TV science and GIS

I forgive a lot of bad science for the sake of a good story. But sometimes it gets frustrating — so, this offering from PhD Comics gave me a good chuckle.

However, working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), my personal bugbear is anything to do with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and mapping: How do the guys in Num3ers get access to basemaps instantaneously? And why do they never have to enter into conversations about licencing? And don’t get me started on GPS tracking…

If I could add a fifth frame to the comic linked to above, it would look something like this:


As an aside, and for the copyright conscious among you, the map image above is taken from the fabulous British site The People’s Map.  This is a seriously awesome use of crowdsourcing to create free map data for non-commercial use. While you can get map images from Google Maps, the data used to draw those images is still copyright and there’s lots of conditions about how you can use it. In contrast, The People’s Map (or OpenStreetMap) are aiming to generate copyright free layers of lat-long data that you can use on-line or in your own GIS engine and your derived data is copyright free too! Very cool.

I know medicos and lawyers regularly get frustrated by TV representations of their fields — but does anyone else have a TV science pet-hate?



  1. Where to start,

    I get irked at the basic continuity of time. In yesterdays ‘Sarah Connor Chronicles’ (I’m talking UK TV times here) Sarah starts cooking a pancake and in ~1-2 minutes there are 8 cooked pancakes (2 each on 4 plates).

    (To top it off, the camera work was run straight through, and you could just glimpse her try to ‘flip’ the pancake – that was still mostly batter – fail abysmally and then reach out of shot to pick up the precooked ones)

    I also hate sounds carrying in space – it’s a vacuum and sounds a compression wave.

    How about relative temperatures, Ever had a Sci-fi film with cold planets at minus 275C? And hot things over 300 degrees? Well one if scientifically impossible and the other happens easily in my kitchen …

    To finish, in Batman Begins the ‘baddies’ use a giant (non-directional) microwave emitter to vaporise water with near instant results – but it only effects ‘pure’ water! It should excite the H-O bond in ANY nearby water molecule. Scientifically, the baddies should’ve succeeded in cooking Batman and most of Gotham City

  2. Hi Natalie. It’s good to see you are a fellow OSM appreciator. I have the OSM map for NSW installed on my Garmin GPS, and I have been doing some more street surveys in Tamworth over the weekend (a break from my Sydney cycle route stuff).

  3. i always laugh at the fugitive, seeing a whole bunch of prostheses hanging off the wall – they’re custom make, and are worth a whole bunch of moolah. so they’re not going to be hanging around just on the offchance someone walks in who might miraculously slip into one ala cinderella and her slipper.

    come to think of it, anything having a go at anything prosthetic or orthotic is amusing/frustrating depending on my mood! (how many neck-braces have i seen in medical shows that are upside down or back-to-front! although i’ve seen this in hospitals too!)

  4. Thanks for all your comments – they’ve been thoroughly entertaining!

    Having this post on my mind this weekend, I even got frustrated by the movie ‘Antz’. The ants breathe like little mini-humans and even need resuscitation — but ants dont have lungs. Their chitinous shells act like bellows to pump air through their bodies as they move. For some reason this bothered me more than fact that they could talk and walked on two legs…

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