Astrono-wrong

I just finished reading Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult, which was her first book. It starts with a blow out fight between husband and wife, and tells the story of the wife and daughter as they travel across country and arrive at their destination, and of the husband as he tries to find them. 
This was probably my least favorite book that I’ve read of hers. The story wasn’t nearly as gripping as the others I’ve read, and the love stories woven within were not very believable.
But, there was one thing above all others that really bothered me: The complete misunderstanding of basic astronomy portrayed near the end of the book:
Do you know what a star is? I asked you. It’s an explosion that happened billions and billions of years ago.
and 
“I pointed to the North Star, and said I wanted to name it after you. Jane, you said, too plain for such a bright one. I said you were wrong. It was the biggest explosion, obviously…”
Let’s count how many things are wrong in these two very short interactions:
– Stars are NOT explosions – that’s a supernova, and every star we see in the sky is not a supernova.
– Stars that we can see with our eyes are a few to ~15,000 light years away. Not even close to billions. We can see the Andromeda galaxy with our naked eye if it’s really dark, and that’s only ~2.5 million light years away. Billions and billions? No.
– The North Star (Polaris) is not a very bright star compared to others in the night sky. It’s the brightest in Ursa Minor (or Little Dipper) constellation, but is the 46th brightest star in the sky. For the record, it’s also only ~430 light years away. 
I realize this sounds picky, but really? This kind of stuff is really, really easy to look up. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, use something different for symbolism. It also makes me question all the other science incorporated throughout the novel (the husband is a marine biologist who studies humpback whale songs).
Does it bug you when books or movies get simple science (or other facts) wrong? I know sometimes it’s just fun to ignore reality and just enjoy a story, but sometimes – especially when it’s just thrown in there to make a character seem smart or something – it really annoys me.
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Comments on: "Astrono-wrong" (10)

  1. Anonymous said:

    Maybe the character is wrong in the story? As opposed to the author?

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  2. I agree!! Well, when I first read the sentences I only detected the “explosion” mistake, but then I also got the one about the “billions of years”.
    Anyways, I think that happens to every field of work. I'm tired of seeing things called “architectural” when they are clearly interior design (not to lessen interior d., it's just a different thing), and I can't watch a hospital show with my sister because she spends the whole episode marking everything they do wrong.
    I agree with you about using only stuff you've reserached. Maybe bnot in depth , but at least a little!

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  3. yes, and horrifically wrong medical information is even present in non-fiction informational sources (i.e. the news, magazines)

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  4. Well written – these errors are insane. Everyone has seen a star, and thus should have an idea of what it is (faraway sun) – in my opinion! Not picky at all.

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  5. Yes – drives me nuts! I find myself yelling at the TV on a regular basis. Oh well, at least I don't have to watch ER with three medical student roommates any more…

    I do enjoy righteous rants by scientists in other fields, though 🙂

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  6. Anon – I don't think so. The character is noted several times as being very smart and knowing lots of “obscure” things. It doesn't fit.

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  7. Mari – yes, I'm sure there are issues in every field in books/movies/etc.. It always bugs me when people interchange “interior design” and “interior decorating”.

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  8. ana – ugh, yes. That poses many other issues, like people being completely misinformed about important things like vaccinations.

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  9. Theresa – glad I'm not the only one it bothers! It's just so basic that either get it right or don't put it in at all.

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  10. Cath – yes, rants are always fun 😉

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