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Stupid Scientist

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"The chances against anything manlike on Mars are a million to one."

Scientists are human beings, too. And human beings are often wrong. The problem comes when a character that is mentioned to be a respected, intelligent individual (or sometimes an Absentminded Professor) is called on to state or decides to make a comment on how unlikely it is that an impending and usually bad event will occur. They usually dismiss any possibility of disaster by stating extremely low odds that it will happen, and laugh off holders of an opposing viewpoint as "crazy" or "minsinformed" even if they may in fact be a respected colleague and not just an eccentric, insane or paranoid person who also happens to be right. Point is, nobody can sway him once he's publicly declared that there is, without a doubt, no life on Mars. If they do notice anything wrong, they will likely dismiss it as Within Parameters.

Because the character is held in high regard, everyone listens to them and stops panicking, just in time for the disaster to happen anyway. The character who initially stated these odds often gets involved in the thick of it, quickly changing their mind. This individual may or may not survive. As for their earlier statement, it becomes Hilarious in Hindsight, and they may or may not be called out for it.

If they die in the ensuing cataclysm, it may be as the result of a Death by Irony or Too Dumb to Live. In this role they often function as a Red Shirt or a demonstration that Anyone Can Die. If they survive, they sometimes play the role of the Idiot Hero or Ditzy Genius, or rarely The Professor. The character is usually depicted as naive at worst, and is usually genuinely intelligent but out of his or her league. A Stupid Scientist is almost never outright evil.

The Stupid Scientist can be seen as related to Tempting Fate and they usually demonstrate some form of Genre Blindness. They can also be contrasted with The Cassandra, in that both herald the event, but the difference is that the Stupid Scientist denies the disaster and is widely believed while the Cassandra says that it will happen and is completely ignored. The opposite trope is an Ignored Expert, a scientist who tries to warn everyone of danger but is disbelieved. More sensible or recurring Stupid Scientists can be promoted to Agent Scully.

An Einstein Sue will often be faced with one of these, so they can show them up.


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    Comic Books 
  • Green Lantern: Hector Hammond in his post-Infinite Crisis origin; Despite supposedly specializing in "theoretical future science" and "alternative fuel sources", it never ocurred to him that Abin Sur's ship was powered by something other than liquid fuel. When he opened the fuel chamber, believing it to be empty (and therefore harmless), he was exposed to the radiation of the meteor within.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Disaster Movie Supervolcano, the main character, a geologist, completely denies the possibility of a disastrous supervolcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park. The supervolcano there erupts in a matter of weeks.
  • Jurassic Park, where there are repeated claims from park higher-ups that the dinosaurs will not escape and devour everyone. Guess what happens.
    • On paper, it was supposed to be perfect; Hammond spared no expense, after all. Except for one:
    Nedry: Don't get cheap on me, Dodgson. That was Hammond's mistake.
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode that riffed Crash of the Moons, the scientist forgets about the "atmosphere chain" linking the "Gypsy Moons" Poseta and Nagato. The space station they're waiting on will pass through the atmosphere chain, but isn't built to withstand the pressure.
  • The scientist in Mars Attacks! stated that since the martians are advanced technologically then they should be peaceful. He kept this up until they kidnapped him, cut off his head, and kept it alive for the lulz. They also kidnapped his vacuous girlfriend and her pet Chihuahua, and switched their heads for the same reason.
  • In The Birds, the main characters meet an ornithologist who is in complete denial over the title creatures flocking together to attack humans.
  • In When Worlds Collide, several astronomers insist that Dr. Hendron's end of the world predictions are unfounded. While it's later mentioned that they now believe him, they still think his escape plan is impossible.

  • The quoted example is from The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells. Ogilvy, a "well-known astronomer", says that to the narrator at the beginning of the book, right when Martian cylinders are heading to Earth. Nice. To be fair, however, Ogilvy is trying to be rational, and at that point in the story he may be more accurately described personality-wise as an Agent Scully.
    • The irony is also somewhat undercut by the beings that invade not being very manlike. "Not very manlike" is not the same thing as being non-existent, unintelligent or friendly...
  • In H. P. Lovecraft's Cosmic Horror Story "The Whisperer in Darkness", the main character denies the existence of alien life. Naturally he finds out that aliens do, in fact, exist, especially when they disembody and replace one of his friends. Or not
    • He also walks straight into the most obvious trap ever devised, even giving a lengthy monologue over how it can't possibly be a dangerous situation. Fortunately the aliens are just as stupid, and do nothing besides drug his coffee which he doesn't drink, giving him a chance to realize what an idiot he was and run away.
  • The British secondary school textbook "Physics for You" features regular illustrations of Professer Messer and his misadventures.
  • In The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde: The "great Dr. Lanyon, who lives in Cavendish Square, that citadel of medicine", was one of the oldest friends of Dr. Jekyll, but for the last ten years he has seen little of him, due to Jekyllís '"unscientific balderdash". Jekyll is very disappointed by Lanyon, because Lanyon calls his theories "scientific heresies" and considers Lanyon "an excellent fellow... but a hide-bound pedant for all that; an ignorant, blatant pedant". Consider that Dr. Jekyll has three doctorates, he is a FRS (Fellow of the Real Society) note  and a famous doctor, in other words, Dr. Jekyll is a respected colleague and not just an eccentric, insane or paranoid person who also happens to be right. At chapter nine, Dr. Lanyon pays the ultimate price for this error when he witnesses Mr. Hyde mix up the transformation potion right before his eyes and take it to return to being Dr. Jekyll, but not before indulging a moment to mock Lanyon for his own mockery of Jekyll's work. The shock of this eventually kills him.
  • In the third part of Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver visits the flying island of Laputa, inhabited by a race of scientific geniuses. Although Laputa itself is a marvelous accomplishment most of the scientists' schemes and plans are hopelessly impractical due to logically following poorly examined premises with a complete lack of common sense. They are also in the habit of regularly predicting the extinction of life on Earth due to e.g. a cometary impact, only to blithely ignore when it doesn't happen.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Henry Danger: This is part of Captain Man's origin story; Ray Manchester's father was a very irresponsible scientist who let his eight-year-old son ride his skateboard in the lab. When Ray accidentally got into his father's new invention, the "molecular densitizer", his father pulled the wrong switch trying to free him, resulting in Ray gaining Super-Toughness.
  • In Star Trek: Enterprise, T'Pol, and for that matter, the entire Vulcan Science Directorate. The official declaration by the Vulcans is that time travel is impossible. Even after a mission which involved time travel in Season 2, T'Pol still says that she doesn't believe in it. She does get better and finally comes to understand that time travel is real. And in fairness, Vulcans of this time have strayed from Surak's teachings and are living under a military dictatorship.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn: Subverted. Dr. Mobius is briefly mentioned in the intro during a talk show as being expected to refute claims that Tiberium is dangerous. He is fascinated with its mutagenic properties, putting enthusiasm and almost gleeful fascination into its research, ignoring even basic rules of safety. However, when later he learns of the disastrous effect Tiberium had on plants and animals, he changes his approach entirely, warning that it was potentially the greatest threat to humanity ever. He then dedicates himself to finding a cure for Tiberium-affected humans.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Tangled: The Series: "Great Expotations" introduces Doctor St. Croix, a self-proclaimed scientist and Know-Nothing Know-It-All who judges the invention expo. He values style over substance, choosing Fernando Pizazzo's floating, magnetic ball because it looks neat despite not having any real practical purpose, and he dismisses Varian's invention (which creates a new element) out of hand. He then proceeds to mess with Varian's invention and dismisses Varian's attempts to warn him of the inherent dangers, claiming that he knows what he's doing. His tampering with Varian's invention almost destroys the entire kingdom (and leads to him getting injured).

  • A Level science exams often have data analysis questions where you are presented with a set of data and told that "a scientist" had made a conclusion from this data, and you are asked to comment on how far the data support the conclusion. Usually the conclusion is wildly inaccurate (e.g. a study on ten people shows a link between eating cheese and cancer, so the scientist concludes that cheese should be banned), making you wonder how these people managed to become scientists in the first place. In order to avoid this, some questions make it a student or a newspaper who has drawn the conclusion instead.

    Real Life 
  • UK weatherman Michael Fish became infamous in 1987 by reporting that "Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way... well, if you're watching, don't worry, there isn't!" a few hours before the appearance of the worst storm in the area since 1703. (Technically he was right, in that it didn't meet the exact definition of a hurricane, but this was cold comfort to anyone in its path.)
  • Kary Mullis won the Nobel prize in chemistry for his work on the Polymerase Chain Reaction, a precious laboratory technique to amplify DNA fragments in a sample. He was also a denier of global warming, the ozone hole, and HIV, and a supporter of astrology and parapsychology.
    • Some of his arguments when criticizing those scientific issues were initially reasonable, for example he wanted for stronger proof that HIV was causing AIDS in humans during the late 80s/early 90s (when the scientific community had started not long time before to understand the disease), and lamented that the attitude when he was asking to other scientists for more info was that of an Appeal to Authority and Do You Trust Me?. But he didn't take into account that certain arguments were out of his field of expertise and he couldn't fully grasp what consisted in enough proof to insiders (like atmospheric physics); and whenever there was a situation that he deemed not convincing enough he didn't say "I want more evidence for now we can't get conclusions" but strongly supported a "therefore it's false" stance. Then, when he was effectively answered or presented with even new experimental evidence for any of these issues, he simply dismissed anything while never questioning quacks like Christine Maggiore (for whom he wrote the preface to her HIV-denialist book). He applied two weights and two different measures when using skepticism.
  • An odd example of this can be found in scientists who are tricked by psychics, with people like Uri Gellar sometimes beating a few of them. James Randi, a skeptic inquirer who was trained as a stage magician and exposed Gellar and others like him, noted that scientists aren't really trained to detect misdirection from con artists.