Accuracy Versus Precision: Not the Accuracy Police

One of the most important things that I learned about screenwriting is to “never let the science get in the way of a good story.” So, you will never see an “accuracy police” blog on this site where I criticize a screenwriter for not getting the science right.

That being said, I do believe there are opportunities and real science can make a story better. As the Science and Entertainment Exchange says, “Give the writer a better option.”

Another important point is that there is a difference between accuracy and precision. Accuracy is when your dart somewhere in the little circle in the middle of the dartboard. Precision is when your dart always hits the same spot right in the middle of the dartboard. Both of the darts earns to top score. I encourage you to be accurate; you don’t have to be precise to be entertaining.

This article (Katie Mack on The Expanse’s Accurate Physics) is a great example of what I am talking about.

“Some scientists take great offense at any inaccuracies in fiction. I’m not one of them. Part of what makes science fiction so appealing to me is the imagining of alternative realities—the way a storyteller can, through some small tweak to our current understanding of the world, allow us to vicariously experience incredible adventures. Some of the most powerful science fiction creators use the framework of an imagined world to bring us new, and sometimes deeply confronting, perspectives on our own. Thrusting characters (with whom we can relate) into improbable or even impossible situations (to which we cannot) has a way of pushing the boundaries of the human experience in almost the same way that working at the extremes of our technology can illuminate the laws of physics that govern our Universe.”

“Great entertainment doesn’t have to get the science right any more than a poem has to stick to a prescribed rhyme or meter to be great poetry, but sometimes constraints themselves can enrich art in unexpected ways. And when that is done with good science, we get to explore realistic visions of our future, along with new perspectives on ourselves.

So I don’t begrudge an author a bit of poetic license when it comes to physical plausibility, if it helps the story flow. But I am nonetheless endlessly impressed when I encounter stories that not only work within known physical laws, but use real phenomena as essential elements to drive the plot.”

Thank you Katie, I completely agree!

Who wants to talk more about this?

[Credit: flickr/jf2c]

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