Being a scientist by training and a geek by choice, there are a number of Hollywood tropes about scientists and geeks that do rather get on my wick. So here, without further ado, are some real world situations that would never* make it into a Hollywood script.
1. The loner genius
You know that loner genius guy? The one with the crazy theory? The chap who says he can predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions through secret methods that he’s not going to tell anyone? He thinks he’s spurned by the mainstream scientific community because they’re just not ready to accept his genius.
Hollywood: He’s right! And he saves the day with his cockamamy but accurate prediction/solution.
Reality: He’s just some crazy dude who probably hasn’t understood some small but crucial detail.
2. The nerdie techie and the hot scientist
If you’re male and a geek, you must perforce also wear glasses, have dodgy teeth and no social skills. That’s the only way that the viewer can tell, you see, that they are observing a computer genius at work. If you’re female and a scientist, however, you must be stick-thin and look like a model, with long flowing hair – glasses optional but preferred – as your genius can be second only to your beauty.
Hollywood: We all know how smart people look, right?
Reality: Yes, they look just like everyone else.
3. The warrior-nerd love story
You’re in the middle of a disaster. Aliens have landed, or the earth’s climate has got a snit on, or a volcano has just erupted or zombies are on the loose. What better time to woo that hot nerd chick/fella than when you’re in charge of saving the world? I mean, it’s a certainty, given that you hated him/her on first sight, that by the time you’ve rescued mankind that you would have fallen head-over-heels in love. I mean, nothing says romance like an exploding mountain, right?
Hollywood: If they’re on opposite sides at the beginning, they must have fallen in love by the end.
Reality: If you’re busy saving humanity from $random_disaster, you’re more focused on getting enough sleep and food and generally not dying than flirting with the annoying know-it-all, no matter how big his weapon.
4. Human technology can talk to and defeat alien technology
Aah yes, because finding a zero-day exploit in an alien operating system is as easy as saying One, Two, Hab SoSlI’ Quch!. Understanding how to exploit said zero-day, er, exploit will of course come naturally to our human geek who, within a few keystrokes, will be able to write a virus that cripples all alien technology. Of course.
Hollywood: After a couple of false starts, human geekery and cunning will win over a completely superior technology.
Really: We can barely get Windows, OSX and Linux playing nicely with one another, so unless Microsoft has a universe-wide monopoly they haven’t told us about, we’re fucked.
5. Human-lava interactions
That whole sinking into lava thing? Not gonna happen. The lavas you find in your basic geological disaster** movie are usually*** of a type that you simply can’t sink into: Humans are just less dense than lava. That doesn’t mean that you can walk over it, mind you, as you are likely to sublimate, catch fire or otherwise combust on, or prior to, contact. Lava is, after all, quite hot.
Hollywood: Arrrgh, I’m sinking!
Reality: I think Eric Klemetti has it nailed.
* For that definition of ‘never’ that also includes ‘rarely’.
** No pun intended
*** There are some unusual lavas that have low viscosity which behave a bit more like the Hollywood lava, but you’re unlikely to stumble across them in your day-to-day disaster movie.