The Malcolm Fallacy

Dr Malcolm perfectly captured the problem with much moralizing sci-fi when he whined “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.” Because of course they should! “Should we recreate awesome dinosaurs*?” The answer is obviously yes, utterly yes, that’s the positive control case to test absolute YESness. You don’t ask people that question to find the answer, you already know the answer, you ask that question to find out if they’re people worth talking to. 

*a scaled pseudospecies distinct from feathered “actual dinosaurs”.

The real problem is the wrong people asking the wrong questions, then blaming science for delivering overwhelming  experimental evidence of their mistakes. Jurassic Park’s key question wasn’t “Should we recreate awesome dinosaurs?”, it was “Should we unleash those awesome dinosaurs on a safari with worse security and fewer staff than the average Apple store?” No, you shouldn’t have done that. The science spectacularly succeeded in delivering a dinosaur miracle, and then specifically didn’t knock them out of the Park because that tourism screw-up’s entirely on capitalism. No scientist was collecting data for “Quantifying how much money we can make from tourism” or “Material testing the flimsiest fences imaginable with a goddamn Tyrannosaurus Rex”.

That’s the Malcolm Fallacy: blaming science for everyone else’s mistakes. You’ll see it in almost every techno-horror. 

  • Should we invent AI? Yes! Should we connect it to military mainframes with nuclear launch authority? No!
  • Should we research viruses? Yes! Should we override the security computer and physically crack open sealed airtight doors when viral labs go into lockdown? No!
  • Should we research teleportation? Yes! Should we experiment on ourselves, alone, without even the most elementary laboratory (or even pizza parlor) standards of cleanliness? No!

Almost every sci-fi horror plot is driven by money-grubbing corporations. But it’s researchers who can’t even afford a change of clothes from their “I’m a scientist!” lab coats who take the blame. And now we have hordes of idiots destroying cropfields and resurrecting defeated diseases while CEOs gold-plate their yacht then buy a new one when it sinks. 

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