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Sci Fi Writers Have / No Sense of Units

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Sci-fi writers avoid units like the plague. Not to be confused with Unit Confusion.

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion suffers from this. All the Techno Babble related to the Evas (especially in the "Ritsuko shouts at a monitor and defeats the Angel" episodes) is given without units ("It's decreased by 0.3!"), although they do occasionally remember to use units for things like sizes. There's also plenty of cases of unitless numbers stated to absurd degrees of precision and probability calculations involving complete unknowns.
    • Units were lobbed off and scales not even mentioned whenever possible in regards to the titular cyborgs in order to justify drawing them to wildly-varying Rule of Cool proportions (which is negated once you realize human pilots stand next to the Evas quite frequently). To balance this out, numbers that were of absolute importance to the plot that actually had units - "5 minutes" of internal battery power - didn't matter either.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • The franchise is infamous for its training sessions. During such, characters commonly train with things like weighted clothing and increased gravity. Doesn't sound so absurd? Well, considering even relatively early in the series characters were able to shatter mountains and create huge lake sized craters with a single blow..... Let's just say wearing a few tons on each arm wouldn't really equate to such force.
    • Most of the characters have official heights, but how they stack up is way out of proportion to those heights. Many characters are drawn much taller than their official height, and their drawn height is often inconsistent. The fact so many have multiple forms and transformations doesn't help.
    • Dragon Ball Super claims that there are only 28 planets that support intelligent life in the whole of Universe 7 (and that's after you subtract previously inhabited planets blown up by Freeza, the Saiyans, or Beerus). That is, quite simply, a ridiculously low number of life-supporting planets for an entire universe, assuming that it's anywhere near the size of the real one. It also makes the Frieza Force's entire business model of conquering planets and selling them to the highest bidder ridiculous, because who are they going to sell them to if there are so few inhabited worlds in the first place? Then again, Universe 7 is also supposed to be the second-worst Universe out of the 12 in terms of its "Mortal Life Level", so the low number of planets might be indicative of tremendous mismanagement by U7's gods (so bad, in fact, that the Top God Zen'O had already decided U7 doesn't deserve to exist and should be annihilated, along with the gods in charge of it).
  • Toriko throws around figures in the millions, billions, and even trillions quite freely. On the low end of this scale is Toriko himself, who is said early in the series to burn 100,000 kilocalories a day, something that would give a normal man heatstroke. There's also a technique, Monkey Martial Arts (or Enbu), that's dedicated to consciously controlling the independent wills of the 60 trillion cells in a person's body. At one point, the four main characters declare their combined might of 240 trillion cells.
  • Naruto has a particular character use 600 Billion explosive paper tags at one point. The absurdity of the technique is given a further analysis within the work's Trivia page.

    Comic Books 
  • Galactus is often called the "slayer of millions" when he has been devouring inhabited worlds at a rate varying from once a century (early in his life) to once a month (more recently) since shortly after the Big Bang. This is... technically correct, but not really indicative of the real scale of things. Even if the "millions" is a count of worlds, he would already be well into the billions by now.
  • Who is responsible for the worst act of genocide in modern history? In the Marvel Universe, it's Bastion. The Sentinel Massacre, which he orchestrated, was responsible for the deaths of more than 16 million mutants, roughly. (The casualty count was anywhere from 16.5 million to 17.4 million, depending on who was recording, and it is not even known if these figures include the citizens of Genosia, which was completely destroyed.) At any rate, this act of genocide rivals even that of The Holocaust, making such casual disregard for life by mutant-haters rather... horrific.
  • There are about 7200 Green Lanterns to patrol the entire Universe. Considering how big 1/7200th of the Universe is, it is little wonder the Green Lantern Corps has failed to stamp out evil in the cosmos: sheer lack of manpower. The fact that in the DCU, the vast majority of the Universe is devoid of life helps a bit, but not by that much. (Larry Niven, a mathematician with some background in physics, was brought in at one point to write the "Green Lantern Bible" in an attempt to justify/revise some of the less-sensible portions of the mythos. He more or less concluded that they were using "universe" in the old sense of the word, more or less what we mean nowadays by "galaxy" ... which helps some. Even just the galaxy is still pretty big, though; assuming the sectors are divided so that each Lantern is responsible for the same number of stars, that number is somewhere between about 30 and 60 million.)
  • DC Comics has several instances where the writer hilariously misunderstands how the decibel scale of measuring sound works, and the workings of sound in general. Firstly, the decibel scale is logarithmic, which means that an increase of ten decibels means the sound and the energy carried by the soundwave is ten times stronger. 200 decibels, in fact, means a sound that is ten billion times as strong as a sound of 100 decibels. Let's establish some benchmarks here: At 194 the sound exerts pressure roughly equal to the atmosphere at sea level. 200 decibels is normally lethal to humans and is more a shockwave than a soundwave. The epicenter of man-made explosions ranges around 200-300 decibels. Got all that? Good. Let's take a look at some examples where this is grossly mishandled.
    • The strength of Black Canary's canary cry has several times been stated as being 300 decibels, which is much more than the shockwave you get from a good-sized nuclear explosion. People who have been hit it have just been thrown around some and survived with minor injuries, while in fact they should have been reduced to a thin red mist.
    • Pre-Crisis Superboy helps out a scientist who wants to measure the loudest sound he can create. Superboy complies by first providing five thousand decibels, keep in mind that a one-point-one thousand decibel "sound" contains more power than the entire mass-energy of the observable universe, and would instantly turn into an absurdly large black hole. Then he one-ups himself by one million decibels.
    • In New Teen Titans Cyborg casually blasts an enemy in combat with "one million decibels of white noise".
    • Near the beginning of Batman: Hush, Batman uses a sonic attack on Killer Croc which he describes as "ten thousand bumblebees at one thousand decibels".
  • In Weapon H, Weapon H decides to take up Roxxon Oil's mission to Weird World. However in return, one of the conditions is that he and his wife get 10 million dollars each. He succeeds and they're rich. So what's the first thing they get with their new millions - an ultratech deep-sea dome with laser barriers and a submarine. Sure $20 million is rich, but that's only mid-level rich and certainly not the level of wealth that can buy something so expensive as an undersea base and the resources to maintain it.

    Films — Animation 
  • The talking computer (or whatever it is) in Voices of a Distant Star does this a few times, saying that enemy units are "at twenty thousand" or similar things. It isn't even all that clear what type of a unit this is; it's probably a distance, but it could be the number of uneaten sandwiches they have in storage, for all we know.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Stealth, one of the technicians claims that EDI has somehow downloaded "all the music on the Internet". The theoretical sum of all music on the Internet would be measured in petabytes, if not exabytes, and would require a hardware mainframe hundreds of times larger than EDI himself. It would take him days upon days to download it all, even assuming the fastest possible Internet connection speed.
  • Event Horizon messes has quite a few lines which contain physics whoppers that can spoil its Cosmic Horror mood. The Lewis and Clark is a space ship which develops a breach in the hull. Smitty claims that the ship has 218 liters of air left. But a body of gas fills up however much space the container that holds them has, meaning they should have measured how much was left in mass or pressure. Additionally, 218 liters is not a very large volume. It's approximately forty-five gallons, which would fit in about a fifth of a cubic meter. In other words, a space about three feet long by three feet wide by a little more than half a foot deep. It seems that Smitty is talking about the air in the cabin, which has a volume roughly equivalent to that of a small ranch house. If 218 liters of air under Earth-like atmospheric pressure then expanded to fill that space, anyone without a sealed space suit (like Smitty) would be dying of irreconcilable pressure and temperature differences. If the ship stored reserve air, expanding that air from 218 liters to the size of the cabin would cause it to become very, very cold very fast, just like a can of pressurized air for cleaning electronics does when you lower the pressure quickly.
  • In Escape from L.A. the president has ordered all non-Christian people (among many other groups) to be sent to Los Angeles (which is now an island due to a devastating earthquake). Counting just the first group would include about 30 percent of the population of the USA, or 100 million or so people. Realistically the LA prison should be PACKED, but in the movie, there is a fair amount of empty space there.
  • In Avengers: Endgame, Bruce Banner tells Thanos "You murdered trillions!" Even assuming the observable universe constitutes the entire universe, and only .1 percent of planets are peopled, the number would still be more like septillions (a septillion is a trillion trillion).

  • Isaac Asimov:
    • Foundation Series: The planet Trantor is supposed to have all ground area on it overbuilt into a continuous city, but the population is… inconsistent. Trantor's population is given as 40 billion in "The Psychohistorians", but is inconsistent on if that's only government administrators or if Trantor itself is only administrators. During "Search By The Foundation", the population is said to have been four hundred billions, but Prelude to Foundation establishes that many people live on Trantor without being directly connected to the government administration, and the population itself is still only in the tens of billions. Assuming 45 billion people spread over all 75 million square miles of the planet's land area, you’d have a population density of 600 people per square mile. Adding in the 100 underground levels drops the actual population density to six people per square mile. The problem with Trantor isn't overcrowding, it's finding someone else to talk to.
    • It's also said that Trantor needs to import the produce of twenty other, specialized agricultural planets to sustain its population. This would tend to suggest that future food production is very inefficient compared to real life, even at the time of writing in the 1940s — to say nothing of today, when Earth alone (not a planet optimized for food production by any means) has a relatively small number of farmers supplying almost 8 billion people with food, and overproduction and low food prices is still a major problem for them.
    • The Caves of Steel takes place "thousands of years in the future", where Earth is overpopulated and all Earthmen are crowded into domed Cities in cramped quarters. The world population at that point? 8 billion (in real life, we reached 7 billion in 2012 and are on track to hit 8 billion in 2025). In this case, though, it's more that the population has "concentrated" itself ... there are vast tracts of uninhabited land between the cities, it's just that no one ever goes there (and this is even a plot point).
  • The Bible: Noah's ark is said to be 300 cubits (about 450 feet) long. While pretty huge for a wooden ship, it seems a wee bit too small to hold two of every singly non-aquatic animal on Earth (though one can certainly argue the animals were magically shrunken down or something along those lines.)
  • An especially ludicrous example: In Ben Shapiro's sci-fi anthology What's Fair, and other short stories there is a story called From The Pit, where in the future a brilliant scientist has a plan to kill dust mites: shrink the people down till they are about the size of a dust mite and have them shoot said mites with their tiny guns. Why anyone would having people shrink down and kill the dust mites individually was a better plan than just using pesticides or similar methods is a total mystery. Indeed, considering an average human will have 100000 dust mites or more on them, each of which is about the size of one shrunken person, realistically it should be a Curb-Stomp Battle in the dust mites favor.
  • In one of the early BattleTech novels, a researcher is ecstatic at the chance to study an ancient Star League data core, mentioning to a friend that it has over 30 kilobytes of information on [Techno Babble topic] alone! Given that a one-page long text file might be 4 kilobytes of data, seven and a half pages of [Techno Babble topic] probably wouldn't warrant such an excited reaction.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5: Most battles, even planetary bombardments, only have a few thousand deaths. The only one with a more than a million had asteroids being dropped on the planet by ships in orbit, and that took several days of continuous dropping. One of the canonical novels says that 600 million Narns died in the bombardment; however, in Season 3, Londo states in one episode that "5 or 6 million" Narns had died, which seems preposterously unlikely.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Stolen Earth", a member of the Shadow Proclamation claims that "the entire universe" is in an uproar over the disappearance of 27 planets. It seems rather odd that a society spanning the whole universe would even notice a couple dozen planets going missing when there are uncountable billions of planets per galaxy in a universe with hundreds of billions of galaxies at the least. This is similar to everyone on Earth getting extremely angry over a single pinch of sand going missing from a beach.
  • In Farscape Zhaan claims to have searched planets for three people in hiding, over a period of time roughly equivalent to 20 days. They also mention how completely ridiculous the chances of finding them actually are, so maybe it's just supposed to show how desperate she was.
  • In The Flash (2014) energy of a certain singularity that was going to destroy the Earth is apparently "6.7 teraelectronvolts". Sounds big but in reality, 1 TeV is roughly the kinetic energy of a flying mosquito.
    • As another point of comparison, a baseball thrown at a speed of 90 miles per hour (approximately 145 km/h) has a total kinetic energy of approximately 73,000,000 TeV.
  • Throughout Star Trek, unit numbers fluctuated wildly between the various series. The original series said there were only 12 Constitution-class ships, and showed little evidence of any others in Starfleet's possession; in The Next Generation there were initially only six Galaxy-class ships built, with another six on order (though it's made clear that these are simply the newest and largest ships in the fleet, with an unspecified number of other types also in use). By Deep Space Nine the Federation's largest force commitment to a single battle against the Dominion numbered to about 600 ships,note  and in response to questions about the unexpectedly-high registry numbers of Voyager and Defiant, Ronald Moore went on record as saying that Starfleet probably had at least thirty thousand ships. It's not made clear whether that meant thirty thousand ships currently in service, has built thirty thousand ships, and/or how many of them include things like tiny shuttles and scout ships.
    • When it was written, the Battle of Wolf 359 was supposed to be a massive loss of Starships. Upon the Enterprise reaching the scene of the battle everybody reacts to the loss as if it was a major disaster until people wrote in concerning this trope. It was later retconned to be only the fleet stationed on Earth itself, the tragedy was that those were 39 of Starfleet's best ships with their best crews. Numerically, it wouldn't significantly harm the army, but it would be a massive psychological blow.
    • Selas' grand plan to invade Vulcan, with a grand total of 2,000 troops. That's barely enough to invade a single town much less than an entire planet. Even if orbital superiority is a force multiplier, that's dependent on the defenders not having ships of their own. She then lauds that they'd be nearly impossible to dislodge since they had been 'dug in' by the time Starfleet responds.
    • In "The Royale", the temperature is given as -291 Celsius. That's below absolute zero, which is to say, take the coldest physics will allow it to be, then get about 18 degrees colder. (Or as SF Debris puts it: "Slow down until you come to a complete stop... and then keep slowing down.")
    • In "A Taste of Armageddon", a weapon directed at the Enterprise has "18 to the 12th power decibels". The fact that a sonic weapon is being used in space can be rationalised as it just being a low-frequency weapon of some sortnote . The real problem is that decibels is a logarithmic scale, so the number quoted is 1 followed by 1,156,831,381,426,176 zeroes times a reference power (often 1 milliwatt). For perspective, the entire luminous output of the observable universe is only 2x10^49 Watts.
    • Towards the end of Deep Space Nine, after a giant space & land war that involved all of the major powers, with multiple important planets being attacked or invaded, the Cardassian Union's leader remarks that they'd lost 7 million soldiers in the war. Which is less than the Soviet Union lost in World War 2. It gets a bit more realistic when a major planet has an attempted genocide that kills 800 million civilians in the space of a few hours.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Only the Planetville nature of the BattleTech universe combined with its quasi-feudal nature can really explain how, given the bottleneck of interstellar travel, any major planet ever changes hands as the result of an invasion. The thought of using some non-microscopic fraction of the industrial capacity of a world to create a defensive force that would simply swamp a few dozen 'Mechs dropping out of the sky by weight of numbers is never seen to enter anybody's mind.
    • One of the ways that the game rules attempt to justify this is that it takes significantly more damage to disable a BattleMech than another vehicle of comparable tonnage. A "decent anti-tank rifle" will accomplish squat against a 'Mech under the rules, as a well-armored 'Mech can shrug off dozens of anti-vehicle missiles without suffering systems damage. Realistic? No, but it does serve the purpose of the game (giant robots pounding away at each other) better than more realistic rules would.
    • Ironically, the rules (especially in but not limited to the Total Warfare edition) then do in fact allow infantry to do fairly significant damage to 'Mechs that happen to carelessly wander into range of their weapons. A stock twenty-odd man Inner Sphere ballistic rifle platoon can hit for upwards of ten points of damage per turn, all in annoying little 2-point critseeker damage packets. They're slow and not a major threat over open ground where 'Mech weapons can pick them off from a safe distance, but infantry are one of the legitimate reasons few Mech Warriors look forward to urban combat among other things — and these are just a bunch of warm bodies with man-portable weapons who don't even have a single half-decent cheap combat vehicle to their name yet.
  • The given population for cities in Eberron tends to be ludicrously low. Sharn, the biggest city in the setting, has a population density of under five thousand people per square mile with conservative estimates for how big the area of the towers is.

    Star Wars 
Star Wars is incredibly prone to presenting an inaccurate sense of scale.
  • In the Attack of the Clones movie, there was a mention of two hundred thousand units being ready and a million more well on the way. Ancillary sources at the time confirmed that the term "unit" was referring to a unit of production, so a single clone. 1.2 million clones for a Republic of thousands of inhabited worlds? Coruscant alone has a trillion people on it (though that has problems in and of itself, see below). Later Star Wars Legends sources upped that to three million clones. Not Much Better.
    • Somewhat justified, since in both Canon and Legends, the vast majority of the battles in the Clone Wars were fought by planetary militias, with Jedi and Clone forces only being dispatched to locations of particular strategic importance. However, even then, the 1.2 million figure simply does not add up when you look at the sheer number of Clone deaths during any given battle.
  • In Revenge of the Sith, the Wookies are in danger of falling to the CIS. So Yoda states he will take a battalion of clones (roughly 1,000) to reinforce the entire planet of Kashyyyk.note 
  • One episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, "Pursuit of Peace", has the Senate order another 5 million clones; these 5 million soldiers are treated as an enormous investment that will keep the war going for a notable period, with the implication that they hadn't even ordered more since the initial 1.2 million.
    • It could be somewhat justified in that the Republic's main army and navy had a mix of clone and non-clone personnel (a lot of Galactic Empire officers have a backstory involving service in the Clone Wars, despite obviously not being clones themselves), and some Republic worlds (such as Pantora, Kashyyyk, Naboo, Utapau, Ryloth, Onderon, Mon Cala, and Coruscant) were established to have their own planetary militias (of varying quality) that actively participated in the war alongside the clones. The most likely explanation is that the clones, being fantastically well-equipped and universally mechanized (as well as consisting seemingly solely of combat arms, with the non-combat roles that occupy 3/4 of modern armies taken care of by non-clones), were used as elite mobile forces to stiffen local defenses and spearhead key offensives, while the vast majority of the grunt work like non-combat roles, maintaining lines of supply and communications, garrison duty, and so on fell to non-clones. If the Grand Army of the Republic was about 80% non-clone, and the Grand Army itself was smaller than the combined total of various planetary defense forces that fought in the war, you could easily knock the clones' share of total Republic military forces down to well below ten percent. This is backed up by the fact that Dooku claims in TCW S1E1 that the CIS's droids outnumber the clones specifically 100 to 1, yet the movies and shows consistently depict the Republic and CIS as peer militaries as opposed to the CIS immediately crushing the Republic. Even with that explanation, though, ~6.2 million is an awfully tiny number for even a year of war involving thousands of worlds (and so is 620 million, for that matter, though some CIS-allied races like the Geonosians, Neimoidians, Zygerrians, and Umbarans also participated with their own planetary armies).
    • Star Wars Battlefront II (2017) has flavor text stating that there were "billions" of droids, which when combined with Dooku's statement implies tens of millions of clones. Still not a lot, but tens of millions of clones and maybe a billion support troops and militia to fight a few billion droids (supported by a much smaller number of organic troops) is at least somewhat workable for a conflict largely taking place in the underdeveloped Outer Rim.
  • According to new EU sources, an Imperial "legion" is actually around the size of a historical legion. For the Galactic Republic, it's four regiments of 2,320 men for a total of 9,280; for the Galactic Empire, it's 3,200 per regiment in four regiments for a total of 12,800; for the First Order, it's 8,000 men divided into an unknown number of regiments; and for the Sith Eternal, it's 5,000 men.note  That's perfectly logical, but it does make a lot of lines of dialogue real stretches retroactively, whereas previously fans could attempt to Fan Wank a legion as smaller/bigger than a historical one for the sake of a scene. For example, Palpatine states in Return of the Jedi that he has an entire legion on Endor, yet the force present looks more battalion-sized and is never able to simply swarm the small Rebel assault team with the numbers they should have.
  • In Solo the planet of Mimban is conquered by a single Imperial division (roughly 15,000 to 25,000 troops).
  • In the DLC for Star Wars Battlefront 2, a Rebel officer claims that with "hundreds" of capital ships like Star Destroyers (a heavy cruiser equivalent), the First Order could subjugate the whole galaxy. While this in keeping with the ship numbers shown on-screen in the movies and shows (where losing even a few capital ships is treated as a big deal), it's still somewhat hard to believe given that Dooku in Attack of the Clones casually mentions thousands of systems flocking to the Separatist cause (and the Separatists were smaller than the Republic, and both of them together still did not even rule the majority of the galaxy going by official maps). There must have been several dozen systems for every single capital ship.
  • In the now non-canon Legends novel Shatterpoint, Mace Windu points out that the million-odd clones work out to roughly one per system, and suggests that the majority of the fighting, especially in the less-critical areas, is being done by irregular militia forces.
  • Meanwhile, there often seems to be only one military academy - admittedly one which takes up most of a planet - for the entire galaxy. For comparison, there are four in the USA alone, and that's not counting the three major service academies. The sourcebooks explain that there's actually one academy per sector (roughly, one per every 1,000 inhabited planets), but good luck getting the writers to pay attention to that...
  • In the Legends novel New Jedi Order the New Republic, losing planets to the invading Yuuzhan Vong left and right, is described as having problems finding shelter and food for millions of refugees (there's always the probability most of the population didn't survive long enough to become refugees).
  • Some of this is the result of Star Wars Legends having an extremely inconsistent portrayal of its basic scale. The movies give numbers in the range of "tens of thousands of worlds", including a lot of uninhabitable resource-extraction worlds and marginally developed worlds (like Dathomir, Tatooine, Jakku, Bespin, etc. each with less than a million people). Even many of the long-settled and fertile worlds had relatively marginal populations compared to our own (e.g. Kashyyyk with 56 million, Naboo with 600 million including the Gungans). Meanwhile the novelization of A New Hope mentions "the million systems of the Galactic Empire" and the Phantom Menace novelization refers to the Jedi doing their duties in "a hundred thousand different worlds", while some EU sources bump this up to "millions of worlds" with a lot more development. Somewhere along the line, the math is bound to not add up. Things have improved slightly since those novelizations and EU works were decanonized with the rest of Legends, but it's only a matter of time before more contradictions happen in the Disney canon, given it's only been a few years.
  • Coruscant is described as one big city, with a population of one trillion. It's 12,400 km in diameter, making it approximately Earth-sized. A population of one trillion spread evenly across such a planet (assuming 2/3 of its surface is water, as is the case with Earth) would have an average population density less than 6,000 per square kilometer, and yet we see huge, sprawling, skyscraper-laden areas that are almost completely full of people (Manhattan has a population density of 28,000 per square kilometer, now imagine multiple layers of that). However, this isn't necessarily a contradiction because population density isn't uniform across the entire planet. There are marginally inhabited, burned out and deserted areas (like what Dooku flew over) and landing zones (like what Anakin crashed into), and the hugely populated parts in the movies are in the same general area, so it may simply be the (or at least a) "downtown" sector of the planet.
    • The novel Death Star makes a reference to several characters living in the "Southern Underground", which feels (in context) like a good-sized urban neighborhood, but is implied to be a much larger area. This doesn't make a lot of sense.

  • The box for the original Rubix Cube claimed it had "over 3 billion combinations", the actual number is approximately 43 quintillion. While not technically wrong (it does have more than 3 billion) it is akin to saying "more than 100 people live in New York".
  • An obscure Transformer named Double Punch has it claimed on his bio that, as a special adaptation, he's able to survive temperatures of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. As the wiki pointed out, "Yes, he's almost as powerful as the average teaspoon." Indeed, real-life humans can survive that temperature (or higher) as long as it's a dry heat (such as a sauna).
    • A reference book for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen claims Megatron's "death-lock pincer" claw arm has a crushing force of 576 psi and a telescoping blade with a 3-kilowatt burn rate. These are less than a decent boxer's punch and 4 horsepower respectively, hilariously low-yield for any 30-plus-foot alien war robot, let alone Megatron. On the other end of the scale, Optimus Prime's barrage cannon is given a sixty-mile range with a firing rate of six shots per second, with each shot being equivalent to three thousand pounds of TNT.
  • The BIONICLE fiction had this in spades with its population numbers. Mata Nui, an island roughly the size of Denmark, had less than a hundred sentient inhabitants living in small, disparate settlements. Makes sense so far. Then in the franchise's first movie, the number was increased to multiple hundreds. Acceptable, though inconsistent with the previously depicted villages. Afterwards, it was explained that the islanders had originally lived in the island city Metru Nui before moving to Mata Nui. While this island was significantly smaller, it was a sprawling metropolis with expansive industrial infrastructure spread across six enormous districts and watched over by a total of 5000 Vahki police force robots. No way could a mere hundred people keep such a place running, so the population was artificially bumped up to thousands in the second movie. That was still an extremely meager number for a giant city, even accounting for the island's uninhabited areas. Trying to reconcile the plot hole of how a population of several thousands became mere hundreds when moving between the two islands, the writers retconned the number to be exactly 1000 and a small group of leaders on both islands. This makes even less sense and is wildly inconsistent with both Mata and Metru Nui, and makes the already established number of Vahki laughable. No further elaboration was ever given.

    Video Games 
  • The Armored Core series is a serial offender here, all the stats (armour strength, speed, weight, weaponry hitting power, generator capacity, lock on range, radar scanning speed and area, etc) are measured in numbers, with absolutely no indication of what unit of measurement is being used for any of them (except temperature and speed during gameplay, which are measured in Degrees.C and km/h respectively).
  • Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds gets around this by giving the Martians nonsense Martian units like heat ray output in krk.
  • MechWarrior 4 has a heat gauge that measures your reactor's temperature in hundreds of degrees Kelvin. This wouldn't be such a big deal (it can range up to about 1400 degrees, a substantial but by no means unreasonable temperature swing) if it didn't start at zero. In the Kelvin scale, zero means absolute zero, the coldest temperature possible. However, MechWarrior Living Legends seems to use the ambient temperature of the mech itself as the heat gauge - not the reactor's temperature. If you're in a lava environment, the heat gauge hovers at 300+ degrees Celsius, whereas an arctic environment has the gauge hovering at -20 Celsius.
  • StarCraft
    • When the Terrans first arrived in the Koprulu sector, they only numbered approximately 32,000. According to Blizzard's website, there are at least twelve billion Terrans in the Koprulu sector at the beginning of Starcraft II, and Raynor mentions Kerrigan killing eight billion people during the first game. He might have been including the Protoss but that still means you're looking at more than twelve billion humans living in the sector. As mentioned here, to have this many people after only 240 years would require the population to at least double every decade, for 24 decades, not taking into account the deaths that occur from any number of natural and unnatural causes, because the Terrans have a history of civil wars.
    • There's also the sheer attrition of every faction. While the Zerg are justified in it since We Have Reserves is their thing, the Dominion Fleet amounts to, according to the books, 50 ships. 50 ships when terrans often suffer massive casualties when fighting against protoss and zerg and their marines have a life expectancy of six seconds when they're deployed. The attrition rate on that alone would most likely depopulate many terran worlds very quickly, even if they had a massive prisoner population (which is where most terran marines are taken from). The protoss also have to deal with taking large casualties, which is even more galling when their numbers are dwindling. The amount of devastation caused in the various wars that take place throughout the series should ruin the terran and protoss abilities to wage war, but they're always ready to fight again no matter the conflict.
  • An aversion in the Mass Effect series that otherwise has easily and fast interstellar travel and the characters casually hopping around the galaxy; Reaper invasions, where they wipe out all civilizations above a certain technological level and then remove evidence of their own existence, and have a billion years of experience in doing it, can take centuries to accomplish simply because of the distances involved and number of stars and planets, and even then they can still miss things.
    • In Mass Effect: Andromeda, the codex explicitly states that the whole Andromeda Initiative (which involved building a 2.2 billion ton ship, the Nexus, and several other 17 million ton ships, the Arks, in less than a decade) was funded by a single person. Considering how enormously powerful Citadel Space's economy is depicted as in the series, that's not too bad, given that said person (Jien Garson) was cited as one of the wealthiest humans in the galaxy. The problem is that the codex says she's a mere billionaire, implying the cost of the Initiative was far below 1 trillion credits. This is completely unbelievable, as it implies 2.3+ billion tons of cutting-edge FTL-capable spacecraft averages out to just a few hundred credits per ton at most (not taking into account all the other costs of the expedition like the revolutionary breakthroughs in FTL drives and AI required for it to be feasible or the infrastructure to support a large city present on the Nexus), and more pressingly, implies that an economy where a single soft-drink line can sell 12 trillion 1 credit bottles a day (see the Tupari ad), where a single mining operation can shift hundreds of millions of tons of material per day, and where mid-sized corporations regularly rule entire planets has few to no trillionaires in it. Note that in other sources a credit is given the rough proportional purchasing power of an American dollar or euro (e.g. the indentured servant contract broker on Illium mentions that an inexperienced but skilled technical worker could earn "hundreds of thousands of credits" in seven years). The novel Initiation fixed this by retconning the Initiative to have costed a quadrillion credits, directly implying Garson's net worth is higher than that number as everyone believed her capable of funding such a thing alone.note 
  • Star Control Origins: Used as a joke at one point, if the Captain asks a sentient starbase to tell them a fun fact, the starbase responds "There are more than 200 stars in the universe." The Captain notes that that sounds like an extremely low number, the starbase replies "I said more than. The fact is factual."

    Warhammer 40000 
Warhammer 40,000 has this off and on, likely as a result of the huge number of different writers and developers who have worked on it. At times, distances, timescales and the number of soldiers needed to launch a sector-spanning crusade are handled "realistically", but just as often a few hundred Space Marines purge an entire world in a few weeks. It's easy to interpret it as Imperial propaganda.
  • In one of the background books, it is mentioned that it took around 20 years to pacify a sector with the combined strength of a Crusade and that this is a remarkably short time.
    • In another instance (the Eisenhorn novels), a Crusade to pacify an entire sector required the sustained effort from at least one other sector altogether for a century to come to completion and took the combined efforts of many Imperial institutions to fortify their hold over the area. The military force needed required dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands of Imperial Guard regiments (which, when translated to their real-life counterparts, can range from a battalion-sized specialist unit to an self-contained army-equivalent formation all on it's own), several Space Marine Chapters, Titans, the Imperial Navy, the Inquisition...
    • Another instance from the White Scars novels, somewhat realistically depicted the Imperium as needing overwhelming force to capture a planet from the Tau who occupied it, landing Titans, many Imperial Guard regiments, and the combined force of elements of many Space Marine Chapters. In the end, the one who captured the plant's most important strategic asset — it's single spaceport — would end up taking control of the planet, as it meant they would control access to who gets on or off of the planet easily, and it could mean the difference between an extended campaign to pacify the planet or fighting or a doomed campaign as attrition and a lack of reinforcements wore down the defenders. The Tau, outnumbered and outgunned by the huge, slow, grinding Imperial force, saw the writing on the wall early on, and they spent that entire campaign effectively on one big delaying action as they worked furiously to evacuate the planet.
  • On the other hand, the Macharian Crusade is said to have taken seven years and pacified over a thousand worlds for the Imperium. Even if a lot of the planets surrendered without a fight, that's still at least a whole planet every other day for seven years. (Then again almost all of those worlds revolted not long after.) This is considered a literal miracle in-universe.
  • Several planetary wars are often played out in a matter of weeks or months. World War II took a good few years to finish. However, there are some justifications, the biggest of which is that most of these are global campaigns, which are global events real players can participate in. It would seriously suck to have to wait 4–5 years for the results of a summer event.
    • 40k has also been noted for having a particular fondness for the Elites Are More Glamorous and Keystone Army tropes: an average Space Marine victory involves around twenty-five Marines assassinating a planetary governor to make the entire rest of the planet surrender immediately. In the few cases in which the writers are able to get away from that particular comfort zone, we start to get less egregious scenarios - such as the novel Fire Caste, where a planetary siege has been waging back-and-forth for decades.
  • Eldar Craftworlds are another case of writers not having any set guidelines, resulting in wildly contradictory statements about their size and populations. Gav Thorpe, who wrote the Eldar-centric "Path of the..." books, said he envisioned largest Craftworlds having a habitable area the size of a continent with a population of low millions because apparently having tens of millions of Eldar on a Craftworld would seem too big for a dying race. Even if the population of every Craftworld would be in hundreds of millions, all Craftworld Eldar in the entire Galaxy (no exact number of Craftworlds have been given, but when the background gives a ballpark number it's usually "hundreds") would have the total population of a few dozen smaller Imperial hiveworlds (populations in the single digit billions) or a few bigger ones (which can have population of over a hundred billion each). Phil Kelly, who wrote the Eldar and Dark Eldar codices, on the other hand, seems to place the population of Craftworlds as much higher, since some of the background he's written would suggest even a small Craftworld would have a population of millions, with the largest ones having populations in the tens of billions (Biel-Tan and Iyanden are each mentioned to have lost billions of people in separate attacks).
    • Matt Ward's Craftworld Iyanden supplement, which states the pre-tyranids attack population (always stated to have the largest) was in the billions. Yet that craftworld still engages in many wars and skirmishes every year. That seems a low population for a craftworld that fights so often, and is still somehow only slowly declining over the course of millennium. That should mean a high replacement rate - pretty un-Eldar-y! Apparently having a population any larger was considered too much for a 'dying race.' Thing is, "billions" only sounds big to those of us used to a single planet population like Earth. On a galactic scale, even hundreds of billions or trillions would be a very small drop in the bucket, well fitting for what used to be an Imperium-big Empire. "Billions" is also only sensible when considering how absurdly large Craftworlds are - they're as long as continents, but unlike continents, have their whole internal volumes available for habitation instead of just (part of) the surface. Each one effectively has the habitation area of a planet, and they're pretty consistently described as being almost entirely filled with urban areas - which if anything suggests that even tens of billions would be a major underestimation for the largest ones, but that's presuming that Games Workshop understands geometry any better than they do units.
  • Lampshaded in the most recent Space Marine codex. The canonical estimate for ages now has been a thousand Space Marine chapters, each containing roughly a thousand men, meaning that in an empire of a million worlds there are fewer Space Marines than there are inhabited planets. The latest version of their 'dex thus states that yes, this seems an absurdly low number, but Space Marines are just that good that they can still keep most of it safe anyway (the number of Imperial Guard and PDF soldiers who die to ensure the Marines can make this boast is not stated).
    • This frequently gets stretched even farther, as Games Workshop has focused a lot more on notable First Founding legions. Consequently, armies of one thousand soldiers (with any support either skimmed over or just not mentioned) tend to be written as a major threat on a galactic scale - Super Soldier or not, it's a bit of a stretch. The Black Templars, by a similar token, are treated as an unstoppable force that can wipe out whole sectors, and it's credited mainly to the fact that they're the only Space Marine legion that goes significantly over the limit - but even the most liberal guesses at their numbers rarely crack 10,000 troops.
  • Often times, singular (or a handful, if the writer is in the mood for "realism") Imperial Guard regiments are mentioned as taking/holding entire planets, with large campaigns apparently containing a few dozen regiments at the most. This is usually justified as Imperial Guard units being in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of men (e.g. Eisenhorn: Xenos mentions 750,000 men in the Gudrun 50th Regiment, while every Imperial Guard codex mentions the Valhallan 18th Light Infantry Regiment with 120,000), but given the lack of intermediate battalions between Companies and Regiments this only begs the question of how forces of such numbers could even be organized. Also, while 750 thousand people in a regiment sounds like a lot, realize that in world war 2, Russia deployed 35 million troops. Germany deployed 13 million. And large planetary conflicts in 40K are supposed to be comparable or even larger in scale to World War 2 (from which the Imperial Guard draws a lot of inspiration from). A dozen regiments, even at a million soldiers strong seems like a pittance compared to this.
  • War Zone Damocles - Mont'ka, which describes the Second Argellan Campaign, notes that the titular event was massive in scale even by Imperial standards and thus appropriately notes that billions of Imperial Guardsmen were involved. How many regiments were these billions of troops divided into? About 30.

    Western Animation 

  • Many of the Big Brother Is Watching type conspiracy theories suffer from this, as the person clearly has no idea how much manpower, technology, etc such a thing would take (as well as massively overestimating how good surveillance technology is, such as assuming security cameras would get a clear shot of everyone's face that they see, even if dozens of people are looking at the camera from dozens of different angles at once.) this article provides a detailed explanation of why it wouldn't work, including math to back it all up -- for example, for a country like, say, Britain, you would need 6.7 MILLION tapes per day for 24-hour surveillance. Some works and theories correct this by noting that they are not spying on all the people all the time, but just enough spying on just enough people to make one paranoid — or give incentives to others (including friends and family) to do the spying for them.
  • Any story about vampires where A. everyone who gets bitten turns into a vampire and B. vampires have to bite at least one person every night is an example of this, as if that were the case the number of vampires would double everyday, and after only about a month (33 days, to be exact) the entire human race will have been turned into vampires.


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