a superpower). They suggest he take a role as someone who finds the cure for cancer. Day Lewis is so devoted to immersing himself in a role that he just might figure it out.
  • Plumbing the Death Star: Whenever Adam is on a Harry Potter episode, he'll try to bring up how stupid it is that no wizard walked into Auschwitz and stopped the Nazis with magic. He makes a big stink about it in "How Dare Wizards?!", while also going into how wizards could cure cancer, re-grow limbs, and educate the people of Harry Potter about the reality of souls and love. Ironically, the end of that episode actually sees Adam ranting against wizards sharing magic when the tricky subject of love potions comes up, since those would only serve to introduce mind control into normal society.
  • The SCP Foundation could have changed the world with the SCPs... if they weren't so dangerous and most of those that aren't are mostly used to help containing other SCPs. And the Serpent's Hand still consider the Foundation enemies, because they do not want to improve the world with SCPs. And they don't want it to fall into the hands of the Chaos Insurgency.
    • Though the website has a very nebulous canon, some articles imply that the Foundation DOES use their technology to secretly help the world. SCP-4023-EX, for example, is a substance excreted by an SCP that the Foundation discovered has medicinal properties. The Foundation now synthesizes it and markets it through a front company as an unidentified Real Life antibiotic.
    • Another section of canon states that the Foundation does intend to use the SCPs to benefit humanity... once they are understood. The SCPs are SCPs because they are not understood. If the Foundation ever does work out exactly how an SCP works, in a scientifically replicable fashion, then the SCP is decommissioned as an SCP and that knowledge is covertly distributed to the rest of humanity.
  • presents the most inefficient use of Superman. "Again, couldn't he pretty much instantly win the war if he wanted to?"
  • Justified in the Whateley Universe, where there are two types of inventor mutants:
    • The first are Devisors, who warp reality slightly to allow for physically impossible inventions, which can then never be reproduced by anyone else (or sometimes even by them) and often don't even work for other people in the case of extremely impossible stuff. Some of them sell their tech, but since only a single person can produce it, it's generally extremely expensive and supply is very limited. This is averted in one case, with a devisor who can make... very good whiskey quite efficiently, and due to the way it works, can install a specific MacGuffin in brewing plants. Not changing the world, but it makes him VERY rich.
    • The second are Gadgeteers, who have a variant of psionics that allow them to intuitively understand how to make things, but can't do anything that's impossible. Some of them have changed the world, but apparently being good at engineering leads to being incompetent at interpersonal relations, resulting in most of them getting ripped off by the companies they sell their inventions to and either not having the resources to do any inventing, being suppressed by people who don't want the world to change because a lack of that particular technology is profitable to them, or turning evil to get back at society.
    • This trope is mentioned by name a couple times. Phase, in particular, is determined to change this state of affairs by making sure that devisors and gadgeteers get a fair shake, going so far as to offer to fund additional classes on basic economics and patent law aimed specifically at keeping genius inventors from getting screwed over. It comes up frequently in Loophole's stories because of the stuff she makes. Phase is so intent on getting Loophole on board with him because he can predict how her inventions will literally change the world. For example, her pet project is a restored Mustang that gets double gas mileage and 33% more horsepower. Phase is practically drooling over what an engine like that could do. If he knew about the TAPS, he would positively freak out at the possibilities.
      • The trope is played straight with the TAPS; Loophole refuses to patent it (which would require a full description of how it works in the patent application), because The World Is Not Ready. As a free energy device built with Gadget tech, and small enough to install in a suit of Powered Armor, Elaine fears that publishing it would set off an arms race as governments and supervillains alike scramble to be the first to field an army which doesn't require complex logistics to keep fueled.
    • Note that these inventions and Devises are changing things, just not in ways most people would necessarily see all the time. Still, there are lunar bases owned by the US, Russia, and China; improved treatments for a number of deadly diseases and genetic conditions; and several other general benefits which are impacting everyone's lives. This is becoming more evident in the Gen 2 stories, set ten years after the first series, where holographic Virtual Assistants are commonplace among other things. On the other hand, there are also mass-produced Powered Armor and advanced weapons which aren't necessarily kept out of the hands of criminals and terrorists, exotic street drugs, cybernetics that are available even to low-level street thugs, and several other down sides. It hasn't changed quite as drastically as the Wild Cards world, at least not in visible ways, but it is certain diverging from our own world rapidly.
  • In Wonder City Stories, the Paranormal Invention Control Act means super tech cannot be sold to the public unless the government is satisfied that it cannot in any way be weaponized. Since this is just about impossible, super tech stays in the hands of inventors and their close associates.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, although Jimmy maintains and uses a plethora of superscience inventions and sometimes gives them away to friends and relatives, he never attempts to sell or mass-market them, even in episodes whose plots are driven by his lack of funds. He did attempt to mass-market the candy he made in one episode, using his town's citizens, but to say it ended poorly is an understatement. Hugh also sent a design of Jimmy's to the US government once and it nearly killed two people in the public test.
    • That said, Jimmy does have one creation that could benefit humanity that has no issues that couldn't be prevented with a little foresight: Goddard. With the exceptions of playing dead (exploding and reassembling himself) and him transforming into a giant, berserk mech from having a video game disk inserted in his disk drive, robotic dogs like Goddard would be extremely beneficial in service, search and rescue, and even simply being a pet for someone allergic to dogs. Jimmy wouldn't even need to give him up to make his design available to manufacturers, as he made Goddard all by himself.
    • A large part may come from the fact that Jimmy is still only a pre-teen at most. When shown a glimpse into his (un-changed) future, he has won every Nobel Prize, so it's clear it's just a matter of maturity.
    • Furthermore, other episodes show there is some higher technology, but just not implemented as of yet to the widescale.
  • Deconstructed in an episode of Aladdin: The Series, where Iago gains Genie's powers and makes everyone in Agrabah rich. This leads to Ridiculous Future Inflation which the citizens describe as being worse than poor. He also gives Agrabah two rivers, which leads to flooding.
  • In Archie's Weird Mysteries, Dilton invents some rather... advanced things. Why he's still in a public school is beyond anyone's guess.
  • In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, the Flame Keeper's Circle wants to avert this by using alien technology to bring Earth into a golden age. Ben and the other Plumbers enforce this since introducing alien technology to a world that isn't ready for it is just a recipe for disaster. Julie tries to call out Ben (who uses a piece of powerful alien technology to make the universe a better place as a superhero) on the hypocrisy of this policy, but Ben points out that recklessly accelerating a planet's development via alien technology will usually lead to the planet's doom. Later episodes confirms it by revealing the Ascallon Sword, one of Azmuth's previous inventions, was once used by someone in an attempt to unify his planet ravaged by civil war... and ended up destroying said planet.
  • In Captain Planet and the Planeteers the Planeteers fly around in the "Geocruiser", a smallish VTOL aircraft which was designed and built by Gaea (who knew she had a machine shop on that island?) and is stated to run entirely on solar power and to produce no pollution whatsoever. It can apparently fly anywhere in the world in a few hours at most without ever producing a sonic boom and is so simple to control that a teenager can operate it without any training whatsoever. Yet even when one of the antagonists builds an equally impossible super-aircraft that runs on smog and makes even more smog Gaea never once considers she could do more good with her own ubertech than she could by keeping it exclusive to the Planeteers.
  • In the crossover episode between Codename: Kids Next Door and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, Mandy believes that the KND could actually change the world, instead of fighting for small things "like the right to have cookies for dinner." Her idea is to use their resources to take over the world.
  • Danny Phantom: Jack and Maddie Fenton developed numerous useful inventions for real world applications, including the Specter Speeder, a van-sized vehicle able to fly without wings or propellers, or the Emergency Ops Center, a structure atop their house that could transform into a blimp or a jet, and yet never sell this equipment to anyone.
  • Dexter of Dexter's Laboratory (and his rival Mandark) is in the same boat as Jimmy, though in his case he's something of an egotist that pursues science purely for his own satisfaction. Also there's the fact that, unlike Jimmy, Dexter is determined to keep his lab and inventions a secret from his parents, and selling his inventions could potentially blow the secret. That said, Ego Trip reveals that in the future, an adult Dexter did start using his science to work for a corporation, only for Mandark to take over said corporation by stealing his ideas and later take over the world. But after Mandark (or rather, 4 of him) was defeated, Dexter would go on to use his science to evolve the entire human race to possess seemingly superhuman intelligence, creates an insanely high-tech utopia (with tech that puts much of what he's made in his childhood to shame), and becomes revered as the Big Good to all of Earth for all of his deeds.
    • There is one episode where he thinks he's going to die that shows him creating world peace and ending world hunger. Of course, this doesn't mean much to the show's Negative Continuity.
  • In one episode of Dungeons & Dragons (1983), Dungeon Master grants one of the adventurers his powers. The newly uber-powered member uses his power to bring forth water for the thirsty teammates. Dungeon Master responds that by using the powers to generate that water, water from another area had to be deprived.
  • The Fairly OddParents!:
    • Timmy never makes any sort of world-benefiting wish, like no discrimination, world peace, a cure for cancer, etc. While this could be justified in that he's a self-centered 10-year-old child and when he grows up all remnants of his fairies' magic will disappear, it seems implausible that he, or any kid with fairies for that matter, never thought to wish for something like this not even once. Timmy may have tried to do this once, or even more than once. The times he has wished for a situation to be better for someone other than him has blown up in his face.
    • Chester, unlike Timmy, tries doing this after he's granted Norm, the temporary ex-genie, as his fairy godparent. Having a Jackass Genie as a fairy godparent predictably doesn't turn out well for him. When he wishes the deserts would have enough water for everyone to drink or make the ice caps warmer to make the penguins less chilly, he ends up flooding the deserts and causing global warming.
    • Lampshaded in an episode where Timmy's Muggle friends (such as Chester and his mom) have temporarily gained the knowledge that Timmy has had fairies all along. They ask the fairies if they could have granted Timmy any wish he wanted; Cosmo and Wanda reply that no, there are rules. However, they ask if Timmy could have done things like wish for easier housework for his mom, better living conditions for Chester, and so on; and Cosmo and Wanda reply that Da Rules would have allowed all of those things, and Timmy just didn't feel like wishing for their lives to be easier.
    • Hilariously, it's shown that had he not been born, everyone's lives would have been far better off; Vicky, lacking a job, would have become a dentist's assistant, which means that her sadistic need to inflict pain would be put to good use. Same with Francis, who would have become a football star now that he had no one to bully. He also wouldn't have mucked up Crocker's childhood, allowing him to become a successful college professor (the spasms though seems to be genetically written into Crocker) and finally, a girl would have taken his place, making his parents incredibly wealthy with the movies she'd star in. In the end he still reverses the wish and brings himself back to the world, at the expense of everyone else (and, due to the status quo, never actually learns from this experience).
  • Brutally deconstructed in an episode of Family Guy. In it, Stewie and Brian discover that Carter Pewterschmidt has the cure for cancer, and implore him to share it with the world. Unfortunately, Carter refuses, saying that there would be no profit in doing so vs. more expensive treatments. Even Lois, his own daughter, is unable to get through to him, as he lies that he would reveal it and instead announces a new line of deodorant.
  • Ford Pines from Gravity Falls. He is the Author of the Journals along with being Stan's long lost twin brother and original owner of the Mystery Shack. This guy is a genius who's invented a perpetual motion machine, a lightbulb that can last several thousand years, a mind-control necktie, and so much more, even getting his PhD early despite his setback with the perpetual motion machine that Stan accidentally broke. However, being born with six fingers on each hand led to him becoming fascinated and later entrenched into the world of the weird and the supernatural. He does wish to change the world, but do so on his accord, born from his need of validation coming from his interest in the paranormal. It also stems from a desire to be more independent from Stan as children and that he had to be a "lone hero." This leads him to bearing a grudge against Stan for accidentally breaking his perpetual motion machine in high school and losing his chance at his dream school (something he still harbored for the grudge for). Needless to say, while he is quite brilliant, he's not exactly wise. Of course, he does admit that he was rather foolish and somewhat naïve back then, and he's gotten a bit wiser now. Furthermore, he has been missing for 30 years, lost in the various universes. Beforehand, his need for validation and to be seen as a miraculous genius was exploited by Bill Cipher, the Big Bad who led him astray in trying to create a portal that would bring him to Earths' reality. Ford turned on Bill when he saw his true colors. In the end of the series, he notes this flaw and how Stan would've seen a conman like Bill coming and the two patch things up.
  • Invader Zim: Inverted. It's suggested throughout the series that Professor Membrane's genius is the only thing actually sustaining what is otherwise a civilization in severe decline because it's populated entirely by morons/jackasses. Unfortunately, he only seems to create things that happen to interest him, and the fact that he's probably the most powerful and wealthy man in the entire world seems to mean absolutely nothing to him. He once created perpetual energy, then decided not to implement it after all (which was probably a good thing, considering what the rest of humanity could have done with it).
  • In The Magic School Bus Ms. Frizzle could make ludicrously large piles of money working for, say, NASA. Just for starters, her school bus can travel from Earth to the Sun to Pluto and back in the space of a day, and comes stocked with spacesuits capable of withstanding the conditions on Venus.
  • An episode of the Michel Vaillant animated series had the team participating in a special race for environmentally friendly vehicles only. Their Gadgeteer Genius mechanic builds a car that not only is pollutant free, but can actually hover above the ground via electromagnetism. Regardless of how much the thing cost, it would revolutionize transportation forever. Instead, it's used to win that one race and is never seen again.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: In the second season, Max builds a Robot Buddy named Markov, whose AI is sophisticated enough to learn on his own and even express emotions (which are real enough for Hawk Moth to akumatize)... and this (which, given that the Miraculous-verse's technology seems roughly equivalent to the real world in the mid-to-late New Tens when it is set, would be the single greatest breakthrough in AI research) does not appear to be widespread knowledge outside of Max's circle of friends. While it could be excused by Max being in his early teens and not having the connections to show Markov to the necessary authorities, the robot has been out in public many times, and his many witnesses have never called attention to this.
  • Phineas and Ferb build interplanetary rockets, animal translation devices, and the like every morning. But they only do it to enjoy summer vacation. And by the time their mom gets home everything is back to normal. Although in the future episode it's implied Phineas has won the Nobel Prize and Ferb is at Camp David, so they presumably grow up to tackle more "serious" concerns. When Candace time travels and tells her older mom, how the boys got to where they are ends up making sense.
  • In Rick and Morty, Rick is a near-textbook example, with being possibly the smartest creature in the universe, but not really doing anything other than occasionally help out Morty, and give himself a couple boons like interdimensional TV. Then again, he most certainly doesn't care about the whole "humanity" thing or any material wealth he'd get from helping them; it's hard to get him to care about anything in the first place.
  • Rugrats:
    • Averted for the most part with Stu Pickles. His income actually comes from his selling his inventions. The one time he seems useless is when he builds a fully-functional Humongous Mecha of Reptar that can stretch its limbs, has a butt rocket, is surprisingly durable, and can throw a mean punch... and sells it to a stage show in France instead of the military or NASA for millions.
    • Played straight in one episode that has a working time machine in a toy store. This is never mentioned again.
  • In Saturday Night Live's cartoon "The Ambiguously Gay Duo", Evil Genius Bighead has invented lots of inventions that could easily defeat or hinder the titular heroes. However, he's more obsessed with using his inventions to try to out and prove the heroes Ace and Gary are gay. His fellow villains call out on him for wasting his talent for something so trivial since most of them don't care about the duo's sexuality.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Homer's brother Herb became rich after inventing and selling a device that translates baby talk. After that episode, the device is never seen again. He later says that he's poor again, so something must have gone wrong.
    • In "Treehouse of Horror XVII" a meteor with some living blob crashes into the Simpsons' back yard. Lisa says how humanity could possibly learn about interplanetary transportation from the creature. Homer decides that it is more important to eat it.
  • The South Park episode "The Biggest Douche in the Universe" features John Edward being called out on how he's a fraud. That same episode shows that real psychics do exist in their world, like Chef's parents. It never occurs to them to try to use their abilities to become rich and famous like John Edward. "Dead Celebrities" also shows the Ghost Hunters as complete idiots when they try to find ghosts. Once again, that episode shows that there are real people in that world that can communicate with ghosts, who for some reason never try to monetize their abilities like the Ghost Hunters.
  • The Crystal Gems of Steven Universe have incredible technology, including teleportation and Hard Light projections that appear to violate conservation of energy, but humans seem completely unaware they even have it. Presumably they have some Alien Non-Interference Clause, given what Homeworld planned to do to the planet. It's implied that much of their really good technology is Powered by a Forsaken Child—but even without relying on gem-powered mechanisms, Pearl has the knowledge to build giant robots, city-wide EMP bombs, and nearly-functional spaceships out of scraps found in Steven's barn, and shows no interest in sharing any of this with anyone. However, it is shown they don't think much on humans (mainly Pearl) and it's not like the Townies of Beach City express any interest in the Gems or their technology.
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • Reed Richards Expy Richard Impossible is shown to be a sociopathic arm of the military-industrial complex, abandoning Dr. Venture in the arctic wilderness for entering a restricted area (something he being the Jerkass he is took more offense to than Venture flirting with his wife); later, he withholds alien technology, needed to save the world, that was left to Venture by his father, claiming it's because Venture is not responsible enough to have it (which is a quite reasonable argument) but most likely due to him wanting all the credit. In general, there's lots of other super-science doo dads floating around in the series that the general public never gets a chance with.
    • Also lampshaded on occasion: in "Tag Sale, You're It!", one of the items in the titular sale is an actual lightsaber which Rusty couldn't sell because "Kenner wasn't interested in a toy that cost over two mil in parts alone and the Army told me they don't sword fight anymore". To add insult to injury, the beam doesn't seem to cause any harm whatsoever.
    • The show's creators have stated that this is part of the central premise of "failure" that permeates the Ventures' world. Everything exists in a sort of "death of the jet-age" state where all the promises of technology have failed to deliver. Things like jetpacks, laser weapons, sentient AI, and magic all exist, but have proven to be too expensive, impractical, or dangerous to ever see general use. So the world mostly resembles our own, except you have all these obsessive weirdos around who use this stuff for crime or crime fighting, and it never sees wider applications. Some of the more "mundane" stuff, though, would be incredibly valuable—like HELPeR (a sentient, durable, dexterous robot assistant) and Billy Quizboy's fully functional mechanical arm. The former alone would make Dr. Venture a rich man again (the latter is revealed to have been designed by a madman who wasted his life obsessing with a girl he knew in college and getting posthumous revenge on his classmates).
      • HELPeR, at least, received additional justification in the Season 7 episode "The Inamorata Consequence": it's established that HELPeR robots were mass-produced and sold to the public by Jonas Venture, Sr., but an incident where an infant choked on a HELPeR robot's eye was blown way out of proportion by Moral Guardians and they were destroyed in mass numbers with Rusty's HELPeR basically being the only one left.
    • The Season 7 episode "The Unicorn in Captivity" shows what happens when a truly disruptive super-science technology (in this case a matter transporter) is developed: The Office of Secret Intelligence attempts to get hold of it to keep the status quo and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Given that they seem to have a standard procedure for dealing with such inventions it explains why many of them might never see the light of day. As they put it, if teleportation technology became available to the public, the entire transport industry would go belly up, along with Big Oil that supplies the fuel for those industries. It would cripple the economy beyond repair, and those same companies would not think twice about having something very bad happen to the device's inventor to prevent that from happening. As for the transporter, well despite the OSI's efforts, it ends up in the hands of the Guild of Calamitous Intent after it was stolen by Monarch and 21 for a bit before Phineas Phage's attempts at teleporting went awry due to his mechanical augmentations and he's in a coma, discouraging further use. Even with success, failure remains a core premise of the show.
  • Wallace & Gromit: Wallace has quite a bit of mechanical aptitude, having built, presumably using the means available to the average person, a rocket that can fly to the moon and back and a pair of trousers that can move on their own (which could have several applications such as allowing paraplegics to walk). Yet these inventions don't seem to affect the world around them all that much, nor does Wallace use them to make himself any money (the plot of "The Wrong Trousers" is kicked off by him having to rent a room out to pay bills). Granted, Wallace is shown to be something of a Cloudcuckoolander, so perhaps it simply never occurred to him to sell his inventions (he does use them in his and Gromit's various business ventures, to a measure of success).
    • The trousers are NASA surplus. Wallace ordered them in order to take Gromit on walks.
  • X-Men: Evolution: It was revealed that while the Super Soldier serum used to create Captain America is lethal for normal humans, on mutants it can reverse aging without any adverse effects. This doesn't stop the good guys destroying the only remaining sample of the formula.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, an item said to possess infinite power, and could solve any energy-related problem, is used to power a time machine. And that's where it's staying.

As a side note, Doom is pleased with the name of this trope. He would prefer it to be lengthened, but the censors wouldn't allow it.

Alternative Title(s): Useless Super Science