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Top Ten Myths of Battlestar Galactica
Monday, 23 March 2009

Michael Hall wrote the "Top Ten Myths of Battlestar Galactica" for us in promotion of his website Galactica-Science.com of which he is the administrator and primary author. This website focuses on the science of the Battlestar Galactica 2003 series. in a previous life Michael was a computer scientist at NASA, specializing in artificial intelligence research.

Battlestar Galactica is a show that fraks with the minds of its viewers. Consider the shock many viewers experienced upon the revelation of Saul Tigh as a Cylon in "Crossroads," with a verifiable history going back decades. Until "Revelations," many believed no human-form Cylons existed before the start of the First Cylon War, but it turns out they existed thousands of years prior. Before "Torn," many believed it was impossible for Cylons to get sick. And so on. So, it should be expected that there are some widespread remaining misconceptions.

Here is my list of the top 10 remaining myths of Battlestar Galactica...

 

Myth #10: "There's no science in Battlestar Galactica."

Fact: Battlestar Galactica has a science adviser, Dr. Kevin Grazier.

Dr. Grazier's day job is at NASA/JPL as a lead scientist on the Cassini mission to Saturn. He'll be coming out with a book, "Science of Battlestar Galactica," so there must be some science in the show, right? For now, read his "Battlestar Galactica Tech Blog 11," which talks about the science of the rings visible in only some of Kara's paintings of the gas giant.

And it's not just Dr. Grazier who is concerned about the science of the show. In act 1 of the podcast for "The Passage," the show's executive producer said:

Ronald D. Moore (RDM): "There was a great deal of discussion on the technical aspects of this show, and while I am sure that there are continuity errors, or maybe some unscientific things that made it into the show, all I can tell you is that a lot of conversation went into how these things work..."

Of course, it would also be wrong to say that everything is scientific in Battlestar Galactica, and this is a myth that I fell victim to myself. There are many scientific errors. At first when I saw the constellations Orion and Taurus conspicuously in several episodes, appearing as they do from our Solar System, I came to the conclusion that these scenes should be in or near our Solar System. I was wrong about that. When they finally did get to our Solar System, the Big Dipper is plainly visible next to our Earth, but the Big Dipper was not recognizable 150,000 years ago (q.v., Ohio State University Astronomy Department.)

The stars are not the only problem. In an interview after the finale, executive producer David Eick said:

David Eick: "But this culture is the one that gave birth to ours, so all the colloquialisms and all the slang that you hear, and all the ways in which behavior and idiosyncratic nuance and how people inter-relate (playing cards) or whatever, that we get that from them, not the other way around."

This is hard to swallow scientifically, because, for example, while the Colonials have Greek and Roman mythology, on our Earth we have evidence of the religions that led to Greek and Roman mythology.

Ultimately, Battlestar Galactica is just a story, and follows the whims of the writers, not the laws of our universe. Ronald D. Moore himself appeared in a cameo, reading an issue of National Geographic in the finale. With Head Six and Head Baltar there in New York next to Moore and then speculating about "God," Moore could be saying that he is the real explanation for everything in the show. And that is certainly true. If you read just one Galactica Science article, let it be "Breaking the Fourth Wall," which discusses those last few minutes of "Daybreak, Part 2."

 

Myth #9: "Baltar should have been vaporized by the nuke in the Miniseries."

Fact: The nuke went off behind a ridge.

In this screen shot, you can see the first glint of the nuke whose blast wave destroyed Baltar's house. Between the protection from the mountain and the large number of seconds between the light and arrival of the blast wave (indicating large distance), we can deduce that Baltar was not in the vaporization zone.

 

Glint of the nuclear explosion in the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries

The glint at left is the nuclear detonation’s light peeking out over the mountain top.
This proves Baltar was shielded by the mountain.

 

Many point out that Six died, while Baltar lived, but that's not terribly odd. However, Baltar was not wearing a jacket when the blast wave hit, but he was wearing a jacket when next we saw him running in the field. Did he really stop to put on a jacket? (More screen shots are in the Galactica Science article "Did Baltar Survive the Nuke?")

 

Myth #8: "Ragnar was a nebula."

Fact: You can see both sides of the gas giant planet Ragnar in this composite panorama from the Galactica Science article "Panorama Galactica #1:"

 

Battlestar Galactica Ragnar panorama

 

Gaeta: We appear to be in geosynchronous orbit directly above the Ragnar anchorage.
(Applause, cheering.)
Adama: Colonial Tigh.
Tigh: Sir?
Adama: Let's update your chart for a course right down into the eye of the storm.

Storms and other weather are features of planets with atmospheres and significant gravity, not nebulae. Nebulae are diffuse clouds of interstellar gas, which would be difficult to orbit.

 

Myth #7: "Downloading is instantaneous at the moment of death."

Fact: The show's science adviser, Dr. Kevin Grazier, said: "I see it as a live update every day."

Of course, there apparently is no downloading any more, now that the Hub was destroyed in "The Hub," but when there was downloading, it seems that it occurred incrementally.

How can this be? Kevin Grazier has promised to explain in his next Tech Blog. Perhaps each human-form Cylon is transmitting data continuously to some local device, which buffers the data until these data can be transferred to a resurrection ship and/or the Hub.

 

Myth #6: "Jump drives violate the speed of light."

Fact: Even Albert Einstein toyed with the idea of moving great distances while not moving at a high velocity.

Einstein predicted that you cannot accelerate to match the speed of light, but at the same time he recognized that space possibly could be bent to permit a shortcut.

It's all theoretical, of course.

In his Battlestar Galactica blog, Ronald D. Moore wrote:

"An FTL Jump is nearly instantaneous, essentially moving a ship from point A to point B without travelling through the normal space-time continuum, presumably by bending space around the ship in some way. The analogy I used during production was to imagine three dimensional space as a flat piece of two dimensional paper. To get from one side to the other, you can travel in a straight line across the page, or you can gently bend the sheet in half and cross from edge to edge virtually instantly. How this is accomplished and what is the basis of this technology outstrips my technical brainpower.

In fact, I feel faint just coming up with that explanation..."

Dr. Grazier recently acknowledged that RDM's explanation was correct.

 

Myth #5: "Our Starbuck necessarily came back in Crossroads."

Fact: Starbuck's hair appears to have grown too much for it to be the same Starbuck.

 

Left: Starbuck in the Maelstrom. Right: Starbuck in He That Believeth in Me

Left: Starbuck in the "Maelstrom". Right: Starbuck in "He That Believeth in Me"

 

Human hair grows at a rate of 1.3 cm (half an inch) per month. Starbuck was gone for "over two months," but presumably less than three. So, her hair should have grown less than 4 cm (1.5 inches.) In a recent podcast, Ronald D. Moore said the crew is meticulous about continuity in the characters' appearances, so it seems more likely a clue than a production mistake. The Starbuck who came back in "Crossroads" appears not physically the same as the one who left in "Maelstrom." This is also supported by the dialog in "The Ties That Bind:"

Starbuck (to Anders): It's like everything seems so far away. The way things feel, the way they taste. Like I'm watching myself, but I'm not really experiencing it, not living it. Like my body's just this alien thing that I'm still attached to.

And there was this exchange in "The Road Less Traveled:"

Leoben: I'm sorry. The difference between the way you were on New Caprica and now...
Starbuck: - I'm the same person!
Leoben: I have eyes. I can see...

There is also Baltar's analysis of the corpse's dogtags, which I would consider evidence, but not the hard proof Baltar claims.

 

Myth #4: "Cylons can only become pregnant with sex combined with love."

Fact: Human females routinely become pregnant without sexual intercourse. Even sterile women have become pregnant.

Let me explain. As you probably know, test tube babies and surrogate mothers have been around since the 1970's. Women have been implanted with zygotes that are genetically unrelated to them and carried the babies to term.

In "Downloaded," Doc Cottle said, "You people went to all the trouble to appear human and didn't upgrade the plumbing." Since the Cylon females appear to have equivalent "plumbing" to human females, there's every reason to expect that they could become pregnant via being a surrogate mother. Whether the writers ever had any notion of using this angle is another question.

According to Anders, none of the Thirteenth Tribe used resurrection technology, and in Tyrol's vision of the final moments of Revelations planet, we see numerous people (apparently not of the 12 or 13 models) and hear a baby crying in the background. Yet, analysis of their remains in "Sometimes a Great Notion" proved they were all Cylons. The Cylons of the Thirteenth Tribe seem to have been very much like humans on Earth today, where love is not a necessary ingredient for reproduction.

 

Myth #3: "Cylons are machines."

Fact: The human-form Cylons believe they are machines, but this does not mean they are machines.

Some point to Baltar's Cylon detector as proof that Cylons are machines, but his detector simply detected "synthetic substances." Being a Significant Seven Cylon may imply you have synthetic substances in your body, but having synthetic substances in your body does not imply you are a Significant Seven Cylon. For example, if you were to drink a diet soda, you would also have synthetic substances (e.g., Aspartame) in your body.

 

DNA helicase illustration (Credit: Department of Physics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

DNA helicase illustration (Credit: Department of Physics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)

 

There is much evidence that Cylons are closely related to humans. The human-form Cylons have DNA, in "Epiphanies" Baltar called them the "Cylon subspecies," and they can be infected by a virus that causes "Lymphocytic encephalitis," which is a disease carried by rodents, mice mostly, on Earth today. (You can look it up in the general Wikipedia; we are not immune, but it rarely kills us.) Cylons, humans, rodents... we are all created from the same genetic pool. We are all mammals. Additionally, at least two female Cylons have become pregnant. The human-form Cylons are biological.

Of course, on a certain level, all biological entities can be regarded as machines. The molecular machinery in our cells do amazing mechanical-like things, like the "unzipping" of helical DNA by helicase.

And from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

ma·chine

2 a: a living organism or one of its functional systems

 

Myth #2: "The Colonial population is representative of Earth humans."

Fact: In the recap of "Epiphanies" at the start of "Black Market," Baltar was astonished to find that Hera was "the universal donor," suggesting Colonials lack this blood type.

On Earth, Type O (negative) is termed the "universal donor," though biology is messy, so not everyone can receive it. In any case, since Colonials apparently do not have a universal donor blood type, they are not representative of Earth humans.

Additionally, numerous Colonials have experienced vivid visions, head creatures, and other odd phenomena that are usually not associated with sane Earth humans.

The conclusion, "Daybreak," puts forth the notion that, in the Battlestar Galactica universe, we are descended from Colonials plus Cylons plus the native peoples of Earth. In this model, Colonials are not us, and we are not Colonials. We are something more. If Hera is our "mitochondrial Eve," it would suggest that the mitochondria in each of our cells are Cylon.

 

Myth #1: "They found our Earth in 'Revelations'."

Fact: In "Revelations," they found a planet called "Earth." Our planet is also called "Earth."

If you look closely at RDM's words in a January 17, 2009 interview, things sounded a bit fishy even then:

Interviewer: "That planet is Earth? We're not going to find out, `Oh, there's this other Earth over here...' This is the only Earth we'll see?"

Ronald D. Moore: "They have found Earth. This is the Earth that the 13th Colony discovered; they christened it Earth. They found Earth."

The interviewer asked RDM point blank if this was the Earth, and RDM deftly dodged the question. He answered that in Battlestar Galactica, the 13th Colony discovered a planet, and they christened it "Earth." That does not mean it's the planet we're sitting on in "Revelations."

The finale, "Daybreak, Part 2," reveals an Earth that is our Earth, so the myth of Revelations Earth is busted. I have seen theories about the two planets somehow being the same, only separated in time, but this is contradicted by a March 21, 2009 interview:

Interviewer: "I went back and watched the closing moments of `Crossroads, Part 2′ again, and the final image is of a planet that looks a lot like Earth. How does that fit in to what we see in `Daybreak'? Can you walk me through that?"

Ronald D. Moore: "That was all specifically thought out. The planet that you see at the end of `Crossroads' is this planet that we stand on. It has the North American continent and the South American [continent], it's very clear, we wanted it to be visually easy to identify for everybody. Kara takes them to both Earths, as a matter of fact. She takes them to the original Earth, which, when we showed it in Revelations, we were careful to never quite be able to identify the land masses from orbit. We wanted you to accept it as Earth, and most people assumed it was this Earth, but we didn't want to flat out mislead you, so we didn't want to have it look like North America too.

So, Crossroads Earth is Daybreak Earth, which is our Earth, but Revelations Earth is a fundamentally different planet. In the storyline, Revelations is the original Earth, and our planet is named after it.

 

Conclusions

I've tried my best to state ten misconceptions many viewers have about Battlestar Galactica. No doubt many will beg to differ, and that's fine. Keep in mind that of the items I call "myths" may be false from one perspective, yet true from another. Although I may have made a mistake somewhere in this list of ten, I have tried to avoid stating anything here that would be false from all perspectives.

Ultimately, it's just a TV show, and the "truths" within it are controlled by one Ronald D. Moore. So, don't take any of this too seriously.

More discussion can be found at Galactica-Science.com (the site is hacked and now sadly offline).

 
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