Follow TV Tropes

This entry is trivia, which is cool and all, but not a trope. On a work, it goes on the Trivia tab.


Science Marches On

Go To

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

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

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


Scientific terminology is also subject to change, and it can be particularly jarring if a story set 20 Minutes into the Future uses names that were widespread a few years ago, but are obsolete now, and are likely to remain so. For example, the word "atomic" has been mostly supplanted by "nuclear". Likewise, older science fiction written in the US did not foresee the adoption of metric measurements.

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Way and Artistic License – Biology) is actually this: They did do the research; it's just that said research is now outdated.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


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

See also I Want My Jetpack, Conviction by Counterfactual Clue, Artistic License. This can overlap with Accidentally Correct Writing, where instead of being proven wrong, something presented in fiction is proven to be correct by science.


    open/close all folders 

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

Comic Books

  • The golden age version of the The Flash got his super-speed powers from inhaling hard water vapors. No, not heavy water, (though that would be equally absurd) hard water, as in water that has a high mineral content. At the time it was thought that ingesting hard water would somehow heighten one's reflexes.


  • The first Planet of the Apes (1968) movie kept the "chimps are intelligent and kind-hearted, gorillas are aggressive brutes" idea from the novel and portrayed the former as heroic scientists and civilians and the latter as more or less villainous soldiers and hunters. By the time the 2001 "reimagining" was produced, the idea had been so thoroughly debunked that make-up artist Rick Baker pressed Tim Burton to change the villainous General Thade from the script's Killer Gorilla to a chimpanzee. The second reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes still uses gorillas as shock troops, but Buck is portrayed as a misunderstood creature with Undying Loyalty to Caesar and is given a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • The Man-Vs-Rat film Of Unknown Origin got its title from how, at the time, scientists weren't sure where the Norway rat had lived prior to its becoming dependent upon humanity's leftovers and its diaspora across most of the planet. Studies have since traced the species' likely origin-point to the plains of northern China and Mongolia.


  • Isaac Asimov wrote a short story titled "Pâté de Foie Gras", which scientifically analyzed the goose that laid the golden eggs, and asked readers to find solutions to the problem that since golden eggs can't hatch, there's no way to get more geese. In a comment years later, Asimov pointed out that advancing science caused there to be a better solution than the one he had originally intended.
    • For the curious, Asimov's solution was to keep the goose in a closed environment until it uses up all the Oxygen-18 in the air (in the story, they found that the goose was converting the O-18 isotope into gold). Without O-18, it can't produce gold, so it will just lay normal eggs. The simpler solution which came later is to just clone it.
  • Multiple sci-fi works have used the theory of memory RNA to justify one character getting the memories of another. The experiment that supposedly proved the theory has since been discredited.
    • More than just memories in some cases. In several episodes of The Invisible Man series, the protagonist's invisibility gland takes over his personality with RNA injected in it. He essentially becomes that person.
  • A good portion of the 15th book of Ovid's Metamorphoses has Pythagoras giving a lecture on the fundamental role played by, well, metamorphoses in nature. In a matter of speaking, Ovid has laid the entire epic poem's thesis on this section. Naturally, almost all of Pythagoras' examples, pulled from science of the day, are complete bunk. For example: if you watch a horse's corpse a hornet will (always) come out of it (ostensibly because it turned into one).
  • Robert Heinlein again. In Starship Troopers the planet Sanctuary has very low radiation level and colonists supposedly risked to "stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them", but "it's a bit safer — leukaemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there". While "more advanced" Terran wheat beats local weeds. There are problems. First, usual set of bugs with Evolutionary Levels. Second, while major radiation poisoning causes particular forms of cancer, there's no compelling reason to tie most cases to the normal radiation background. Third, a result of the previous two: conditions for evolutionary adaptation include gamma rays just like everything else, so modern radiobiology pulled the low end of the scale out of Oven Logic.note  E.g. rats grown (not even born) in a low radioactive background have health and development problems, thus some background seems desirable. Sanctuary's choice could boil down to "eat radioactive isotopes or slowly die out". There is some discussion in the book about detonating nuclear weapons on a regular basis to increase the background radiation, but there is a difference between steady but low-level radiation and acute, high levels.
    • An even more fundamental error: the main driving force behind evolution is competition for survival and for mates, the only needed force is a means for introducing genetic diversity (spontaneous mutation will occur without radiation present), and therefore Sanctuary will not be a stable island of unchanging organisms. All the details of DNA replication were not known in 1959, as its structure had been announced only in 1953.
      • In Starship Troopers at least these could be in-universe mistakes made by the protagonist, who is narrating the story in the first person. While he's a top-notch Space Marine and definitely not stupid, he is explicitly stated not to be strong in science (particularly mathematics).
      • In any case, it's now known that a fairly small amount of cross-breeding between two breeding groups that are mostly separate will prevent species divergence. So even granting all that is said in the novel as true, interstellar travel will keep humans on all planets in regular contact with each other the same species.
    • Stars!, on the other hand, got it: whether gravity, temperature or radiation on a planet are out of the species' acceptable band to either side, you're in the same amount of trouble.
  • A curious example of this comes from Juvenal's satires, which brought us many still popular phrases and concepts such as 'Bread and Circuses' to keep the masses happy, wishing for 'a sound mind in a sound body' or asking 'Who Watches the Watchmen??'. He also coined the phrase of a 'rare bird in the land' such as 'black swan' meaning to him a nonexistent thing. For many centuries afterwards and in many languages the phrase meant something that did not exist until somebody discovered a black swan in Australia. The phrase changed its meaning and nowadays is used to describe an idea based on a hypotheses that can be disproven by a single counterexample or are extremely hard to predict or anticipate events that throw everything into chaos.
  • Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth novel Midworld, from 1975, makes ample use of the then-popular notion that a rain forest's ecosystem was sharply divided into "levels", top to bottom. This concept is now downplayed in ecology, as it's turned out that very few species are actually restricted to one "level", and this mode of thinking had ignored numerous other factors of topography and microclimate that can impact a forest's environment just as much. (The 1995 sequel, Mid-Flinx, makes almost no mention of "levels", indicating Foster has Marched On along with the science.)
  • In Edwards Le Comte's autobiographical work In and Out of the University and Adversity, Edward, who had brown eyes, was told in 1934 by someone looking at a color photo of his mother that he must have had a brown-eyed father. When he asked why, the woman said because two people with blue eyes cannot conceive someone with brown eyes, and that "Biology doesn't lie. People may." She seemed to have noticed his alarm because the next time she saw him, she informed him that he actually had hazel eyes. Nevertheless, in the following years he would from time to time ask people he met what color his eyes were. However, he seems to have come to terms with the question by the time the book was written (in 2001), writing that, "Half my heredity is a blank. At eighty what matter?"
    • We now know that two people with blue eyes can produce a child with brown eyes, as eye colour is not determined simply by one gene. It's actually quite common for a blue-eyed person to carry a gene for brown eyes that can be passed on to his or her children.
  • In James Blish's novella "Surface Tension," the protagonists are genetically engineered humans the size of large protozoa (one hundredth of an inch), living in a puddle of water. In the introduction setting up the story, we hear one of the genetic engineers say that the people can be so small and still be intelligent because their cells are the size of viruses. When the story was written, we did not realize viruses are not cells.
  • In Cherry Ames: Cruise Nurse, a little boy shows Cherry his stuffed panda. She pities him, because he had asked for a "teddy bear", and his grandmother had given him a panda, which "isn't even a bear." Since the 1940's, during which the book was written, DNA tests have proven that pandas are in fact bears.
  • In Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis writes that Reepicheep wanting his tail back was mainly a matter of mouse pride. This book was written in the 1950's- before it was known that mouse tails helped regulate body temperature. Then, with their greater size, talking mice probably had to have their temperature regulation jiggled a bit too.
  • In the Lord Peter Wimsey story "The Image in the Mirror," a left/right inverted man is experiencing mysterious circumstances. Finding that the man is inverted, Wimsey infers that he must have a opposite (an Evil Opposite) twin who is causing all the mystery and cites experiments with salamander eggs tied off with threads. The experiments were real and important in understanding how the left/right gradient is formed. However, while left/right inverted twins do exist they are vanishingly rare. Most twins are not left/right inverts and most left/right inverts are not twins.
  • In The Tar-Aiym Krang, Flinx's adoptive parent Mother Mastiff is said to resemble the Terran canine, both in appearance and in her irascible, unfriendly personality. While this may have been the stereotype for the breed back in 1972, when Krang was published, breeders already saw this as a negative trait for mastiffs even then, and most mastiffs today are calm, good-natured, and easy-going animals.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's 1990 raise-the-Titanic novel The Ghost From The Grand Banks, the Human Genome Project is still ongoing in the second decade of the 21st century. Thanks to breakthroughs in genetic sequencing, it was actually declared to have accomplished its primary task in 2003.
  • In Louisa May Alcott's Little Men, a boy with a severe cough of long duration is given cough syrup, which has honey in it. Then a healthy toddler is allowed to lick the sweet-tasting spoon. Luckily, the older child doesn't have tuberculosis, but he might have had it, and the toddler doesn't catch whatever is actually causing the cough. Of course, the novel was written before the germ theory of disease was generally known.
  • In After Man: A Zoology of the Future, contains many instances of this, combining with Zeerust and Rule of Cool. Some of the most egregious examples is that many of the future animals are descended from "insectivores", as in the order "Insectivora", which is now considered a defunct wastebasket taxon of small, generalist, insect-eating mammals that aren't particularly closely related in reality, and the false notion that bats are poor-sighted and will eventually lose their eyes entirely, but really, bats have pretty good vision, and no species is blind.
  • In Lawrence Block's Evan Tanner series the "sleep center" of the narrator's brain was destroyed by shrapnel during the Korean War. As a consequence, he never sleeps at all, leaving an enormous amount of spare time for him to do things like learning multiple languages. Even if you ignore symptoms such as depression and hallucinations, the eventual effect of chronic long-term sleep deprivation is death.
  • When Tailchaser's Song came out in the 1980s, domestic cats were seen as solitary animals who only sometimes live in clowders. This is why it gets repeatedly mentioned that it's uncomfortable and unnatural for cats to be in large groups for long periods of time. Since then, research has shown that cats are more social than previously thought.
  • Inu Monogatari is a 1901 Japanese book that insists native Japanese dog breeds are descended from dholes. This is inaccurate. The dogs are descended from wolves, just like all domestic dogs.
  • In Felidae, "European Shorthair" is used as a synonym for "Domestic Shorthair". In the 1980s, this was commonplace. However, since then, "European Shorthair" has become known exclusively as a breed while "Domestic Shorthair" is a fancy term for "mixed-breed or moggy cat".

Live-Action TV

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

Video Games

  • Wolf is a 1994 educational game that references "alpha" wolves. The concept of beta and alpha wolves became an outdated concept within fifteen years of the games release.
  • Endless Ocean and its sequel contain specimens of goblin sharks in deep-sea regions. Realistic enough. However, their jaws are depicted as permanently protruding, an out-of-date assumption as we have learned more about goblin shark physiology.
  • Bio Inc: Redemption has "Moderate Drinking" as a positive lifestyle choice, siting the common belief that light drinking can actually have health benefits. While this does technically hold true, not even a year after the game left Early Access, some studies claimed that the benefits are outweighed by the risks and that there really isn't a "safe" amount of drinking one can do.


  • Freefall: The Bowman's Wolf was designed as a genetically modified, intelligent wolf, and when first introduced, Florence was described as colorblind. Creator Mark Stanley has since invented in-universe reasons, but freely admits she is more colorblind than an actual wolf would be, because that was the popular understanding at the time the comic started.
  • 1/0: in an early plotline, Terra the earthworm is forced to the surface during a rainstorm to avoid drowning. However, it is now known that earthworms do not drown in moist soil—in fact, they can survive for several days fully submerged in water. Instead it seems earthworms come to the surface during rain simply because it takes less effort to move above ground compared to digging, and it is only when it is raining that they can be assured they won't risk drying out in the sun.
  • Just about every Kevin & Kell strip involving lions has some reference to the idea that only lionesses hunt (Edgar and Frank are presented as highly unusual exceptions, and Edgar at least is ostracised by lion society as a result - plus he's incompetent). In 2013, it was discovered that male lions do hunt, but differently. And of course long before this study it had been known that male lions do at times assist on group hunts, especially when their extra bulk is helpful in finishing off large prey that the lionesses have restrained.

Real Life

  • Any discussion of "pack dynamics" in wolves (Julie of the Wolves comes to mind.) Modern research has shown that wolf packs are more or less nuclear families, with the "alpha" male and female simply being the parents of the rest of the pack. They still let strangers in, but it's mostly based on one family. The original study that created the idea was done with captive wolves, who take on more of a prison-style hierarchy. Even the researcher who popularized the idea has long since rejected it in the face of better research.
  • Speaking of wolves, the notion of canines only seeing in black and white or having worse vision compared to humans. In actuality, while humans have three color-sensitive cone cells (red, green, and blue) dogs only have two (yellow and blue). They very much can see colors, but just can't distinguish between green, yellow, and red objects based on color alone. They can, however, distinguish between them based on perceived brightness as they have more rod cells and more easily distinguish between grays. It's more accurate to say dogs see differently than humans: humans see better in daylight thanks to our superior cone cells while dogs see better in the dark and at dusk due to their superior rod cells, allowing the two to team up and vastly increase the times and effectiveness of hunting.
  • Any depiction of dolphins or other whales mating for life. A nice romantic notion in its day, but it turns out they're promiscuous breeders at best and into sexual harassment or gang rape at worst.
  • A lot of older works (and some today) will often make it a philosophical point about how animals only kill each other for food, or that abuse and cruelty are human inventions. However sadism and abuse have in fact been documented in numerous species and it is thought to be the norm in others. Plenty of predators have been observed to kill out of boredom and even herbivores will injure and kill one other of territories and mates.
  • The dynamics of various animal groups are far too complex to go into here, but suffice to say that none of them fit the antiquated view of herds as roughly mirroring human social groups, with an alpha male leader who calls all the shots. In many polygynous species the "alpha male" is (in effect) nothing more than a walking sperm bank.
  • For the longest time, people believed snakes to be deaf since they had no external ears and seldom appear to react to airborne sounds. It's now been shown that snakes can hear to an extent (to what extent is unknown) by picking up vibrations from the air or ground through their bodies and processing them through the inner-ear. In fact, loud noises can actually cause stress to snakes.
  • Taxonomy runs into a lot of problems with this trope. Due to a complicated hierarchy and scientific species names based on species' places in the hierarchy (i.e. the binomial nomenclature of Genus species), every time new information on evolutionary lineage is discovered, binomial names or the bigger groupings higher up in the ranking may have to change and go obsolete (see the Brontosaurus example in Paleontology and Anthropology's section below for the exception to this rule). It's confusing enough to change the old lineages, but that's the way of science—but changing the names of species is simply confusing. There is currently a campaign attempting to abolish the binomial system and give each species an unchanging monomial name.
    • This problem largely arose with introduction of genetic studies; before that, taxonomy was largely based on morphology. Modern molecular biology has shown that many taxa previously thought to be monophyletic (that is, sharing a common ancestor that's not also the ancestor of anything outside that taxon) are actually just examples of convergent evolution. Reevaluations of the old morphological data in light of this will often reveal new characters that support the new topology as well.
    • Genetic studies also introduced problems in that not all taxa are equal. Let's take the most well-known example—the different classes of vertebrates (Kingdom Animalia, phylum Chordata), such as Mammalia, Reptilia, Aves (birds), and Amphibia. The problem here is that they didn't diverge at the same time, and so these groups are not a dependable way to distinguish amount of genetic difference, i.e. what actually differentiates species. The common ancestral species of amphibians diverged from the common mammal-reptile ancestor before mammals and reptiles diverged from each other, and birds are technically a subset of reptiles according to genetics and morphology, only considered different due to superficial differences. Therefore, if the proper way to denote an amphibian is Animalia Chordata Amphibia etc. etc., the proper way to denote a bird while still maintaining accuracy would be Animalia Chordata Reptilia-Mammalia Reptilia Aves. That's a mess, and we're only up to the class! Likewise, within mammals, the common ancestor of monotremes (such as platypi) diverged from the placental-marsupial common ancestor before placentals (e.g. humans, dogs) and marsupials (e.g. kangaroos) diverged from each other, making them not on the same level. For these reasons, classical taxonomy is beginning to be abandoned.
      • Reptilia-Mammalia is commonly known as Amniota. And there's several (about 7-8 at current thinking) levels both between then and Chordata, and them and Aves, a quite complex link in that case, which sees turtles splitting off from birds, lizards and crocodiles, and then lizards splitting off, and finally crocodiles and birds parting ways, with birds continuing down through dinosaurs.
      • With the discoveries of more and more feathered dinosaurs (and the latest research a high probability that most dinosaurs likely had feathers, just as most mammals have hair)note , and are, some people are questioning whether birds should be considered a different class from dinosaurs at all. Some researchers even speak of the K-T extinction as only having wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs. Others suggest "dinosaurs" should be reclassified as birds.
  • One of the unspoken justifications for early "Lost World" fiction was the tacit belief that God wouldn't really allow any of His creations to be killed off entirely, so there must be some hidden region where organisms that had vanished from the landscape were still around. Only as more and more species were wiped off the map by humans and an ever-growing variety of fossils were discovered did the idea that extinction was a real phenomenon take hold, relegating the notion of such isolated refugia to Speculative Fiction.
  • One of the most commonly repeated factoids about reptiles is that they grow throughout their lives. However, actual evidence for this is rather lacking and open to interpretation. There is substantial evidence that how big a reptile gets depends a lot more on their individual genetics and food supply than it does on how long they manage to live, and even if/when it is true that they keep growing, growth becomes so slow past a certain point in the reptile's life that its almost inconsequential.
  • Hyenas have fallen under this several times in history. They were once thought to be hermaphrodites that regularly switched between being male and female because of the female's infamous "pseudopenis" and larger size. This was eventually understood to be wrong, but the idea of them being stupid scavengers still persists despite research eventually proving this wrong. They are the smartest social carnivore, and they hunt most of what they eat. Incidentally, lions, being larger and more powerful, steal food from them more than the other way around, and comparatively scavenge more in general whenever they are given the opportunity.

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


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

Live-Action TV

  • New radioactive elements are being synthesized, which may only last as much as a millionth of a second before they decay. They have been granted official names and chemical symbols, causing at least one incident of an inaccurate periodic table of elements being portrayed in Star Trek.
    • Lampshaded in Tom Lehrer song "The Elements", in which Lehrer sings the names of the different elements of the periodic table (at the time the song was written). He ends with the following: "These are the only ones of which the news have come to Harvard, and there may be many others, but they haven't been dis-kah-vd".
    • An in-universe case of this happens in Singularity; when the Russians discover a unique element with properties that put most Phlebotinum to shame, they classify it as Element 99, or "E99," and you can even see some periodic tables in the labs printed shortly thereafter with E99 in the correct place, and highlighted. Despite this, the research is very secretive, and the discovery is made before Einsteinium, the element that actually goes into that spot. Shortly before the discovery of Einsteinium is made public, the research into E99 is shut down and completely buried, so the rest of the scientific world has Einsteinium as 99 in their periodic tables.
    • Referenced in the Stargate SG-1 episode "The Torment of Tantalus". A 1940s scientist, stranded on another planet for fifty years, discovers through alien records that there are 146 basic elements. The main characters (from the 1990s) tell him that Earth science only recognizes 107 basic elements, to which he nonchalantly replies, "only ninety when I last looked".
  • In both the Star Trek episodes "The Naked Time" and "The Naked Now", both episodes' versions of the Enterprise comes under the influence of polywater, a syrup-like form of water created from massive compression of normal water that has a lower freezing temperature (which allowed it to stay fluid despite the environmental controls on the space stations the substance was on being set to freeze everyone onboard to death) and the ability to convert any other water it touches into more of itself (leading to the "drunken" states of anyone "infected" with it). Thing is, while polywater was debated as a viable substance in the 1960s (when "The Naked Time" was made), by time "The Naked Now" was shot, it has since been proven to be bogus (forcing an awkward change of the term used to describe the substance from a water to a virus).
  • QI had en episode where Dara O'Briain remembers and states the "Triple point of water" where water exists in all three states of matter, which was 0 degrees of celcius. Two series later the viewers at home had apparently sent in so many letters correcting him which had been adjusted to 0.01 degrees. They deducted points from his then-current score.

Video Games

  • The original X-COM game introduced the alien element Elerium-115, so called because it is supposedly the 115th element on the periodic table. This was perfectly feasible when the game originally came out, but the 115th element has since been discovered. It was given a placeholder name (Ununpentium) until a proper name, moscovium, was eventually proposed. It is known that it would not display any of the properties of Elerium shown in the game (particularly the stability).

Real Life

  • Not SF, but Older Than Radio: Dr Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and surgeon general of the Continental Army, was also a temperance activist. In 1784, he published An Inquiry into the Effects of Spirituous Liquors upon the Human Body, and Their Influence upon the Happiness of Society, describing the negative physical and social effects of distilled liquor such as rum and whiskey ... but fermented drinks like beer were good, because they didn't have the same type of alcohol as distilled drinks. (To be fair, Rush couldn't exactly do a chemical analysis to see that ethanol is ethanol. He was having to go off the way people acted after a few mugs.)
    • The same idea was expressed decades earlier by William Hogarth in two prints. The better-known one (and likely Hogarth's best-known work) is "Gin Lane", and shows the very real horrors brought to London by the trade in cheap gin. The lesser-known print, "Beer Street", shows the benefits of good English ale. This being Hogarth, nothing is quite as clear-cut as it seems; some critics believe that aspects of the prints point to Hogarth blaming the despair and poverty seen in Gin Lane on the smug and self-satisfied inhabitants of Beer Street.
  • Look no further than old chemistry texts for good examples of this. General Chemistry by the great Linus Pauling and a former standard first-year text has element 104 on its periodic table as kurchatovium; you might perhaps know it as rutherfordium. (A number of transfermic elements suffered from dueling names for decades during the Cold War; for instance, element 105, now called dubnium, was referred to as "hahnium" and "nielsbohrnium" by American and Soviet chemists respectively, and many periodic tables simply called it "unnilpentium" until a consensus was achieved.) For fundamental particles, it makes reference to there being eight each baryons and antibaryons (there are considerably more), eight mesons and antimesons (again, more), eight leptons and antileptons (there are twelve, six each), and lists the graviton, which is entirely theoretical. In many other respects, however, it's entirely accurate to a modern understanding.
  • In 1926, chemist Andreas von Antropoff proposed an Element 0, which he called Neutronium, and placed this at the top of the Periodic Table (this was six years before the neutron was discovered). This was eventually dismissed. Turns out a form of neutronium DOES exist—specifically, degenerate neutronium in the cores of neutron stars. It isn't an element, though.

  • The film Crack in the World, whose creators prided themselves on scientific accuracy, had the extreme misfortune to be released in 1964, very shortly before the phenomenon of tectonic plates was confirmed. This instantly made the film's premise of the Earth having a completely solid crust which is endangered when it develops a crack quite laughable.
  • The original Total Recall (1990). Mars having an ice core was pure fiction when the film came out, but later studies proved it to be partially Truth in Television. The latest research and pictures taken from satellites have proven that there actually is ice right under the surface in some areas of Mars. On the other hand, there is still a pretty huge difference between "ice right under the surface of some areas" and "ice core".
  • Prior to the acceptance of plate tectonics, an elaborate series of prehistoric land bridges were posited to explain how similar species had ended up being separated by oceans. In Disney's Swiss Family Robinson, released in 1960, this land bridge theory is cited to Hand Wave the movie's use of Misplaced Wildlife (the original novel also features Misplaced Wildlife, but offers no explanation for it). In addition to since being proved wrong, this has the problem of the land bridge theory having not been developed yet as of the film's Napoleonic era setting. But hey, they tried.


  • H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness got it right by going against conventional scientific belief when he uses continental drift at a time when most geologists didn't accept the idea. Subsequent scientific marching has proved the story mostly right on this point. But he got it wrong when he wrote about continents rising and sinking from the ocean. He also wrote that the Pacific ocean had been created when the moon was separated from Earth, and that parts of the Antarctic had remained unchanged for almost 4 billion years.

    That said, even rising and sinking landmasses aren't implausible: Though entire plates don't tend to rise and fall, there's evidence of significant landmasses sinking over time (e.g. Zealandia), and Antarctica's geology is still a mystery box (while there are parts of North America and Australia which are at least over three billion years old, with some older rock samples mixed in) so the idea of there being deeply ancient chunks of Antarctica isn't that far-fetched.
  • In several of his novels (Around the Moon, The Mysterious Island), Jules Verne states through his characters his conviction that the Earth is getting colder as its core is dying, and that in a few hundred thousand years it will be as cold as the moon. Earth's core is indeed getting colder, as the heat is at least partly produced by decay of radioactive material. However it would take longer than the current age of the universe for it to cool down completely.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth is a story about men of science journeying to the center of the planet that was written before any definite theories were made in regards to Earth's interior. The book (and subsequent film adaptations) depicted the center of the Earth as a large ocean in a world inhabited by long-extinct prehistoric life forms, which is accessible through a series of caverns starting with an extinct volcano. On the other hand, the narrator, Axel, who is a geology student, repeatedly lampshades how incompatible is their journey with then current scientific theories. More an example of the Rule of Cool and Artistic License – Geology.
    • Though what he depicts is still false, of course, it wasn't as unlikely as it seems. Verne only used the title "Journey to the center of Earth" because his editor thought it would sell well. He did make enough research to understand that the literal center of the Earth would be uninhabitable due to pressure and heat. In Verne's vision, his underground world is nothing more than a very, very, very vast cave, deep underground, and nobody quite knows what's under the ground of that underground world.
  • In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Watson ponders the Neolithic stone artifacts of Dartmoor and feels a bit sorry for their builders, whom he presumes had been forced onto such poor land by aggressive neighbors. It's now understood that millennia of human agriculture created the acidic soil conditions in Devon, which had previously been covered in forests.

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


  • The Lost World—even Magical Land—is situated just outside the bounds of known geography. Geography tramples all over these and has for millennia.
    • The Trope Namer, The Lost World (1912), whilst falling afoul of this trope six ways from Sunday in most other aspects of its plot, actually manages to just barely dodge this one through the narrator being intentionally vague about its location and geography.

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

Live-Action TV

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

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

Comic Books

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


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


  • L. Frank Baum's Oz book The Patchwork Girl of Oz features a subterranean race called the Horners who attribute all the wonders of their society and long-lasting good health to a miracle substance called radium. Made all the more tragic by the many, many real-life cases of anemia and cancer due to people actually believing radium, a radioactive element, was a cure for everything—some people even brushed their teeth with radium-laced toothpaste.
  • The Dracula Tape, Fred Saberhagen's snarky Perspective Flip of Bram Stoker's Dracula, hangs a lampshade on the fact that Lucy Westenra receives blood transfusions from four different people. The initial scientific discovery of blood type groups came four years after the original novel was published, so Saberhagen's Count—as something of an expert on matters of blood by necessity—turns her into a vampire only to save her from immediate death brought on by the inevitable complications, of which van Helsing's companions, if not necessarily the doctor himself, were blissfully unaware. (It's actually implied that van Helsing, a less heroic figure in the retelling, may have inadvertently killed other patients in this fashion before.)
  • This was referenced in-story in the second looking Little House on the Prairie, which was set in the 1870s but published in the 1930s. One chapter has the entire family falling ill with something dubbed "fever 'n' ague". It's suggested by one character that the illness was contracted by eating tainted watermelons, while Laura's father believes it's contracted from breathing night-time air (the latter reflects the beliefs of miasma theory, see the Real Life section for more information). The chapter ends with a statement that they had malaria but no one at the time, not even the Frontier Doctor, knew it came from mosquito bites.
  • In James Gunn's The Immortals stories, teeming masses of poor citizens are deliberately allowed to suffer all manner of diseases so their infection-fighting antibodies can be strained out of their bought-by-the-liter blood and used by the wealthy to remain permanently disease-proof. Production of monoclonal antibodies for chemotherapeutic use is now routinely done using mouse or rabbit spleen-cell hybridomas, which eliminates the many risks of administering extracts from a human donor's blood.
  • In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is placed in solitary confinement ("the rest cure") for hysteria. Her condition is now thought to be postpartum depression, now easily treatable with medications and/or therapy. And, yes, the "rest cure" was one of the (many) horrible ways a diagnosis of "hysteria" was treated. (Others included cutting or burning the clitoris and/or labia, Lobotomy, electroshock "therapy," and even rape.
  • In The Bible, many people are described as having Demonic Possession, such as a young boy who was suffering from Convulsive Seizures, and that their healings were exorcisms. Now that more is known about medicine than was known in the first century, most of them are thought to have been suffering from various mental and/or physical disorders, such as Epilepsy.
  • The Ellery Queen novel The Last Woman in His Life contains some now extremely outdated psychological ideas regarding homosexuality, and which would have been on the way out at the time the novel was written. Unfortunately, some of these ideas are integral to the solution of the mystery.

Live-Action Television

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


  • Even some of the humor on the "Other" page for Better Than It Sounds on this very site about unborn babies being "parasites" falls under this. While a popular analogy used to promote abortion in The '70s, modern science now questions how fair the comparison is, as fetal cells have been shown to have healing properties in the mother. On the other hand, some actual parasites now appear to have beneficial side effects on their human hosts, such as the suppression of autoimmune diseases and exclusion of other, more harmful parasites via competition. For example, leeches are sometimes used for modern day bloodletting in reattached limbs because they naturally produce a substance that prevents clotting, which keeps the blood flowing to the limb.

Stand-Up Comedy

  • In his 1983 comedy show Delirious, Eddie Murphy expresses fears about having a girlfriend that spends time with homosexuals, worrying she might kiss them and get AIDS, and then give him AIDS when she kisses him. Scientists have long since disproved the idea of getting AIDS by kissing, barring circumstances like a sore or bleeding inside the mouth. Plus the difference between contracting HIV and getting AIDS. It should also be noted, for those too young to remember, that back in the 80s, homosexuals were seen to be the origin, or more often the sole victims, of AIDS. Later research proved that this wasn't the case, it was just that the symptoms of AIDS appeared in homosexual communities sooner than straight communities, for reasons best not discussed here. Eddie Murphy, to his credit, has long since apologized for this mistake.
Video Games
  • True to its historical setting, The Sims Medieval has the Physician Sim using leeches as part of his/her repertoire. Unlike in Real Life, bloodletting is apparently an effective treatment in the game's universe.

Real Life

  • It was once believed that the third finger of one's hand contained a vein that led directly back to the heart. Thus, wearing a wedding ring on that finger originally symbolized the joining of the married couple's hearts. While it's technically true that the vein in the ring finger goes to your heart, so does every other vein; in fact, all veins go to the heart, either directly or (for portal veins) by way of the liver or pituitary gland. Going to the heart is what veins do.
  • Associating the heart, an organ that propels blood, with the capacity for love is an even older example. Ancient peoples noticed that its beat sped up when someone's emotions were aroused, not realizing this was a secondary effect of feelings arising in the brain.
  • The big one is bloodletting, which is perhaps the oldest medical practice in the world.
    • It was in use for literally thousands of years, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, and all that time it was considered an awesome way to treat basically everything. In comparison, bloodletting has only widely been considered quackery for about a hundred and fifty years. Why did the practice continue for so long? Well, patients thought it worked due to the Placebo Effect. Plus, doctors thought they ought to be doing something and they had no idea what actually caused disease. More than anything else, it was the discovery of germs which brought an end to bloodletting.
    • Bloodletting does work in certain specific circumstances—such as the relief of laminitis in horses (who of course are not susceptible to placebo effects). One of James Herriot's books describes his horse-expert boss doing it to a pony suffering from severe acute laminitis, to the astonished horror of both Herriot himself and the Roma who owned the pony. It worked.
    • Blood-letting is also a useful treatment for compartment syndrome and for re-attachment of severed body parts, in both cases because deoxygenated blood that's trapped inside a crushed or newly-reattached appendage can accumulate so much pressure that no new oxygen-rich blood can enter to keep its tissues alive. It is also used to treat hemochromatosis (iron overload), these patients are very reliable blood donors.
    • Bloodletting (technically a much more modern form called phlebotomy) is still used today for a very specific condition called hemachromatosis (basically, an excess of iron in the blood and excess red blood cells). It's not very common and generally only comes up during blood transfusions. This condition would not have been known when bloodletting was a common practice, though.
  • Another idea discredited by germ theory was that of the "four humors", which was developed in Ancient Greece and lasted over two thousand years. Humorism held that illness was caused by imbalances in the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile) and health could be restored by restoring that balance. This is tied into the prevalence of bloodletting, as this theory held excessive blood to be one of four possible causes for disease. Some modern English words come from the "four humors" theory. For example, excessive blood was believed to lead to excessive cheerfulness, which is why "sanguine" means both "bloody" and "cheerful". Similarly, black bile was believed to be the cause of depression, hence the word "melancholy" literally means "black bile". There are also numerous references to the four humors in the works of William Shakespeare.
  • In the mid-19th century, the prevailing theory of disease was miasma theory, which blamed disease on bad air and smells. It is from miasma theory that we get our word "malaria", meaning "bad air". Although the theory was wrong, its focus on sanitation improved the treatment of disease from what it had been like previously. For example, Florence Nightingale's work at improving sanitary conditions in hospitals was based on miasma theory. Then again, while miasma theory was wrong about bad smells being the cause of disease...the organisms that actually were responsible for disease were also responsible for the bad smells. So by coming up with traps and modern plumbing to keep sewer air out of houses, they were actually preventing disease, just not for the reason they thought.
  • The idea of the hymen as a reliable indicator for virginity/lack thereof, akin to the "freshness seal" on many foodstuffs. It is now known that it can break or tear in ways completely unrelated to sex (horseback riding, for example), and some women are born without one. It's also now known that most women have a hole (or even multiple holes) in it, and some women can have an intact hymen even if they've been sexually active for decades, or even given birth before. The majority of women do not bleed the first time they have penetrative sex. (There are some women who do have the "Hollywood hymen" that completely covers the vaginal opening, but that is a medical condition, not the average woman's default state.) Therefore, it is not a reliable indicator for virginity (or lack thereof.) In fact, all the hymen actually is is a vestigial remnant of the Mullerian ducts that formed the reproductive tract during fetal development.
  • The practice of trepanning, which consisted of boring a hole in the skull, with the idea that doing so would cure headaches, seizures, head injuries, and mental disorders. It was widely practiced in antiquity, but has (with only a very few exceptions) fallen out of practice today. Ironically, trepanning could save lives when administered to victims of recent head wounds, by alleviating pressure from cerebral edema or intracranial bleeding. But applying the same technique to uninjured mental patients was a case of When All You Have Is a Hammer... applied when a hammer (and chisel) was actually the worst option.
    • Along with bloodletting, trepanning is among one of the oldest procedures developed, to the point where prehistoric human remains have been found showing evidence of undergoing (and recovering from) this procedure. Whereas the conditions that bloodletting WOULD be effective at treating likely weren't understood, head wounds are a much easier concept for ancient people to wrap their heads around, and thus may have been used for medical purposes, in addition to speculated ritualistic reasons possibly explaining prehistoric examples of skulls with holes in them (and evidence of bone healing indicating survival).
  • The concept of "hysteria," which was that the uterus would (somehow) escape from its normal place in the lower abdomen and pummel other organs, like a pinball game, causing all sorts of physical and mental problems. This alleged problem stemmed from (depending on whom you asked) the patient either not having enough sex (or not having enough good sex), or having too much of it, or not conforming to traditional ideas of femininity...and thus legitimate (sometimes life-threatening) diseases were dismissed as "hysteria," or "it's all in her head." Thankfully, "hysteria" is no longer a valid medical or psychiatric diagnosis.

    Paleontology and Anthropology 

Film - Animation

  • At the time of its creation, The Land Before Time actually took several pains to be accurate (disregarding a few temporal mishaps). Now, a large portion of its portrayals— its elephant-footed Brontosaurus, single-horned infant Triceratops, Ptero Soarer Pteranodon and primarily aquatic Saurolophus—are outdated.
  • Disney's Fantasia:
    • The film not only featured inaccurately-drawn dinosaurs, but at the very beginning of the "Rite of Spring" segment, the Earth is seen being formed from material thrown out from the Sun, the Sun itself being made of fire instead of hot gas, and at the end, the dinosaurs go extinct as a result of a global drought caused by climate change rather than by a meteorite impact.
    • Interestingly enough, the film was originally going to have an accurate (for the time) Tyrannosaurus rex. Paleontologists hired as consultants for the film insisted that the T. rex be portrayed with only two fingers. Walt Disney stated that the T. rex should have three fingers in the film because he believed that audiences wouldn't be able to recognize it otherwise. Amusingly, this makes it a reasonably accurate Allosaurus, which actually existed at the same time as Stegosaurus, so the two mistakes cancelled to make it an accurate depiction.

Film - Live Action

  • Jurassic Park:
    • Jurassic Park:
      • It wasn't established that dromaeosaurids weren't scaly when the first movie came out in 1993; but it was already considered quite dubious among paleontologists. Likewise, swamp-dwelling sauropods and “kangaroo stance” tyrannosaurs persisted in fiction long after they were proven incorrect, and they still show up sometimes. Incidentally, Jurassic Park references the old swamp theory when Ellie sees a sauropod for the first time, and remarks in astonishment that, "This thing doesn't live in a swamp!" Obviously, this is for the benefit of audience members who may not be up on current theories. An actual paleontologist would not be surprised by this in the early 1990s, as it would require her to be twenty years behind in her own field. Possibly she was just poo-pooing ideas she'd already known were archaic, not discarding her own disproven belief about sauropods.
      • The Dilophosaurus is about half the size of the actual animal, and is portrayed with a neck frill and venom glands for which there is no evidence at all in the fossil record. The former, at least, is implied to be due to the one Nedry runs into being a juvenile (i.e. "I though you were one of your big brothers").
      • Real Velociraptors were about the size of a turkey—they may have reached nearly six feet, but about half of that was the rigid, feathered tail, presumed to have been used for balance or perhaps signalling. Furthermore, most dromaeosaurids were actually extremely slow for theropods; the larger species are almost universally heavily-built ambush predators with powerful, bone-cracking jaws. Recent studies also suggest that the sickle claws on the toes actually evolved as climbing tools in early, arboreal dromaeosauroids, and later became used as pitons to hold on to struggling prey so that the predator could deliver a killing blow to the neck. To put it another way, they were ambush hunters, like cats, not pursuit hunters, like dogs.
    • Jurassic Park III had several inaccuracies with the Spinosaurus. First, spinosaurs were primarily fish-eaters rather than apex predators, and would have had relatively weak bites; in the fight with the T. rex, the spinosaur should have been killed instantly when the tyrannosaur's powerful, bone-cracking jaws got a hold on its fragile neck. Second, Spinosaurus would not have been a particularly fast species, and would have risked severe damage to its relatively fragile skull in the boat attack scene and the scene where it crashes through the heavy fence outside the abandoned InGen lab. Third, recent studies have shown that Spinosaurus would have had considerably shorter hind legs than it was portrayed as having, and likely would have been almost entirely restricted to aquatic habitats such as proto-mangrove swamps.
    • Jurassic World also incorrectly portrays non-adzarchid pterosaurs as aggressive hunters of human-sized land animals capable of lifting humans off of the ground, despite the species shown (primarily Pteranodon and something resembling an oversized Dimorphodon) being either fish-eaters or likely insectivores. The movie furthermore incorrectly portrays pterodactyloid legs as being free of the wing membrane, when current scientific consensus is that the legs were connected to each other and to the wing by the membrane. There's also a Mosasaurus with a dorsal fringe, Ankylosaurus with large spikes along its sides, and Stegosaurus with low-hanging tails (though not outright dragging along the ground). The fourth movie's raptors are also even more inaccurate than their predecessors, here shown to be capable of maintaining speeds comparable to a fast-moving motorcycle, and with both incorrectly pronated hands (see below) and an incorrect head structure (the shape of the raptors' heads does not match any dromaeosaur of similar size, and the snout is considerably broader than those of most known species), in addition to the continued lack of feathers. Partially justified with a scene stating that the movie's dinosaurs are intended to be crowd-pleasing genetic mashups rather than anatomically accurate animals.
    • And of course, the basis of the franchise- resurrecting prehistoric animals from DNA samples extracted from fossils- has since been proven impossible. Even when preserved, DNA has a half-life of 521 years, where half of all the bonds between nucleotides break down. After 6.8 million years, genetic material completely decays into a mess of inert proteins, negating any possibilities for cloning. You couldn't get DNA out of the preserved insect, much less the dinosaur whose blood it fed on. While this could be used to bring back animals from the last ice age or who've died out thanks to human activity, resurrecting dinosaurs is simply not possible.


  • H.P. Lovecraft made frequent references to the Piltdown Man, a famous fraud with a mix of human and ape bones, in his works.
  • The horrors of World War II made many anthropologists of the 50s drop the idea that Humans Are Special, intelligent, tool-maker conquerors of Nature and switch to Humans Are Bastards instead, the only primate that is a carnivorous, egotistical, weapon-making killer beast that loves violence and is doomed to destroy itself. The influence of this idea can be noted in Pierre Boulle's novel La Planete des Singes, which would later inspire the Planet of the Apes movies, as apes were then regarded as what "we" should have been before becoming homicidal beasts: peaceful leaf-eaters sitting in the rainforest, and that once we've wiped us out ourselves they'd build a real harmonious civilization. However, when primatologists actually began to study ape communities in the wild in the 1960s they found that apes (especially chimpanzees) weren't that peaceful in reality and actually had their share of hunting, fights for supremacy, stealing, rape, infanticide, war and cannibalism. As Jane Goodall once declared (paraphrasing): "I came thinking that apes were better than us, and I discovered that they were just the same".
    • Ironically, bonobos, currently the species widely considered to contain the most intelligent nonhuman individual (a bonobo called Kanzi), actually are considerably more peaceful in their intraspecific interactions than Humans and most other apes. They just solve their disputes through creative and extremely regular sex, instead.
  • Despite having Shown His Work, author and illustrator James Gurney fell victim to this with the earlier Dinotopia novels. The latest book showing up-to-date dinosaurs is evidence of this.
  • Although Robert J. Sawyer definitely shows his work in his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, a key plot point hinges upon humans and Neanderthals not being able to interbreed. Subsequent research indicates that interbreeding was actually fairly common.
  • Sherlock Holmes has a story where an old man takes a "youth serum" extracted from monkeys, which also gives him simian traits like climbing trees and annoying the dog.

Live-Action TV

Video Games

  • Pokémon X and Y introduced Amaura and Aurorus, Pokémon themed on the Amargasaurus. Though it is quite accurate in other regards (such as its toe structure and head shape), both Pokémon have a characteristic pair of membraneous sails on their necks, which is now less popular among paleontologists than the idea that the spines were bare and used for intimidation and combat.


Web Original

Western Animation

  • One strange example and correction of this is the designs of the Dinobots in Transformers. In the original designs their alt-modes showed many inaccuracies to fossil records that later counterparts corrected: they're no longer bow-legged or sluggish and Grimlock is no longer in the "kangaroo stance" but the proper bent-over position. The Age of Extinction Dinobots do have inaccuracies, but they were deliberately introduced as Artistic License to make them look more fantastic.
  • Dinosaur Train does its best to stay on top of current discoveries, but sometimes it finds itself the victim of this. For starters, Eoraptor probably isn't a theropod after all, but a primitive saurischian basal to the sauropod-theropod split. Brachiosaurus never lived in Africa; that was Giraffatitan. Also, Stygimoloch may not represent a distinct creature after all, but the subadult form of Pachycephalosaurus. Whether or not it is different, young pachycephalosaurs probably had flat (if somewhat knobbly) heads, growing domes as they aged.
  • The Magic School Bus episode "The Busasaurus" did its best, specifically going back in time to the Cretaceous Period to disprove Carlos's assertion that all dinosaurs were carnivores. All the dinosaurs are period-appropriate, but unfortunately they still had featherless theropods, and Troodon has been suggested to have been either omnivorous or even an herbivore, rather than a carnivore as depicted.note 


  • The case of the Brontosaurus:
    • In 1879, paleontologist Othniel Marsh misidentified an Apatosaurus (deceptive lizard) skeleton as a new genus, which he named "Brontosaurus" (thunder lizard). The error was pointed out in 1903, but the newer name proved more persistent in pop culture; even when the more proper term is discussed, it's often related as if Science only recently Marched On (e.g. this ''Sheldon'' strip). There is a loophole in the form of a grandfather clause: "The prevailing usage must be maintained" when "the senior synonym or homonym has not been used as a valid name after 1899" and "the junior synonym or homonym has been used for a particular taxon, as its presumed valid name, in at least 25 works, published by at least 10 authors in the immediately preceding 50 years". Looks like "Brontosaurus" missed by only a few years, but thank goodness Tyrannosaurus rex slipped in, otherwise we would be calling him "Manospondylus gigas".
    • The Brontosauri in King Kong (2005) were consciously called Brontosaurus as a homage to the old use of the name and (in associated in-story material) because the name was recycled for the newly discovered creatures.
    • The Brontosaurus was also provided with an incorrect skull—a Camarasaurus skull that Marsh incorrectly figured would be close enough to what its real skull probably looked like—but, contrary to popular belief, this problem is entirely unrelated to its being renamed. It wasn't even definitively proven until 1970 that the skull was incorrect.
    • In another twist, it's believed "Brontosaurus" may still have hope for revival after all, especially after being a valid genus again since 2015; if Supersaurus is indeed found to be simply a Apatosaurus species, A.excelsus would end up as a different animal to A.ajax, A.louisae and Supersaurus. Currently scientific opinion is somewhat divided on the matter, but Tschopp et al. (2015) found that several mostly temporally earlier species, including one that had previously been split from Apatosaurus, had significant differences in vertebral structure from the Apatasaurus ajax holotype.
  • In the late 19th century, a sculptor named Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins built massive statues of what the current science thought dinosaurs looked like, as they had only been recently discovered and rarely in complete skeletons, most of which run contrary to modern science's view. His most famous mistake was the Iguanodon that walked on all fours and whose thumb was placed on its nose. These sculptures still exist, and can be seen in Crystal Palace Park, London, UK.
    • More precisely, the sculptures represented the theories of paleontologist Richard Owen, who in fact coined the name "Dinosauria". Other scientists like Gideon Mantell thought that Iguanodon could have, from time to time, stood on its hind legs. However even he imagined the animal as a gargantuan iguana with a nose-horn, and he sadly didn't live to see the discovery of several well-preserved Iguanodon fossils a couple of decades later, which drastically revised science's ideas about the animal and consequentially caused a drop in the Crystal Palace dinos' popularity.
    • After finding complete skeletons, Iguanodon reconstructions for a long time also suffered from the "kangaroo stance"-fallacy. Later it turned out that they were indeed at least capable of walking on all fours. The latest reconstructions are nevertheless still a far cry from Hawkins' rhino-lizards.
    • One of the greatest differences between old and modern models is that up to a point in time, it was believed that the legs of quadruped dinosaurs were bound exactly like crocodiles' (since they're also reptiles, right?). This is also linked to the "kangaroo stance" theropods mentioned above.
    • And the long-held view that dinosaurs dragged their tails along the ground. It wasn't until the late 80's that this began to change, considering the structure of the hips and tails wouldn't have allowed it. Also the "swan neck" many sauropods were depicted in (with the exception of the Brachiosaurs, sauropods couldn't lift their necks more than 30 degrees above the horizontal). And there's now paleontologists arguing that the thinking on sauropod necks went too much the other way: that many were actually flexible enough to make an S-bend, and probably were held in that position normally.
  • Kennewick man ("the one that looks like Patrick Stewart"). Nobody actually believes in "race" per se anymore, and American Indians were only considered "mongoloid" for phylogenetic, rather than anatomical, reasons. Finally, even creationists acknowledge variation within a species. Despite this, these errors were deliberately made "in the interest of science" during the Kennewick man debacle. That the media repeatedly misstated that until then human habitation in the Americas only went back some 8000 years, when it had been known since the 1920s that humans had been in the Americas for at least some 12000 years, only made it worse.
  • As more and more studies are made about the bone structure of dinosaurs, how their bones connected and just how flexible the joints were, the smaller details of the way we perceive how the animals might have looked and behaved changes so fast, media and the public have a tough time keeping up. One of the more "radical" findings that frequently gets overlooked when it comes to depicting dinosaurs is the revelation that most dinosaurs couldn't rotate their hands the way humans can, and that their palms were almost permanently stuck facing inward. Thus the classic (and to most people, standard) way of positioning their hands the kangaroo-way became as obsolete and incorrect as the kangaroo-stance itself. But it's such a relatively insignificant detail that most pictures/movies/sculptures/toys still get it wrong.
  • It was formerly believed that feathers originated in the theropod lineage at some point during the Jurassic period, with small, arboreal theropods such as archeopteryx evolving them for flight. However, molecular evidence has shown that the origin of feathers go even further back than that. A paper published in 2006 confirmed that alligators possess the same gene for growing feathers that birds do, which would punt the origin for feathers back to the common ancestor of birds and crocodilians, sometime back in the Triassic period. Indeed, it would appear that bird feathers, dinosaur protofeathers and pterosaur pycnofibres are all variations on the same basal archosaur fuzz, which evolved as a form of insulation rather than for flight. Note that pennaceous (ie: bird-like) feathers have been pushed back farther in the line of feather evolution; the so-called "protofeathers" are actually just crushed pennaceous feathers; thus animals like Velociraptor (which has quill knobs, a dead giveaway of pennaceous feathering) or Yutyrannus (with its feather imprints on the fossil slab it was preserved in) sport pennaceous feathers. Another feathered theropod, Sciurumimus, is an incredibly basal coelurosaur; it was only slightly more advanced than the megalosauroids (and was even jumping between being a coelurosaur or megalosauroid for a while).
  • Edmontosaurus actually had a crest after all.
  • Basilosaurus was originally thought to be a marine reptile, and its bones were arranged like a sea serpent. It was later discovered that Basilosaurus was not a reptile at all, but an early whale.
  • The mysterious Tullimonstrum of Carboniferous Illinois was infamous for over 50 years, due to its extremely strange characteristics that confused many a paleontologist. The only conclusion that anyone could even reach was that it was an invertebrate, and thus many (now-outdated) paleoart depicts it as a strange annelid-slug-arthropod-cuttlefish conglomeration. As of 2016, a study proves that it was none of those, and wasn't even an invertebrate. It in fact was a vertebrate that was closely related to the lamprey. Despite this, it is still portrayed as a weird Mix-and-Match Critter rather than the fish-like animal it actually was. Illinois' Geological Survey still refers to it as an invertebrate!
  • One thing that's not covered by science marching on is the depiction of cavemen living alongside dinosaurs. At no point in the history of paleontology did actual scientists believe this. The first scientific paper on dinosaurs, Gideon Mantell's "The Geological Age of Reptiles" in 1831, said in its first sentence, "Among the numerous interesting facts which the researches of modern geologists have brought to light, there is none more extraordinary and imposing than the discovery that there was a period when the earth was peopled by oviparous quadrupeds of a most appalling magnitude and that reptiles were the Lords of Creation, before the existence of the human race." This was a decade before the word "dinosaur" was even coined, so there's never been any excuse for not getting this right if you're trying for accuracy. Of course, old-timey Hollywood was trying for Rule of Cool. The reason the trope faded around the 1980s was not science marching on, but the general public becoming more aware of what scientists knew all along.

  • This happened so often to Robert Heinlein that he decided to stop rewriting his short stories for accuracy and simply declared them part of an Alternate History. His editors decided to call the whole "series" Future History.
    • His story "Blowups Happen" centered around a nuclear power plant consisting of a solid two and a half ton ball of uranium-235. Blowups don't just happen, but are inevitable when you try to exceed critical mass (in this case, 52kg). Considering that the story was written in 1940 and Fermi wouldn't even get to the University of Chicago for his famous experiment until 1942, he can probably be forgiven. Heisenberg himself and a number of other nuclear scientists also thought the same thing—supposedly Heisenberg's 1940 calculations on the "random walk" principle gave him a figure two tons for sustained criticality.

      The mass was changed to 10 tons in a later revision of the story. It's not exactly a solid ball, though; in both cases the fission reaction is keeping the fuel in a liquid state. There's another error, though: even the ten-ton version simply would not contain enough energy to produce the world-wrecking detonation the story posits—it would be an enormous explosion, but historically there have been more powerful volcanic events. The explosion would likely release a ghastly amount of radioisotopes into the environment when it blew, however, making it a "world-wrecker" in a different way.
  • The Lensman novels:
    • E. E. “Doc” Smith justified both FTL and Constant Thrust Equals Constant Velocity with the inertia-negating "Bergenholm" device. At the time of writing, the negation of inertial mass, though hideously energy-intensive, was believed theoretically possible. Advances in relativity and quantum mechanics have since destroyed the concept's viability.
    • Also, the first novel, Triplanetary, had fish-like aliens (more indifferent to humanity than actively hostile) raiding near-ish future Earth to steal iron to fuel their atomic star drives. Humans rapidly copied their tech and developed atomic iron star drives of their own. The problem is that there are two ways of getting energy out of atoms; fuse light ones together, or split heavy ones apart. As atoms' weights move away from the extreme light and heavy ends you get less and less energy out as you fuse or split them, and in the middle there's an element that's the atomic energy equivalent of a deflated balloon; fusing or splitting it releases no energy, and you actually need to pump energy in to change it in any way at all. That element is iron—the absolute worst possible choice for a nuclear fuel. At the time the specifics of the nuclear binding energy curve wouldn't have been well known, so there's every chance Smith chose iron simply because we use a lot of it on Earth, making it a good candidate for a material avaricious aliens might want to steal.
    • Complete mass to energy conversion is also possible by the mutual annihilation of matter and antimatter. This concept does appear in the Lensman series in the form of the negasphere, which is essentially a planet-sized sphere of antimatter which is used to "eat" planets (in the process disappearing itself). In terms of Science Marches On, this point is affected by Smith's idea of antimatter being much closer to the tentative ideas that Dirac came up with when first considering the concept than to the modern conception of antimatter. It is also affected by Smith plain getting it wrong, in that while he correctly states that the energy is released in the form of floods of energetic gamma rays, he does not envisage these as having any effect other than radiation poisoning for anyone nearby—whereas in reality the gamma rays would be absorbed by nearby matter and their energy converted into heat, resulting in a massive explosion as opposed to the spooky silent disappearance of matter which the books describe.
  • In the foreword to The Skylark of Space, also by Smith, he states that he is aware of this new theory of relativity, but that it's unproven and he doesn't personally agree with it. The book had been started in 1915, before general relativity had been published in its finished form (Einstein's seminal paper being published November of that year), and even special relativity was still not universally accepted among physicists at the time.
    • On the other hand, the series provides a surprisingly accurate view of antimatter, with the Applied Phlebotinum at the heart of its science being an alien substance that annihilates with copper to provide huge quantities of power.
  • From the Earth to the Moon:
    • The early silent film based on the book describes the astronauts and their spacecraft being fired from a giant gun. Launching a spacecraft in that manner would thoroughly kill the astronauts from excessive G-forces, which is why real manned spaceflight is done with staged rockets. This was thoroughly discussed by the characters themselves and Hand Waved away by Captain Nicoll inventing an ingenious shock absorber device (which wouldn't work anyway, really). Now it is thought that the gun thing was suggested to Verne by his publisher Hetzel, who thought that the rocket (which Verne envisioned originally) wouldn't be cool enough.
    • The book also mentiones zero-G environment only for a brief moment when the projectile was passing the point where the gravities of Earth and Moon cancel each other out. The better application of the mechanics well known even in Verne's time would show the zero-G state prevailing for the whole flight, as it happens in Real Life.
    • There's is one even worse offender: in the book, the heroes get rid of their dead dog by opening a window on the bottom of the projectile and throwing it out. They are concerned about the loss of air, but they do it fast enough that "only a few particles" of air escape. It's mentioned they later casually get rid of litter this way throughout their voyage.
  • H. G. Wells has his explorers in The First Men in the Moon travel to the moon by means of a metal that is "opaque to the radiant energy of gravity".

Video Games

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

Western Animation

  • The Secret Squirrel episode "Quark" relies on Secret reading the dictionary and informing the eponymous villainous particle that quarks are only hypothetical, causing him to vanish in a Puff of Logic. The existence of quarks is no longer even vaguely controversial nowadays.

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


  • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:
    • A great deal of biology is now known to be erroneous (evil sperm whales and the bottom of the sea being totally lifeless, for starters), but one of the more bizarre ideas to a modern reader is that the main characters find electricity so amazing, noting that their rooms wouldn't be out of place in a grand hotel if it weren't for the electric lights or that the Nautilus is powered by electricity instead of steam. It's likely for this reason that the Disney film has the Nautilus run on nuclear power instead. It is worth mentioning that the "evil sperm whales" is an idea actually held by Captain Nemo, prof. Arronnax doesn't necessarily agrees with him on it, and is taken aghast by Nemo's brutal slaughter of the animals in question. It was probably included more as a sign of Nemo becoming progressively unhinged with time than an actual scientific tidbit.
    • Moby Dick himself was based on the sinking of the whaleship Essex, which is the first recorded history of a deliberate attack by a sperm whale on a whaling ship. The whale repeatedly rammed the ship causing it to sink and stranding the crew, who had to resort to cannibalism before finding rescue, which made the press worldwide. So it was a novel idea to throw about at the time.
    • Aside from the biology, there's also some very big geography/geology weirdness in how the Nautilus can sail straight to the South Pole under the ice when we now know the South Pole is over land. Exploration of the Antarctic continent was just beginning when Verne wrote the the book, so it was plausible at the time, but now it just looks weird. (Of course, the NORTH Pole is over water, and submarines regularly have and do travel to it under the ice— and the first to do so also happened to be named "Nautilus".)
  • H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and "The Whisperer in Darkness" feature aliens aliens who could travel between planets by flying through æther. Later Cthulhu Mythos stories by other hands typically retcon the Elder Things' space flight as their wings being biological solar sails.
  • The Divine Comedy:
    • In Purgatorio, we learn that the island of Purgatory is the only piece of land in antipodes (a.k.a. the Southern Hemisphere), surrounded by a huge ocean that covers one full hemisphere. To his credit, Dante always remembers that the sun would be to the north in the antipodes. (And remarkably enough, he describes a constellation of four bright stars that sounds suspiciously like the Southern Cross; he couldn't possibly have seen it, or even spoken to anyone who had. Critics generally think it's a metaphor for the Four Cardinal Virtues (fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence) illuminating the life of the penitent sinner.)
    • Paradiso features a geocentric universe...sort of.
    • Averted in one noteworthy case: Inferno and Purgatorio clearly features a round Earth (proving that the idea that people once believed, especially during the Middle Ages, that the Earth was flat is completely wrong. The fact that the Earth is round is quite obvious to the senses and easily proven through basic geometry known since Antiquity).
  • In April 1953, Isaac Asimov wrote the short story Everest, which got obsoleted the very next month, before it could be published. The story assumed that Mount Everest would be so hard to climb that the first explorer to reach the summit would have to be air-dropped in.
  • Isaac Asimov cited this (in the foreword to the book) as one of the reasons why he decided to write Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (despite the name, it is pretty much a remake)—the novelization to the movie had been as scientifically accurate as he could make it within the confines of the movie's plot, but that had been in 1966, and by 1987 some of the biology and physics were dated (the other reason was, of course, that he could veer farther from the movie's plot and therefore fix even more problems).
  • Another Isaac Asimov work, Pebble in the Sky, cites this in the afterword in later editions:
    • "Pebble In The Sky was written in 1949 and first published in 1950. At that time, only four years after Hiroshima, I (and the world, generally, I believe) underestimated the effects on living tissue of low-level radioactivity. I thought it, at the time, to be a legitimate speculation that Earth might be generally radioactive and that human life could nevertheless survive. I no longer think so, but it is impossible to change the book since the radioactivity of Earth is essential to the plot. I can only ask you to continue to suspend your disbelief in that respect and enjoy the book (assuming you do) on your own terms." - Isaac Asimov
  • In the late 18th century, Italian scientist Luigi Galvani used electricity to make a dead frog twitch. We now know that he had accidentally invented the battery, but some scientists of the time (including Galvani himself, by the way) thought that he had unlocked some sort of mysterious life force. In the following years, the "galvanists" used electricity to perform various macabre experiments on dead animals and even human corpses. It should come as no surprise that it was around this time that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.
  • Lucifer's Hammer has a scene where someone attempts to escape a monster tsunami by surfing the wave. It is epic. It is also, unfortunately, totally impossible. Prior to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, tsunamis were only known through eyewitness accounts of survivors, who were generally more concerned with getting away than studying the nature of the phenomenon. The proliferation of digital cameras changed that: we now know that the old name of "tidal wave" is actually quite accurate, as a tsunami is akin to a rising tide, only much faster and higher, rather than the monster breaking wave that most people envisioned.
  • John Varley's novel Millennium was about time travelers who go back to the past to rescue people who are about to die in accidents. If they have to, they take people off of a vehicle before its destruction but it's much easier to just bring the vehicle itself forward in time if it was historically never found after its destruction. Varley uses the Titanic as an example of a ship that the time travelers were able to bring to the future because it was never found. The novel was published in 1983, just two years before the wreckage of the Titanic was found.
  • A few decades after it was written, in Speaker for the Dead the very bright and well-educated xenologists seem terribly narrow-minded in what might be possible in alien cultures. In some ways, this is actually Science Fiction Marches On, as writers explore more ideas that might be used in the future.
  • H. G. Wells The Time Machine shows the sun age into a red giant in less than 30 million years and somehow without turning the Earth molten.
    • By 802,701 AD, all diseases, pest animals, predators, insects, and decay-inducing bacteria and fungi have gone extinct. Not only would this be a horrifying ecological catastrophe, but it would be practically impossible given the nature of microbial adaptability.
    • Likewise, the novel seems to suggest that global warming would only make England a tropical paradise.
  • This was the downfall of The Urantia Book, a book whose publishers purported that it had been channeled from alien Energy Beings. It combined the basic events of The Gospels with an elaborate history of the universe, in an attempt to bring The Bible more in line with scientific principles as they were then understood. Problem is, "then" was the 1930s, and the book's science included the now-discredited Chamberlin-Moulton planetesimal hypothesis, Mercury being tidally locked to the Sun (which it isn't), and an endorsement of eugenics.


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

Tabletop Games

  • This trope is a major setting element in Genius: The Transgression.
    • A Genius's inventions may very well work on outmoded principles, but that's because it's their inner madness fueling the devices, not any sort of consistent physical principle. Also, there are entire realms of existence where outmoded models of the Universe are the predominant mode, such as a Ptolemaic universe where the planets really are crystal spheres pushed through seas of phlogiston by humongous archangels, or a version of Mars that's a lot like Barsoom.
    • The main antagonists, the Baramins of Lemuria, have a tendency to believe in outdated scientific, philosophical and/or political theories (ranging from Luminiferous aether to still being upset that Aristotle’s organon replaced Platonic philosophy!). They don't realize their inventions are powered by their own madness; they just think something went wrong with human development, and work constantly to "fix" it. Which is a problem if you're one of the people that needs fixing...
    • If a popular scientific theory held by a large enough proportion of the world is disproven, the universe will go ahead and create a version of that theory anyway in an event known as a Maniac Storm. This was how the alternative realms of existence mentioned in the first bullet point above came into being. It's also how a number of antagonistic factions were founded; the Viking lander reaching Mars in 1971 and proving there was no intelligent alien life on the planet was followed seconds later by a Martian invasion, and the first Lemurians came about when it was proven that there was absolutely wasn't a mystical island full of serpent-people with advanced technology who wanted to destroy humanity.


  • "What May Happen in the Next Hundred Years": A widely-publicized set of predictions for the 20th century as seen from the year 1900 included the hope that all these annoying flies and mosquitoes, along with their breeding grounds in the swamps, marshes, and other wetlands, would finally be completely eradicated. Now scientists are fighting tooth and nail to preserve these areas in order to combat the loss of biodiversity and the protection these areas provide against flooding and coastal erosion. Meanwhile, wetlands and swamps are still being drained, paved over and polluted with alarming speed; and mosquitoes are killed en masse to this day. The loss of mosquitoes would kill off many animals that eat them and without wetlands serious pollution problems would occur to a lot of water supplies.
  • Various megaprojects:
    • USSR planned the change of the courses of the Russia's large rivers (Ob, Yenisei, Lena) which flow to the Arctic to flow to the Southern Russia. This would have caused an eco-catastrophe.
      • Which is a Science Marches On in itself, the science being history. Back in the time the project was mired in the huge political debate of which barely a couple of percents of its participants understood what it was about. Nowadays, however, the picture has became much more clear, and nowhere in the project the rerouting of the rivers were mentioned—it was all the invention of journalists seeking the flashy titles. Instead, barely a percent of the river flow was to be turned down south, incidentally saving the very Aral sea mentioned below: the great Siberian rivers dwarf the Central Asian ones, and even a small percentage of their flow equals both the Amu-Darya and Syr-Darya.
    • Drying up the Aral Sea was accepted as inevitable by the Soviet planners.
      • It went as proceeded but produced some unexpected results. This overlaps with Technology Marches On; had the same irrigation projects used modern (or even high-quality) concrete and canals, the sea would still exist today. This means there is some hope for it to return in the future.
      • Although Kazakhstan is doing a decent job on their side,note  the other former Soviet republics around Aral (especially Uzbekistan) just don't seem to care.
      • Uzbekistan basically has nothing to export except cotton, oil and gas, all of which all but require the death of Aral — cotton requires water for irrigation (thus ensuring no inflow to the sea), and the former seabed just happen to contain some lucrative fuel deposits.
  • Eugenics. 100 years ago, it was accepted as scientific truth that some races/phenotypes were inherently inferior/superior. Although there is no technical reason the human gene pool couldn't be altered through selective breeding just like is done all the time with domestic plants and animals, the concept of "race" itself is now considered biologically meaningless.
    • Eugenics is the concept of trying to encourage breeding to develop desirable traits, the concept of race was never a mandatory on intrinsic aspect of eugenics. What was found is that while the *concept* of eugenics is still theoretically possible, in practice it almost always gets tied to race or some other arbitrary concept of what constitutes a 'desirable' trait; and often gets implemented in horrible ways. The science has not undergone any significant changes though. In short this is more of a case of Society Marches On, specifically society not trusting anyone to define what constitutes a positive trait to strive for, or to implement it in a way that doesn't become a human rights disaster.
    • To the extent that it was still useful or viable, eugenics basically died its final death with the advent of genetic engineering, at least in theory. Why would anyone go to the trouble of hooking up the "right" couples in hopes that their kids would be better, when gene therapy could improve the current generation, or at least ensure that their kids would be better off no matter who the parents were?
    • Many of the "traits" that supporters of Eugenics wanted to eradicate alongside genetic disorders were things like alcoholism, homosexuality, poverty, prostitution, restlessness, criminality, and antisocial behavior. The concept predates the discovery of DNA by over half a century, so its supporters naturally assumed that all traits in a person were controlled by their genes, none of which the listed traits are. At least not in a simple enough way that preventing alcoholics and criminals from breeding would have them disappear from the gene pool.
  • Any work that uses psychology that references Sigmund Freud. Though influential on early psychology and still well known in media, Freud's theories have long since been discredited by serious psychological research. Jungian psychology has similarly suffered the march of time, albeit not to the same extent.
  • In the mid-20th century, it was believed that tornadoes destroyed buildings by exploding them due to air pressure. Survival instructions in the '50s and '60s advised people in the path of a tornado to open windows to equalize air pressure. It was later discovered that it was the winds themselves that damaged buildings and that opening windows wasted valuable time better spent seeking shelter.
  • The Tomb of the Unknowns, the United States' monument to service members killed in action whose remains were never found or identified. Whereas most countries with similar monuments inter a single soldier, usually from World War 1, to represent all their Unknowns, the American monument has Unknowns from both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. But by the 90's, advances in DNA testing made it theoretically possible to identify all unknown remains from the Vietnam War, and sure enough, the Vietnam Unknown was revealed to be Air Force pilot Michael Blassie. Blassie's remains were reinterred in his hometown of St. Louis, and the tomb previously representing the Vietnam Unknown was replaced with a plaque that reads, "Honoring and Keeping Faith with America's Missing Servicemen".