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Friday's Rant: "Bones," What Were You Thinking!?!

As seems to be the tradition, Friday is "rant day" here at the Physics Buzz blog.  I haven't yet personally gotten into the blog ranting business before, but this was just too much for an angry Facebook status update or an office soap box speech.  I am a big fan of Fox's TV show "Bones."  I love that it features a smart female scientist who makes no bones (pun intended) about being the smartest person in the room.  I always hoped that her character was inspiring girls to be scientists and not underestimate their academic abilities. We've watched her go through a real pregnancy that showed how her body changed and her character wasn't hidden away in Zambia or something as the baby weight came off.  This is almost never done on TV.  However, the episode "The Fact In the Fiction" that aired this past Monday was unforgivable and seemed to fly in the face of everything I've loved about the show.  It featured a PhD physicist as the week's intern and if any of us had talked to him in real life, we would have immediately labeled him a crackpot.  His physics was wrong, he believed in time travel to the point of crazy and he was an insufferable jerk.  As if that wasn't bad enough, the show ended with with Bones thinking he was smarter than her.  Really "Bones" !?!?!  What were you thinking!?

I won't harp too much on the fact this character is a giant mansplaining jerk, because that character trait is what this episode is built around and it makes a good story.  I will also admit there are some physicists that are actually giant mansplaining jerks.  Though overall I think we are a fine bunch.  WARNING, GRAPHIC CONTENT.  I knew this episode was going to go south 5 min in when the physicist, Dr. Wells, brought Dr. Brennan (the show's lead character) a severed head in a plastic bag.  She is understandable upset because condensation on the inside of the bag could taint evidence found on the head.  Now, I don't know if condensation will taint evidence, but I do know it would certainly set in.  However, Dr. Wells "explains" to her that condensation doesn't set in for three hours and the head had only been in the bag for an hour and 45 min and that it is "simple physics."   It is certainly not simple physics. There are so many factors such as temperature inside the bag, the humidity of the head and strength of the greenhouse effect.   Its not like there is some sort of condensation switch that gets flipped at three hours and before that everything is fine.  Most likely condensation would set in well before 3 hours seeing as the head was in a clear bag in the sun and then brought into what I can only assume is an air conditioned building. All this, however could be possibly forgiven if it weren't for the next section.

This is where Dr. Wells' crackpot comes out.
Dr. Wells: "The first law of thermodynamics states: Energy is neither created nor destroyed. So when we die, all that energy has to go somewhere, right? I believe that if we die with an abundance of this power it can become forever imprinted on the immediate environment. " 

Hodgens: "So that imprint?  That's our ghost?"

Dr. Wells: "Yes."  

Plus 40 on the crackpot index for Dr. Wells.  He just used physics to "explain" ghosts.  He also didn't know that a zombie can be killed by being beheaded.  Any physicist under 40 is ready for the zombie apocalypse and well aware of the many zombie killing methods.

Of course no crackpot can be without their theory of time travel.  Dr. Wells does not disappoint.  The rest of the episode is built around a time travel theme.  They find a second victim that if similar to the first only 20 years older.  The first victim was researching the possibility of time travel and there is some handwaving about the physics of it, but no worse than usual.  But then it all goes to heck when the physicist gets involved.  Just because something is theoretically impossible, doesn't mean he doesn't embrace the possibility that it exists.  Um, yeah dude, you should start embracing other things.  Add another 30 points to the crackpot scale.  Not only that, he then begins to insult the other characters for being so closed minded.  And they start to believe him!!  For the rest of the episode the physicist remains convinced that the victims are the same person and that time travel was involved.  Ok, first off, no one gets to die twice even if there was time travel and there certainly wouldn't be two bodies.  But the physicist wouldn't give up the ridiculous idea that it was time travel until it was shown with DNA that they were father and son.  And he still proceeded to try and make everyone else feel stupid and they gave in.  He won't be returning as an intern, not because he was an idiot, but because he was a jerk.  They still think he's the smartest person to have interned with them.  At least the writers decided to give the characters the intelligence to kick him out for being a jerk.   Did all of the regular characters fail intro physics?  I blame the energy ghosts for making them stupid for exactly one hour last week.

Of all of the wrong physics insanity on this show, the one that was like nails on a chalk board actually was some pretty simple physics and they got it wrong.  While talking about a bullet being fired at ballistics gel he says its traveling at "a high rate of speed."  Really!?!?  This technically means its accelerating!  This was such an easy fix that had no bearing on the plot but they couldn't even get that right.  No physicist on earth would say that.  No one.  Arg.

It is bad enough to have a character like this spouting crackpot physics that is taken for fact, but the worst part is that the characters seem to be intimidated by him.  I simply do not understand how Dr. Brennan, known for her confidence and reliance on science, could possibly be made to feel less than brilliant by this man.  She doesn't even believe psychology is a science, I can't believe she thinks physics proves ghosts or time travel or head-in-a-bag slow condensation.  If time travel actually were possible, I would go back in time and make all the writers have a long conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson before writing this crap.

This officially ends my Friday rant.  I am now going to travel forward in time, watch next week's episode of "Nashville" and return with spoilers.

NOTE:  I do not want to imply that the other science represented on this show is correct.  If I understand, however, they have a reliable science consultant.  That doesn't mean its correct, I just hope its at least not insane.  This post is only to point out how horrible their physics is and how stupid it is to have the characters behave as they do towards crackpots.


  1. I hate to mansplain, but that's how it's spelled. BURN!

  2. There aren't many blogs where I would see rage over mansplaining paired with physics nitpickery.

    Thank you. :)

  3. So, in regard to your NOTE at the end... I do critique the forensic science on the show. Every week. Because I too like to rant about the presentation of science in the media.

    Here's my review of that episode:

  4. This - - is why time travel as they depicted in "Bones" is impossible. The Earth is never in the same place as it travels through the universe. One needs a space vehicle like the TARDIS to actually visit a planet in the past or the future.

  5. Perhaps Dr. Wells isn’t rude but his nature was corrupted from dealing with the Morlocks?

  6. Shakatany: I hadn't thought of that even though I am a big fan of Dr. Who. The biggest issue for me is the two bodies thing. In time travel in this crazy "Bones" world time travel also produces a clone of yourself. Even if time travel were possible, this type of cloning and essentially matter creation is still just plain wrong. And the fact that Dr. Wells earlier (and snarkily) stated that energy is neither created or destroyed he should should have instantly seen this issue. When the new body was found, the old body should have gone away. The time and space ship thing is something I didn't think through. Also, these comments have restored my faith in humanity.


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