Science in Media: Agent Carter Season 2’s Surprisingly Refreshing Points About the Nature of Experimentation

I recently spoke about my feelings on the second season in general, but the way this show thinks about science is worth its own post. Because in this regard, the show generally exceeded my expectations. Without further ado, the things I noticed about the show’s attitude towards scientific inquiry:

1. “Every scientist knows that in order to achieve the same result in an experiment, every variable must be identical.” — Okay, that’s actually true. I see so much bad science in the media, that I’m surprised when anything at all is accurate nowadays. And any sentence in TV beginning with “every scientist knows” receives immediate skepticism, so it was doubly surprising that I saw no problem with the statement.

2. At first I was confused that Peggy was bringing Wilkes, who she didn’t know anything about, into all this classified stuff instead of checking in with the scientists her office employed first–but then it does make sense from the scientific perspective. Knowledge is not so easily transferable, and Wilkes would have had the knowledge of working on the particular project Peggy was interested in for years. The scientists employed by her office would be learning about it from scratch. 

3. I found Wilkes’ pronouncement that he was a genius while Whitney was off the charts a little odd. Yeah, you can tell when there’s a big enough gap in terms of creative thinking or critical thinking or knowledge between two people. But his statement seems to lean on the common myth that there’s a strict linear progression of intelligence, which is easily distinguishable. That’s not really true. Presumably, this is where the obsession with IQ comes from, despite no one I’ve ever met caring about it or even knowing what theirs is.

And reality also limits genius. The most creative solutions to a problem can be much harder to get working than the simpler ones. Whether or not you can even get an idea working depends a lot on the limits of technology. And if you’re doing something tricky, whether you hit upon the right conditions to get it going also depends on luck.

4. “You’re asking me to judge what will happen when something I’ve never fired miraculously manages to hit something I never knew existed?” — This is another great quote. Yes, all the theory in the world, no matter how clever, won’t mean much unless reality backs it up. This is pretty much most of science–we make guesses and theories, then we have to test them. And because we’re theorizing about something no one knows the answer to, scientists are wrong all the time. That’s normal. That’s what experimentation is for–after all, it doesn’t make much sense to try to discover something you already know the answer to.