Reed Richards Is Useless

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You're smart enough to invent it. Therefore, you're surely smart enough to duplicate it, changing human society forever. Right?
"Stardust, whose vast knowledge of interplanetary science has made him the most remarkable man that ever lived, devotes his abilities to crime-busting..."
Stardust the Super Wizard, Fantastic Comics #14

The observation that in some genres, characters can have fantastic technology far beyond our own, yet this technology only gets used to solve equally fantastic problems.

A person who controls weather will never make it rain in drought-stricken areas, or stop the rain during terrible flooding, or stop a heatwave. A person who can control fire will never douse bush fires or burning buildings, or get a job at a power station. And a supergenius (such as Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four) can save the life of starving demi-god being like Galactus, but will never take a weekend to duplicate and market Doctor Doom's burn-victim cure device (or even five minutes to find out what causes piss shivers), or release his inventions that could solve a variety of real-world problems. All potential solutions to real-life problems will only be done in novel (fictional) situations—useless. Status Quo Is God, and the status quo of the real world even more so. It's the same reason you can't stop Hitler from starting World War II.

There are several typical motivations for this:

  1. To keep the world similar to the real world. This is particularly common in an Urban Fantasy, superhero, or other series whose setting is superficially similar to the real world. Unlike, say, Star Trek or The Lord of the Rings, one of the key draws of the series is that it could take place right outside the reader's window, which is lost if you make the fictional world too fantastic in comparison. This is particularly common in comic books, where major modifications to the world are only done to fictional locations, and often only to current levels of technology. Here's a video of late Marvel editor-in-chief Mark Gruenwald explaining the reasons for this in some depth.
  2. To ensure that there's some level of drama in the story. If the super science or magic can literally do anything, then there's no reason the heroes can't just figure out a creative way to get them out of any jam. Goodbye potential conflict. In the case of Star Trek, there were tons of things the replicators and transporters should have been able to do which would have ruined the plot of half the episodes, necessitating a lot of Holding Back the Phlebotinum to maintain drama. As well, it could very easily be that the technology itself has some limitations, as "It can do anything you can imagine" is quite a bold statement for anyone to make. Other times, the Disposable Superhero Maker is disposable in the first place to avoid flooding the setting with superheroes.
  3. To avoid trivializing real-life problems. If Mr. Fantastic actually does cure HIV in the Marvel Universe, there will be plenty of real people still HIV-positive, and plenty of researchers still investing untold millions of dollars and man-hours to fight HIV when they finish the comic. This can make creators wary of tackling such issues, as it can be considered insensitive to have such a heavy burden in real life be casually miracle-cured in fiction. Also, in the interest of representation, physically challenged persons exist in universes where science should theoretically be able to cure their handicap. However, either the disability is so ingrained as a facet of the character's portrayal or curing them could be seen to detract from their mass-market appeal as someone that other physically challenged readers can relate to. This is probably why Professor X always ends up back in the wheelchair after regaining use of his legs. Similarly to point one, this is generally more of a concern if the world is supposed to reflect the real world closely; if it's explicitly an Alternate History or Alternate Universe, or the future, then there's greater room to play with this without potentially causing offense.
  4. To keep multiple titles within a Shared Universe consistent with one-another; comic book universes would approach a new level of Continuity Snarl if writers had to keep track of every published book in their universe for which major diseases/blights had been cured by the heroes and which ones weren't.
  5. The idea that technology which could solve serious human problems does exist, but is either repressed from the public, or otherwise not used.

This trope is often associated with the Fantastic Aesop that these problems don't have easy solutions in the real world, and any proposed sci-fi solutions will have negative side-effect or potential for abuse that justifies completely abandoning all hope of trying to solve the problem. However, as superhero comics especially have begun to explore the ramifications of their characters on real-world settings more closely over the years, this question has been raised and addressed more frequently. It is sometimes lampshaded as making people "too dependent" on superheroes.

Smaller-scale continuities such as newly-created Superhero universes with a single author to explore the fictional world in 1 or 2 titles are more likely to avert and examine the concept of super-technology's effect on modern society, especially if the writer is trying to make a geopolitical statement. Larger superhero continuities, such as Marvel and DC (with an average 24 titles per month), are established to have upheld this trope as their Earths have been explored in extensive detail. The trope can be inverted by having a hero "inventing" a technological revolution that already exists (for example, the Ultimate Universe Iron Man apparently invented the MP3 player). Recently, Marvel and DC have been making baby steps in averting this trend (i.e. having the current Venom use his powers to cure addicts, Barbara Gordon regaining her mobility etc.).

This applies to supervillains as well, albeit for different reasons.

See Plausible Deniability for aversions, and You Are Not Ready for a Deconstruction. Antonym to Alternate Universe Reed Richards Is Awesome. Compare Superman Stays Out of Gotham.

Note that this trope does not apply to Reed Richards abstaining from using his other power of elasticity to solve a smaller problem. It wouldn't be very surprising, for example, to see him stretching his arm into the kitchen to open up the refrigerator door and grab a beer, so he doesn't have to leave his spot in an armchair by the TV. And let's not get into the Power Perversion Potential...

Also see MST3K Mantra. Do not confuse with Mundane Utility.

Please only add straight examples, no subversions or aversions.

Examples of Reed Richards Is Useless include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Neko De Gomen, the inventions made by both Kuroda and Yayori's father could change the world in many ways and make them very rich if they were to patent them and sell the designs to the proper company or the government.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

DC UNIVERSE[edit | hide]

  • Despite all the interaction between humans and space aliens in the Marvel and DC Universe, one possible reason as to why those Earths aren't spacefaring civilizations could be that the necessary energy sources needed to power the starships can't be found on Earth.
    • There's also the Cosmic Myth that Earth is the Center of the DC multiverse; would you WANT the guardian species of the universe's lynchpin to fly away and blow it up for the evulz?
  • The biggest examples of this trope in DC, or even comics in general, have to be Johnny Thunder and his successor, Jakeem. Here are two guys who had a Genie at their command, with no limitations on the number of wishes, and they only ever used it to fight crime? How about wishing for world peace? A cure for every disease? At least for eliminating crime?
    • World Peace would require eliminating free will, eliminating crime might also have to involve eliminating free will or greatly upset world economies. While there are certainly ways around these problems with a friendly, intelligent genie that grants infinite wishes, they aren't trivially easy to solve for a reason and this has been touched upon in the comics.
    • There was a storyline where he started to feel bad that he wasn't doing more to solve people's non-crime-related problems and - against the advice of his elders in the Justice Society - he decided to start granting wishes for anyone who wanted his help. Lines formed around the block, near riots broke out if he tried to take a break; it soon occured to him that if he kept it up, he would be spending the rest of his life granting other people's wishes 24/7 (hey, he can wish to not have to sleep, right?). The people waiting in line for wishes considered this an acceptable sacrifice; Jakeem, not so much.
  • Superman in general has often wrestled with the fact that he can't use his superpowers to simply force away wide-ranged problems plaguing humanity. Attempts to bring about world peace by disposing of nuclear weapons didn't fare too well in Superman IV or the premiere of Justice League. His attempt to cure starvation in third-world countries is detailed in the graphic novel "Peace On Earth". This results in An Aesop being that these are things that will only be solved when all of humanity chooses to solve them. There are often short-lived Alternate Universe depictions of him going too far in forcing humanity to follow his ideals to solve these problems, thus becoming a Knight Templar.
    • This review of the Grounded story arc makes a good case why this trope exists in the first place. This is the problem with trying to tackle "real world" problems in a "serious" way with a character like Superman. He's basically God. He can walk into a neighborhood full of drug dealers and just magically destroy all their drugs and drive them off. In order to explain why he doesn't just do this all the time, or any number of other things that he could do with minimal effort that would drastically change the lives of every single person in the country, if not the world, writers like Straczynski resort to utter inanity. "Over there has to stand for itself, has to speak for itself, because it's only when over there becomes here that we can stop this once and for all." Read that sentence again. It means nothing.
    • Linkara's review of the Superman Grounded storyline took a further look at how the story applies to this trope and story's general stupidity. At the beginning of Grounded, one woman publicly criticizes Superman for not saving her husband from a brain tumor while Superman was saving Earth. Linkara points out that not only was Superman busy with saving millions of lives, but that there is no indication that Superman's heat/x-ray vision can treat cancer nor does Supes have the necessary medical training. http://atopfourthwall.blogspot.com/2012/04/superman-701.html
    • Superman's creators wrote a story for Look magazine detailing how Superman would have cleared up World War II in a matter of minutes. Naturally, nothing of the sort ever happened in the actual comic books. It couldn't. Nothing else in history would have been unaffected and the worlds would have had to diverge until the one in the comic book no longer resembled reality at all.
    • This is also intentionally invoked in Red Son, where Superman changes the entire world in a few short decades. He even acknowledges that he could change the world in a day if he beat it into submission.
  • In a 1982 issue of Swamp Thing, The Phantom Stranger makes opposing sides' ammo wet and unusable. The solution? Bludgeon each other with the guns, of course.
  • It has been suggested that the reason that Batman's villains keep escaping from Arkham and why nobody has killed them is that there is some supernatural curse protecting them. No explanation has been given as to why DC's sorcerer heroes have not taken care of this curse (or even try).
  • In one dream sequence at the end of the Anarky mini-series (1997), Anarky unleashes his device that makes everyone realize the goodness of the individual and induces mass honesty. Bruce then diverts all Waynecorp weapons manufacturing towards civilian applications, such as using Mr. Freeze's technology to advance space exploration and Poison Ivy's botanical knowledge to help find a cure for cancer. Then it starts going horribly wrong since, even with the goodness of the individual in full force, there are still jerks out there too insane to express it correctly.
  • This trope was used to justify Barbara "Batgirl/Oracle" Gordon remaining wheelchair-bound despite the ready availability of possible cures in The DCU: she doesn't want to receive special treatment and therefore dishonor public servants who were disabled in the line of duty; either a cure becomes available for everyone, or she stays in the chair. Of course, that raises the question of why can't the numerous DC Universe cures be made available to the public. The reboot has changed this (see below)
  • Lampshade hung, and almost subverted in James Robinson's Starman, where the original Starman (the title character's father) dedicated his later years to turning his cosmic rod into a more general energy source that would revolutionize the world. Although a visitor from the future claimed his success led to him becoming a scientific hero on the level of Einstein, it never actually happened in the present day DCU.
  • Stories set during World War II explained why the superheroes didn't just Blitzkrieg into Berlin and end the war: Adolf Hitler had acquired the Spear of Destiny, which he could use to control any superpowered being that entered the boundaries of the Reich. (The same was true of Imperial Japan and the Holy Grail.) Later, Hitler's belief in the Spear's power was discussed in an episode of Justice League Unlimited.
  • The Justice Society of America was unable to stop the attack on Pearl Harbor because they had been transported to another dimension by an Axis sorcerer during the attack. However, no convincing reason has been given as to why the Justice Society was unable and/or unwilling to stop the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe.
    • While it was likely intended more as a general explanation of where the team was between the Golden Age and later appearances than as a specific explanation for why they didn't get involved in any particular conflict, the team was supposed to have disbanded and gone underground in 1951 due to a HUAC investigation secretly instigated by Per Degaton, one of their enemies.
    • In addition, even if they were still around and free to act the Justice Society is going to not be stopping the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe for exactly the same reason the US Army didn't stop it in real life—World War III, Mutual Assured Destruction, and the desire to avoid it. Even the JSA isn't quite powerful enough to be stopping global thermonuclear war before anybody gets hurt, at least, not in that incarnation. Remember, the entire reason it was the Cold War, and not the war War, is because the invention of nuclear weapons meant that neither the US or the USSR could directly attack each other's army anymore without starting something that wouldn't stop until it was all mushroom clouds. Likewise, the US couldn't go into Eastern Europe openly for the same reason the USSR couldn't go into the Western Hemisphere openly (and why World War III almost did start the one time they tried, see "The Cuban Missile Crisis")... because neither side could threaten something too close to home to the other side without it all going straight to hell.
  • In Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, the title character contemplates using his powers to restore the ecologically damaged areas of the world. However Swamp Thing states that if he would heal all of man's wounds, man would further abuse the environment to maximize profit knowing full well that Swamp Thing was there to correct all the mistakes.
  • In The Spectre #7 (third series) Madame Xanadu asks the Spectre why he doesn't cure his HIV-positive friend Amy Beiterman. The Spectre responds that if he cures Amy, then there is nowhere to draw the line in curing the millions of sick people worldwide. At that point, the Spectre asks "Where do you draw the line? Abolish death itself?"
  • Nightshade from the Suicide Squad has lent her ability to transport instantly through the dark dimension. This power could revolutionize space exploration but most people are scared senseless if not driven insane by passing through this dimension.
  • Bobo T. Chimpanzee (Aka Detective Chimp) once got a hold of Doctor Fate's helmet (and all of its mystic powers) and quickly pondered about using his newfound powers to solve all the world's problems. However, his powers also showed him the terrible after effects of such a change in the world's balance (for example, deleting a disease from existence would open the way for a newer, deadlier disease filling the gap). Eventually he gets rid of the helmet and uses his remaining powers to help people by solving as many unsolved crimes he could while his mystical powers last.
  • In the JLA story "Divided We Fall", The Flash runs into a type of extradimensional wish-granter named Id, and upon doing so, is wowed by all the possibilities open to him on improving the world, tempted to fix all of life's problems with simple wishes. But he's Genre Savvy enough to know that since Id is a Literal Genie and has seen the wishes he grants always occur in the most horrible ways (like seeing that a boy's father Came Back Wrong because the kid made incorrect wording on his wish), it'd be safer just to turn him down.
  • In the Hawkworld Armageddon 2001 annual, the corporate backers of the Chicago PD offer to build Hawkman and Hawkwoman more efficient jet packets. In order to do this, the company says that they need access to Thangarian technology. Hawkman says that Earth is not ready for Thangarian technology.
  • The super-speed teenage superhero Impulse should have had no problem with most of the villains he faced and could have rendered his base of operations, Manchester, Alabama, free of all crime. However his impulsive behavior often rendered him his own worst enemy.
  • One of the biggest examples in the DC Universe is The Brain, of the original Fatal Five lineup, who remains a bodiless disembodied brain, despite the wide variety of cybernetic body parts. Although, back in the 1960's, he did have a body made out of pure energy for a while.
  • One of the barriers to having the Elongated Man releasing his gingold extract (enabling his super-elasticity) to the public is that a large percentage of humans are allergic to the substance.
  • There was this one Batman storyline (reprinted in Batman from the 1970's) where one of Alfred's relatives, a heart surgeon, develops a revolutionary surgical procedure. However, Alfred's uncle is so depressed with all the inhumanity in the world that he thinks about destroying information on the procedure. He promises to share it with the public if Batman successfully captures this one criminal. Batman succeeds in capturing the criminal.
  • Averted with Suicide Squad's Nemesis, who uses his appearance altering technology to oust unethical (yet legal) businessmen, and turn the company over to the employees.

New DC Universe:

  • Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) had her mobility restored as a result of undergoing an experimental surgical procedure in South Africa. Gail Simone in this interview notes that South Africa actually does a lot of work in this area, and that despite public perceptions in various cases spinal damage can be repaired and mobility regained.
  • Upon regaining his human form, Swamp Thing (Alec Holland), tried to replicate the eco-restorative formula that originally gave him his superpowers. Alec then decided to destroy the formula, believing (from his own experiences as Swamp Thing) that the plant world was quite violent and that submersing the Earth in it would be a bad thing.
  • Deathstroke assassinated a philanthropist who was reverse engineering super-villain technology for benevolent causes (i.e. using freeze guns to reverse polar ice cap melting). No reason was given as to why Deathstroke was hired to kill the philanthropist.
  • At the beginning of his career, Superman was an anti-establishment figure who took on corrupt businessmen, politicians, and wife abusers.
  • In the Resurrection Man series, it is established that the cost of one anti-ballistic personalized force field costs $2 billion to make and $500,000/day to operate.

DC's ALTERNATE UNIVERSES[edit | hide]

  • The beginning of the animated movie Superman: Doomsday lampshades this, as it shows Supes unsuccessfully trying to cure cancer; he comments how odd it is that, even with all of Kryptonian technology at his disposal and all of the unbelievable things he's done, he's never been able to help Earth beyond "being its resident strong man". Of course, his immediate reaction to every threat the movie throws at him after that is "hit it with my fists until it stops moving", so maybe that's his own fault. Contrast with Lex Luthor in the film, who is shown having completed a one-dose cure for muscular dystrophy... then starts working on a way to make it a life-long treatment so he can get more money for each dose.

Marvel Universe[edit | hide]

  • The Trope Namer is Reed Richards, better known as Mr. Fantastic, leader of the Fantastic Four. While Marvel has attempted to justify his lack of world-changiness in various ways, including that his inventions are too expensive and that nobody else can understand them, the real reason is that allowing him to make a real difference would make the world far too different to reality.
    • The current justification, being used in Jonathan Hickman's run on Fantastic Four and F.F. and by Bendis in the Ultimate Marvel universe, is that it's his family which prevents Reed from putting all his efforts into changing the world. He has to choose between being a loving father and husband and devoting himself to advancing humanity. It's implied that the world is lucky when Reed takes the first option since, if he doesn't or if things don't work out between him and Sue, he becomes a Knight Templar (Hickman's books) or full on villain (the Ultimate 'verse).
      • There's also that Reed's kids will go on to become pivotal figures in history themselves, so it's to the net good of the timeline that Reed actually stop to raise some instead of being a full-time working bachelor.
  • Doctor Doom has a healing ray machine that can regenerate full-body third-degree-burn patients to full health in a day. Being the bad guy, he hasn't released it. But Reed hasn't even tried to duplicate or reverse-engineer that project...and Reed's had possession of Doom's castle at least twice since that story arc.
  • Tony Stark is, depending on the invention, one of the more justified versions of the trope.
    • Regarding his signature invention; he constantly has to struggle between the potential good of releasing or mass-producing his Iron Man suit and all the related technological advancements behind it for the good of the world, with the potential harm it would do if all the supervillains out in the world reverse-engineered it and turned it on its head. Several What If stories have dealt with the trade-off and it rarely is as much of a Hand Wave as with most heroes capable of producing such revolutionary inventions.
    • He also has a healing ray machine that successfully regenerated Nick Fury after almost being blown apart to a basic cellular level. Tony Stark hasn't even released a watered-down version of the healing ray machine (face it, a machine like that would probably be exorbitantly expensive) to the public.
    • Tony has also made attempts that were unsuccessful due to things not his own fault. For example, he once tried to build a huge, highly-advanced space station with his own money and then donate it to the world to jumpstart private private space industry. AIM then infected it with a bio-weapon that kept anybody from ever using it. Tony's also made several attempts to invent various forms of clean energy and sell them. Either it turns out they didn't work as well in practice as they did in the lab, supervillains blew them up and publicly discredited the technologies, or Tony finds out the technology can be too easily abused to make weapons and has to retract it. The writers really like frustrating Tony whenever he tries to do something besides blast supervillains with repulsors, its annoying.
    • Pretty much the entire 'Stark Reliant, Inc.' period of Fraction's IRON MAN run can be summed up as 'Tony makes yet another attempt to invent and release a widely beneficial technology, and the Hammer family yet again blows it up and ruins the entire attempt, second verse, same as the first, this is the song that never ends.'
  • The graphic novel The Death of Captain Mar-Vell hung a lampshade on this by claiming that every (mortal) sentient race has a disease similar to cancer, and many of the races had already found a cure for their race's version of the disease. Furthermore, when Rick Jones appeals to the superheroes who are scientists and doctors to find a cure for Mar-Vell's cancer, they find themselves uncomfortably realizing they could have made this kind of effort beforehand for others.
  • The fictional African nation of Wakanda is, due to a surreptitious abundance of Unobtainium as a natural resource, a first world nation. This does not extend to any other part of Africa we see, though this is probably why writers don't show it very much, although to their credit from fairly early on they attempted to justify it by having the Wakandans have a policy of isolation that goes back centuries. Furthermore, the Wakandans have also cured cancer but are holding out on the rest of the world; when Mar-Vell was dying of cancer, the Wakandan King was there and said he could do nothing. Sorry, Mar-Vell!
    • The cure failed due to the long term effects of Mar-Vell's nega-bands... but that still doesn't explain why Wakanda withholds its cancer cures from the rest of the world.
    • Wait, how many different types of cancer does it cure again? Because it's been stated that cancer comes in many different forms from many different sources. Maybe they don't want to become the biggest embarassment in the history of the world for declaring one cure to one type of cancer and letting down everyone related a different type of cancer, because that would crash their unobtanium sales.
      • That would be Insane Troll Logic on Wakanda's part if true, because it makes exactly the same amount of sense as not releasing the cure for HIV because it doesn't also cure Ebola. I mean, a virus is a virus, right? More sensibly, if Wakanda had the cure for, oh, say, leukemia, and released it, people would praise their name for saving leukemia sufferers from horrible death even if the cure didn't also work on, oh, brain cancer.
      • In addition to the part where confirming that one type of cancer cure actually works might help lead researchers to find other related cures, even if its not one-size-fits-all.
  • Iron Man's enemy, Ezekiel Stane, discovered a way of reducing the energy consumption of the body to only 7%, the best use of this: Repulsor bolts from his hand, is not like he can fight the hunger or something.
  • Spider-Man's webbing. Real life spider silk is, pound for pound, stronger than steel, tougher than Kevlar, as flexible as yarn, and incredibly lightweight. It's also prohibitively hard to manufacture, as spiders don't "farm" well. Peter Parker somehow has managed to manufacture synthetic spider silk that's cost-effective enough for him to always be in supply; while it does dissolve after about an hour, no adhesive company seems interested in buying the formula and tweaking it to last longer.
    • Parodied in Avengers Academy: Spidey explains to the students in class how he was wrong for trying at first to use his powers for financial gain instead of helping people and the students ask why he didn't just patent his webbing and make millions that he could donate to needy charities. Spidey counters that he'd have to give up his secret identity to patent it, but one of them points out he could have used proxies in the form of shell companies to hide the source of the webbing.
      • Or, alternately, Peter could just license his patents to somebody who already knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, is rich enough to pay Peter lots of royalties, and already has an interest in marketing all sorts of advanced technologies. Such as, oh, Tony Stark.
      • Another alternative would be for Peter to patent and market his stuff as Spider-Man... through a lawyer, holding his power-of-attorney, who would represent 'Spider-Man' at all business dealings while using attorney-client privilege to avoid telling anyone who Spider-Man was. Of course, this would require finding a trustworthy lawyer who already knew Spidey's secret identity.
    • Finally starting to get averted with Peter working at Horizon Labs. While he hasn't patented and sold his webbing, he is inventing stuff that not only helps out with his crime fighting but is also patented and sold to civilians for more mundane applications.
    • Anybody care to share what are some of these "more mundane applications"?
      • They got summarized in the latest issue. After a fight with a villain with a killer laugh, Peter patented some high-end noise canceling headphones. Bulletproof Spidey armor became vastly improved bicycle helmets. Some flame retardant he developed is being used by firefighters.
  • In Dark Reign: The Hood, several of the Hood's operatives get to wondering just why they do like they do instead of what they could. "Chemistro. Centurious. Controller. A veritable think tank of geniuses. But why do we follow?" Yeah, you know things are messed up when Dr. Demonicus is the voice of reason.
  • This premise is partly explained by the Marvel Universe's Watchers' intention not to interfere in the affairs of other races. They originally shared their scientific knowledge with a primitive alien race who used the newfound knowledge to become spacefaring. Eventually this alien race with abundant technological gains declared war on a race far more powerful than them and were obliterated as a result. This led the Watchers to being non-interventionists.
  • Naturally, all of Marvel's brains turn up useless if the plotline calls for it. In One More Day, none of Marvel's brains were able to prevent Aunt May's death (or remember the things which have healed much worse injuries). Including Doctor Strange, who (in addition being Sorcerer Supreme), was a neurosurgeon. Enter Mephisto. And at the end of Joss Whedon's run on Astonishing X Men, Cyclops said that he had contacted Reed, Hank Pym and the other brain trust members, who were unable to rescue Kitty from the giant bullet. In both cases, the writer wanted to set up a specific plot resolution which wouldn't have been possible if Reed Richards (and the other brains) weren't useless.
  • The presence of Captain America and the Invaders didn't make World War II turn out any differently, even though Cap punches out Hitler and Tojo on at least one cover along with the Invaders routinely decimating Axis forces. Nowadays it's assumed that those super-heroes mostly served to cancel out the efforts of the equally fantastic Red Skull and other Axis supervillains, resulting in a war that played out exactly as though neither of them had existed.
  • In the case of Storm and other characters with weather-manipulation powers, it's been suggested that continual use of their powers would destabilize weather patterns (as demonstrated in one battle between the X-Men and Alpha Flight where one members self-generated blizzard wrecked havoc on the weather cycle). Most weather controllers aren't creating weather out of nothingness, they're manipulating the existing environment, and drawing resources such as airborne moisture towards one location simply draws those resources away from other areas in need.
  • Project Pegasus, a division of the US Department of Energy devoted to discovering alternative energy resources, has a method of converting solid radioactive waste into harmless material. This invention alone should revolutionize nuclear power and earn billions of dollars. The ramifications of such technology among the world has yet to be explored.
    • Although we do see nuclear power plants somewhat more often in Marvel Comics than we see them in the contemporary United States, and also see somewhat less plots involving resource scarcity, so the ramifications of that technology (more widespread use of commercial nuclear power) might actually be occurring in-setting.
  • One Spider-Man issue had Doctor Octopus hijacking a shipment of HIV-infected blood, so he can try out a possible cure. He manages to steal the blood, get to his lab, fight off Spidey (who thought he was making a bioweapon) multiple times, and run the test...and it fails. Doc Ock is too depressed to put up a fight anymore and surrenders, and Spider-Man never learns what he was actually trying to do: save his ex-girlfriend, who died from AIDS a few days afterwards.
  • Unlike Oracle, no one wonders why the X-Men's Professor X is still in a wheelchair. This is because he doesn't seem to really care. He was moved to a healthy clone body under highly unusual circumstances, but his spine was broken later.
    • Originally, Professor X used his telepathy to prevent him from feeling pain coming from his crippled legs. This in turn, caused his clone body to remain crippled.
    • He hasn't been in a wheelchair for years now, thanks to a combination of Blessed with Suck and Cursed with Awesome.
  • In X-Men Legacy #242, Hellion, angrily, invokes this trope when, after witnessing many incredible events during his run with the X-Men, they are just trying to replace his lost hands with robotic hands instead of finding a way to grow new ones for him.

Hellion: Seriously. We bring people back from the dead. FROM THE DEAD! So how hard can a pair of hands be?

  • In one storyline in the X-Men during the late-80's, a bunch of COLLEGE STUDENTS first try to kill Xavier by mutant bashing him. Failing at that, they then booby-trap his university office with an ANTI-TELEPATHY DEVICE! The apparent implications of ordinary people having access to such advanced technology is never explored. But incidents like this are very widespread in the Marvel Universe, raising the question of why Reed seems disinclined to put most of his technology on the market. Availability of advanced technology is very erratic and driven solely by writer's whims. As a rule, gadgets that can be used to harm superheroes outnumber more practical consumer devices by a fairly wide margin.
    • Similar to the inconsistency of the first Marvel 2099 line where a common crime was organ theft. However, at least one issue mentioned that cloned organ transplantations were available to the public (the way it was mentioned also suggested that the cloning procedure was a rather routine operation), thus rendering organ theft redundant.
    • Depends on how much the cloning procedure costs. Remember that the economy of Marvel 2099 is a dystopian cyberpunk hell, where large underprivileged segments of the population cannot afford (or are not allowed to purchase) things that are routinely made available to prosperous and middle-class citizens, and are left with the black market as their only recourse.
  • Damage Control, a company that repairs the damage to New York caused by superhero battles, is implied to be highly effective as New York can be devastated in one issue yet return to normal by the next storyline. However, Damage Control seems unable to treat real world disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.
  • During the Secret Invasion storyline, Norman Osborne creates a weapon to kill Deadpool that could also theoretically cure cancer. In an absolutely spectacular display of idiocy, he never thinks to release this to the public and thus generate obscene amounts of money and good publicity.
  • Given the reckless use of their superpowers in early appearances, it is a surprise that the X-Men and Fantastic Four were not "useless" if not downright dangerous as superheroes (http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/linkara/at4w/33215-all-star-comics-8-and-the-fantastic-four-1 and http://atopfourthwall.blogspot.com/2010/11/x-men-1.html).
  • In the comic book review show Atop the Fourth Wall host Linkara points out that Reed Richards seems too busy with inventing useless stuff like air signals that can change their own writing as opposed to something useful like curing cancer.
  • Doesn't Professor X occasionally use his telepathy powers to help bring people out of comas?
  • In New Avengers 19, some AIM agents stole some of Wolverine's blood to make manufacture bio-weapons. Iron Man then replied, "Do you realize how far we would advance as a technological species if we didn't have to put up with this every ten minutes?"
  • At the beginning of Grant Morrison's "E For Extinction" storyline in New X-Men, Wolverine breaks down the cost behind the various parts that make up a Seintinel robot.
  • Before he became the Sorceror Supreme, Doctor Strange was a brilliant yet arrogant neurosurgeon. When one charity approached him to help them cure a disease, Dr. Strange refused as there was little if any money involved.
  • There was this one Marvel webcomic focusing on a documentary exploring whether or not Galactus was a myth. There were commercials advertising products only available in the Marvel Universe. This troper never read the comic book, only read about it. If anyone knows the name of the story, please share it.
  • One arc of Power Pack has the Power's mom in the hospital, barely clinging to life, after being injured by a super-villain shoving her aside with super strength. When Katie decides to be Lonely Together with the various heroes the group has met and she invites Cloak and Dagger as well as some Morlocks to Thanksgiving dinner with them. Dagger's healing abilities and the Morlocks knowing fellow Morlock Healer are never mentioned. Used literally when Reed Richard's son is working with Power Pack and his parents are either out of town/off planet or subjected to Adults Are Useless.

MISCELLANEOUS[edit | hide]

  • Both used and averted in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: by 1958, Earth has been invaded by Martians, there was a huge scale Air-War in Europe prior to World War I, and Britain was controlled by IngSoc from 1945 through 1953, yet absolutely none of this has had any effect on the Cold War, World War II, or, in fact, anything regarding the general course of history. Of course, this is what happens when you combine all of fiction into one universe.
  • In The Boys the superheroes, for the most part, really are useless. When The Seven try to avert the comics' version of 9/11, they fuck it up catastrophically with the Brooklyn Bridge being destroyed instead of the south World Trade Tower. The message, of course, being that the military and other trained rescue organisations are the real heroes who in The Boys, the US military had shot down the airplanes heading for the Pentagon and North World Trade Center Tower, thus reducing the 9/11 death toll from over 3000 to around 1000.
  • Ex Machina plays with this trope. The main character is a former superhero who has the ability to talk to machines (so he could tell a train to stop itself, tell a computer to turn itself on, and tell a gun to jam itself). However, he hangs up his cape after he screws up a bit too much (plus the government specifically forbade him from doing any more superheroing while it was studying his gear). He only goes back to work on 9/11, where he's not quite fast enough to stop the first plane, so one tower is still demolished (he saves the other one). He then decides to run for mayor of New York City, figuring he'll do more good in that role. For the most part, he's correct.
  • An obscure Golden Age example. In Target Comics "Calling 2R" feature, a benevolent scientist known only as Skipper transformed his estate into Boystate, a high-tech refuge for unwanted boys. Boystate residents possess a variety of high-speed aircraft (by 1940s standards), "force wall" forcefields, cosmic-ray-powered healing chambers, portable radio communicators and other nifty gadgetry. But while Skipper was very happy to share his technology with his charges, he went out of his way to make sure it never left Boystate's confines. The later stories averted it when World War II broke out and Skipper was ordered to develop high-tech weaponry for the army. He was happy to comply.
  • Usually played straight in Astro City, as the author believes that it's important that the stories take place in our world, but the superhero Samaritan was able to stop the Challenger disaster, and there's a story dealing with a lawyer who attempts to defend his client in a mundane case by citing superhuman events - he argues that yes, forty witnesses say that they saw his client commit the murder, but there was once a bank robbery seemingly committed by celebrities who turned out to be shapeshifters, the superheroes First Family were suspected of selling defense secrets, but it was their Alternate Universe counterparts, etc. It ends up actually getting his client off the hook.
  • Qubit, a Captain Ersatz of Reed Richards/The Doctor has also invented and routinely employs teleportals to travel around the Earth and to other planets in an instant. He is, however, fiercely protective of the technology, and his fears are proven justified when the Vespa weaponize the technology and use it to stop the Plutonian:

Qubit: I'm as flattered as Einstein was when he saw Hiroshima.

  • At the end of David Hine's Spawn: Armageddon storyline, Spawn is recreating the universe after the cataclysmic battle between heaven and hell. When Spawn is asked if he wants to cure the common cold or end global warming, Spawn says no, for he has done enough for humanity and it is now time for them to solve their own problems.
  • Played with in The Uniques. The eponymous super-beings played a major role in all of their world's events since they emerged in late 1930s, but in the end, but no matter how many divergences they created, the end results weren't that different from the real world.
  • In Judge Dredd, the availability of superscience to the public varies from storyline to storyline. In some issues, organ theft/traficking are major crime operations. In other issues, hospitals regularly provide cloned organ transplantations to patients (thus making organ theft/traficking redundant).
  • In Supreme Power: Nighthawk vs. Hyperion, Nighthawk lures Hyperion to Darfur in hopes that Hyperion will become more proactive on the country's suffering. Hyperion kills Sudanese President Al-Hamas, although the disposed President assures Hyperion that another brutal ruler will just replace him. The story ends with superpowered Africans ordering the titular characters to leave, saying that two people can't fix a country of millions of people.
  • Gyro Gearloose from the Disney Ducks Comic Universe. Over the course of time, the many different writers did let him invent just about anything, from simple mechanical contraptions which could theoretically also work in Real Life, to ultra-soft science fiction stuff like e.g. Time Machines. In spite of all this, Duckburg does always stay at the contemporary tech level.
  • In Sultry Teenage Super-Foxes, the US military develops an "alchemy ray", which they test by turning dog poop into gold...and then the head scientist remarks that it's considered "too theoretical" for them to get more funding. Linkara flips out at this, pointing out that such a device is infinitely useful since it could be used to safely dispose of nuclear waste (among other uses). Of course, the machine is destroyed in the accident that creates the titular heroes, rendering the whole debate moot.
  • Interestingly averted with Donald Duck and Scrooge McDuck, whose discoveries were later discovered in the real world. Donald Duck discovered a carbene called methylene (along with a particular reaction it caused) 20 years before scientists in the real world did. Scrooge McDuck also created a method of retrieving sunken ships that was later duplicated in the real world. Furthermore, Scrooge McDuck served as a major inspiration for Osamu Tekuza's (father of anime and manga) art style, as seen in Cracked.com's 5 Amazing Things Invented by Donald Duck.
  • In the comic book commentary show "Atop The Fourth Wall" host Linkara asks that why the scientist in Brute Force (who can grant human intelligence to animals and create transforming battle suits) doesn't use this technology to benefit people in wheelchairs.
  • In the graphic novel The Network (which was about a television network devoted exclusively to covering superhero news) one of the news headline explained "The heroes have the ability to end poverty and hunger. So why don't they? Find out in an exclusive interview with the Champion."
  • Human brains can be transplanted into humanoid robots in Judge Dredd's Mega-City One. However, the cheapest model is $120,000 and over 80% of Mega-City One's residents are on permanent welfare.

Ultimate Marvel Universe[edit | hide]

  • This trope is more often averted in the Ultimate Marvel Universe than in the regular Marvel Universe (Earth 616). However, the aversions to these tropes are handwaved rather than made a main part of the story. However, these trends could have very well been undone in the event of mass superhero casualties and global destruction caused by the Ultimatium storyline.
  • Handwaved in Ultimate Fantastic Four where it was stated that Reed Richards finished plans for a five-sensory television that was requested by the Baxter Building's corporate financiers. Two Japanese companies were also bidding over Reed Richards microscopic house technology. However, the time frame in which such technology would be made available to the public wasn't explained.
    • Justified with Reed Richard's teleportation/dimensional crossing technology which has led to Earth being invaded by aliens and zombies on a couple of occasions.
  • Handwaved in Mark Millar's Ultimate X-Men, stating that Beast was researching cheaper alternatives to high-priced Western pharmaceuticals in the Third World. However, Beast's devastation dealt to him by the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants presumably causes him to halt such research.
  • Averted with Thor who uses his weather control powers to help African farmers, and super-strength to rebuild Bosnia. Storm of the X-Men also used her powers to bring rain to a recession-hit farm area as part of a college project.
  • Before the Ultimate X-Men broke up, Jean Grey's primary focus at the school was using her telepathic powers to help the mentally ill.
  • Although they were villains, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver disarmed both India and Pakistan of their nuclear weapons. The supervillain duo also exposed corporate corruption.
  • Before Professor X and Magneto founded the X-Men, they offered their mutants to help government/industry solve numerous problems (i.e. the energy crisis, ending world hunger etc.). Government/industry declines the offer, not wanting to upset the status quo.

WILDSTORM UNIVERSE[edit | hide]

  • Deconstructed in Planetary. The world is run by a secret cabal headed by a thinly veiled version of the Fantastic Four, and the Reed analog purposely keeps their discoveries and inventions from the world (and purposefully seek and confiscate/cover up the technology, magic and similar of others) for personal gain and to keep humanity weak in preparation for a highly advanced alien race to take it over. Planetary itself was founded because this really pissed certain other beings, like the Fourth Man, off, and is dedicated to excavating as much weirdness, lost technology and similar as possible with the aim of sharing it with humanity.
  • Warren Ellis and his successors examined the trope in The Authority, which was Jenny Sparks' attempt to fill the shoes of both a disbanded Stormwatch and The High's group. At the end of the first story arc, after defeating a teleporting clone army of Flying Bricks from the island of Gamora, team leader Jenny Sparks states that the Authority is going to present Gamora's captured tissue replication and teleportation devices to UN inspectors. She hopes this will pressure the inspectors to make the technology available to the public after 5–10 years of testing. Later, Mark Millar's "The Nativity" arc explicitly asks the question "Why do super-people never go after the real bastards?". The Authority, like the Stormwatch superhumans, did devote their time to solving the problems of humanity; The Engineer in particular. She developed a cure for a certain strain of leukemia and spent her spare time developing renewable energy. Jack Hawksmoor led his endorsements to companies who promised to pay their workers a decent wage. The Authority are also pretty thorough about addressing the crimes perpetrated by humans rather than superhumans, such as totalitarian regimes. However, this backfires: they are accused of presenting "unfair competition" for medical and industrial companies, and blamed for mass redundancies. Moreover, after the "Coup D'Etat" storyline The Authority become the unelected government of the USA. In the process, the Authority unintentionally causes mass civilian casualties in fighting the armed resistance. Furthermore, the Authority unsuccessfully tries to legalize hemp production and require all auto engines to run on bio-diesel by the end of the year. Amidst these failures, the Authority steps down as unelected rulers of the United States.
  • Century child Gaia Rothstein of the 21st century was said to have the power to reverse global warming or make famine history, but had such attempts subverted by the apocalyptic destruction of World's End. As a result, Gaia sought refuge by bonding herself with the planet Earth.
  • The Wildstorm Universe has inconsistency with exploring the ramifications of superheroes sharing their superscience with the public. In WildC.A.T.S (2002), the titular characters made limitless extradimensional energy available to the public. Later on in the Authority: Revolution maxi-series (2005), the Authority (as rulers of the United States) tried to force auto-manufactures to make bio-diesel cars (being an inferior energy source compared to the WildC.A.T.S extradimensional batteries).


Film[edit | hide]

  • Discussed throughout 'Cracked.coms 7 Movies That Ignored World-Changing Discoveries.
  • In the Superman films our hero has a Fortress of Solitude filled with "the accumulated scientific knowledge of dozens of different worlds". Rather than flying around stopping accidents and robberies, wouldn't he make a far greater contribution to mankind if he just used that technology, to, say, cure cancer? Looks like Luthor was right about him: "Gods are selfish beings who fly around in capes don't share their power with mankind."
    • The first film has Jor-El's order to not interfere in human history, giving reasons like over-reliance from humanity and making a target out of his loved ones. And the one time he tried a direct approach was in Superman 4, the lesson here apparently that trying to force humanity forward will result in people trying to capitalize on your attempts.
  • Discussed in the Iron Man movie. Tony Stark's power cell is stated as being able to generate 3 gigajoules per second of energy—which is, of course, 3 gigawatts of power generation. This is about as much power as produced by the largest man-made nuclear reactor and about 15 times the power of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier (and two and a half times the power required to travel through time). The movie makes it clear that the Arc Reactor is incredibly valuable, and Obidiah Stane wants to use it for profit, but Tony is adamant that the technology stays in his hands and his alone, because he's seen what happens when his technology ends up in unsupervised hands.
    • The second film averts this trope though - in the opening sequence shows Ivan Vanko building the first Whiplash suit, and various newspaper clippings are shown that mention, among other things, new technological advances developed by Stark Industries made available to the general public. Tony Stark's claims that he has privatized world peace and created the most peaceful time in human history further cements this aversion.
    • The Iron Man anime, based heavily off the continuity of the films, averts this; the plot begins with Tony going to Japan to build what he hopes will be the first of countless arc reactor power plants around the world, to help with the energy crisis.
    • In The Avengers, Tony shows that he is preparing to spread his Arc Reactor technology around the globe, but on his terms. It is also implied that his releasing of the Arc Reactor in the War Machine suit is what helps SHIELD develop all those advanced toys that they use in the film. Nick Fury also mentions that SHIELD plans to use the Tessaract to bring clean, sustainable energy to the entire world, though both Stark and Bruce Banner become suspicious that SHIELD didn't call in Stark, the world expert on clean energy. SHIELD is actually developing Tesseract-based weaponry to fight extraterrestrial enemies with power comparable to the Asgard.
  • In Bruce Almighty, not only is Bruce incredibly stupid but he seems to have no desire to use God's power to make this a better world. His only attempt at this really involved more of "how can I get people to quit bothering me" and even that was handled so stupidly it defies belief. However, the whole point of the movie is that Bruce is essentially not cut out to be God in the first place.
  • The Ghostbusters movies (and the 2009 video game) play with this. While, they do use the technology they've created for personal profit, the game has them as licensed contractors for New York, they do ignore the potential profit they could make from developing that tech for other uses.
    • One of the upgrades for one of the weapon modes in the video game sort of Lampshaded the use of the tech by saying that while it can punch small holes in the fabric of reality, the holes can't even be used to dump away trash.
  • In The Prestige, Nikola Tesla makes magician Robert Angier a machine which was intended to be a teleporter but turns out to be a matter replicator. It could be used to make unlimited quantities of food, clothing, machine parts, construction materials... it could put an end to hunger and material poverty for all time. And Angier can think of no better use for it than a stage-magic act.
    • It's clear in the film that he's obsessed with beating his rival, even willing to kill himself multiple times to achieve this goal.
    • But why won't Tesla make use of the technology, especially since his lab was just destroyed by Edison's goons? He considers it an abomination, even though it could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Factories would be unnecessary. You would just need to make 1 of everything and then keep copying it, as long as you have enough power.
      • So the machine - if available everywhere - would actually create something akin to a post-scarcity economy (endlessly replicating fuel would create endless power) and change society beyond recognition in ways we still find hard to fathom. If enough people had the machines, Tesla wouldn't even really be "rich" in our sense of the word.
  • Lampshaded in Back To The Beach where Bob Denver—clearly playing Gilligan—is working as a bartender, and complains to a customer about being stranded on a deserted island with a guy so smart he could make a nuclear reactor out of a couple of coconuts... but who couldn't fix a two-foot hole in a boat.
  • The Men in Black possess enormous amount of confiscated advanced technology. While they do release some of the technology to the public, holding the patents on numerous alien technologies sold to the public—velcro, microwave ovens and CDs, to name a few—they are doing great deal of constant memory erasing to hide alien existence to avoid possible panic.
  • In Star Trek, Scotty (with a little help from the future) quickly modifies a transporter so it can send people across vast interstellar distances. This is used, of course, to get Scotty and Kirk onto the Enterprise (which has been travelling away from their starting point for hours at high warp speeds). So the transporter modification is used to resolve a dramatic point in the plot, but no-one seems to realise it could also be used for mundane travel between star systems.
  • In Flubber, the Robin Williams remake of The Absent Minded Professor, Professor Braniard (Williams) has to come up with some sort of scientific breakthrough to secure enough funding to keep his college solvent. If only he had some sort of supertech available to show potential investors... like a flying, self-aware Robot Buddy. Oh, wait... Seriously, the patents on whatever lets Weebo fly around would secure funding for the next decade, let alone true A.I. But he ignores that expediency in search of the eponymous Flubber.
    • Justified as Brainard remarks that her creation was a "happy accident" he couldn't replicate. There is a back-up, but it was made by Weebo and promptly hidden from the professor.
  • In her review of Teen Witch, The Nostalgia Chick points out Louise could use her magic powers to fix the world but instead uses it on petty gain.
  • In Raoul Puke's review of We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story, Puke has this to say:

Raoul Puke: So the Neweyes fart tells them that he can use the time machine to travel back in time to grant the wishes of all the children of the world. I would have used it to stop 9/11... unethical jackass. I mean, the Kennedy assassination? The bombing of Pearl Harbor? Really? None of these are more important than entertaining whiny little bastard children? Well, while you're taking requests, here's a kid named Hitler. He just wants to start his own Third Reich and bring joy and happiness to the world. Why don't you grant him that wish? Huh? HUH?

  • Charlie and The Chocolate Factory: Willy Wonka can make an entire meal come out of gum, an ice cream that stays cold and doesn't melt in the sun, build a chocolate palace without a metal framework, teleport things into TV screens, and has anti-gravity technology - yet he only applies his know-how to candy. Lampshaded by Mike Teavee in the 2005 movie: "Don't you realize what you've invented? It's a teleporter! It's the most important invention in the world! And all you think about is chocolate!"
  • Scooby Doo and the Cyber Chase has a plot built around a couple of these moments.
    • The gang goes to visit a friend who has made a video game based off their adventures only for them to discover that he has invented a laser that can digitize and rebuild matter (ala Tron) but instead of testing it as a possibility to solve world problems like hunger or extended/more efficient space travel he store real items in his game for lazy coding; And eventually Mystery Inc. is transported in and out as well showing that even living things could be moved over great distances.
      • Velma says at the end that the professor is a suspect because he "...could make a quarter of a million dollars..." at the competition the game and invented laser was being entered into instead of pointing out he could take control of the world with a sustained and protected power source and a few petabites of memory.
    • The Phantom Virus, the title "ghost," is sent out from a virtual world and acts upon real objects with super natural powers. It knows to chase the real Mystery Inc. but leaves the virtual ones alone until they interfere showing some semblance of AI. Same with the virtual Mystery Inc. who have chosen to stay on the most diverse level.
  • Space Camp has a sentient, AI robot which is capable expressing emotions and bypassing failsafes to launch a shuttle, but NASA itself is still counting on the shuttle and mindless computers.
  • Averted in The Incredibles, where Syndrome's evil plot is to sell his inventions to the public, thus making super-powered beings obsolete.
    • He also says he's made his fortune already selling some of his inventions.
  • In defence of the Transformers series, Optimus Prime says explicitly that humanity is not ready for the Autobots' advanced weaponry. The same is not said about the Autobots' other significant technologies, such as (apparently) FTL travel, mindblowingly advanced computer miniaturisation, robotics, and fabrication. This is particularly egregious since in the first film Simmonds expressly says that much of humanity's best 20th century technologies—from the CD player to the microwave to the internal combustion engine—derives from what they learned studying a trapped and unconscious Transformer. Imagine how far they could have pushed if they had a consenting friendly one around to fill in the gaps.
    • In the prequel comics (of arguable canonicity), it's revealed that there are hostile alien races out there that were able to threaten Cybertronians. Naturally, Optimus would rather humans avoid going out there before they're ready to defend themselves.
    • There is also a non-canonic novel that actually has the US launch an advanced spacecraft based on Megatron's tech simultaneously with Apollo 11. While Armstrong is busy crawling to the Moon, the other spacecraft accidentally discovers a wormhole and is sent halfway across the galaxy. They don't make it back, though.
  • In the Darkman film trilogy, the titular character has developed synthetic skin which can mimic the appearance of anyone's face for 90 minutes (after then, the skin then dissolves). The titular character is not satisfied with the invention until the synthetic skin is permanent and therefore has not released the technology to the public.
  • Averted in Megamind;when he becomes the hero, Megamind uses his advanced technology to rebuild the damage to the city caused by the super-battle against Tighten.
    • In the sequel short, he proceeds to sell all his evil inventions at a garage sale.
  • The video Why Batman Is Secretly Terrible for Gotham by Cracked.com's Dan, Katie, Michael and Soren not only made a case of batman’s Superhero Paradox, but implies that Bruce Wayne Is Useless Too: In all his comics, animated and movie incarnations, he is an entrepreneur who is part of Fiction500. If he really wanted to stop crime, he could have tried to boost Gotham’s economy and then crime would naturally fall. They remember the monorail that Bruce’s father built (and Batman himself destroyed) in Batman Begins and the Sinister Surveillance implemented to stop Joker in The Dark Knight. They compare Bruce Wayne to an Enron Corrupt Corporate Executive that is using the corporation’s winnings to finance his hobbies (fight crime in his own terms).
  • The premise for Batman: The Movie and the Batman TV Series is that that incarnation of Batman only is useful to fight supervillains (and nothing more). At the end of the movie, Batman quickly refuses Robin's idea to better the world by making a Freaky Friday Flip with the United World Organization security council, arguing that they shouldn't try to tamper with the laws of mother nature. Then happens exactly that, (but arguably, the Status Quo Is God still applies) and Batman takes responsibility just before going out inconspicuously throught the window.

Batman: Who knows, Robin? This strange mixing of minds may be the greatest single service ever performed for humanity! Let's go, but, inconspicuously, through the window. We'll use our Batropes. Our job is finished.

  • In the movie Dungeon Master, the main character has invented a pair of glasses that can control numerous electronic devices such as traffic lights, and ATM machines. He doesn't bother to market the invention, and remains stuck as a low-paid IT assistant.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Tortall Universe series, where it is noted that, should Numair want to put out a candle, he would have to do so with his fingers or a snuffer because using his Gift would cause it to explode, making his range of use slightly limited.
  • In the Harry Potter novels, the Ministry of Magic keeps the existence of wizards secret from Muggles because, as Hagrid puts it, "They might want magical solutions to their problems." It never seems to occur to any wizard to ask, "Well, why not?" In the Muggle world, wizards could become simply one more category of useful, respected, highly-paid professionals... Of course, it could go horribly wrong. The prejudice against so-called "witches"—that for some reason still infests the real world—shows how badly that could go.
    • While their desire to be left alone is understandable, they are being rather selfish in withholding things that, while relatively common for them, could solve most of the world's problems. Some examples: healing magic that can cure most diseases and regenerate limbs, spells capable of multiplying the world's food and natural resources, fuel-independent means of transportation... just imagine if all that were available to the general public.
    • Word of God has said that this explanation is just the wizards lying to themselves; they had lived openly amongst muggles for most of history without any trouble. They only went into hiding because, in a wand vs. shotgun fight, you should bet on the shotgun.
    • In a reversal, electronics and other modern technology doesn't work in magical places like Hogwarts, which is why wizards don't use the internet and all information therefore must be painstakingly researched in gigantic tomes in the library. As the first six books were set in 1991-1997, the characters wouldn't be able to just google "Nicholas Flamel" or "How to breathe under water" anyway, but they'd still have a shitload more (and better organized) information if wizards used computers.
      • Actually, the wizards are still idiots—magical paintings are effectively artificial intelligences based on the memories and personalities of the wizards painted in them, and yet nobody ever seems to think of finding out which wizards of the past were really cracking reference librarians and hanging a few paintings of them in study carrels for students to consult.
        • Averted in fanfic -- "Guardian" by 'Logicalmagic' has school textbooks that are sold with a miniature copy of the author's portrait on the inside of front cover, so that students who have questions about the material can simply consult the portrait for a personal tutoring session. Of course, in order to preserve the setting timeline, these textbooks are deprecated by the British Ministry of Magic's educational department and so Sirius has to import them for Harry from overseas.
      • For that matter, the Hogwarts library doesn't appear to have a reference librarian of any kind—Madam Pince's only visible function is to check books in and out, and shush noisy students.
  • Actually explained very nicely in Young Wizards. When Nita's mother develops cancer, she seeks out to heal her and it becomes the primary goal of the fifth book. It's stated that even though curing cancer is possible, it's very tricky to do. It's also stated that you not only have to heal the person, but also the cancer as well.
  • The Dresden Files book Turn Coat explores this. The reason so far given is that if mages were to be part of the world they would become part of the political process. Wars between Muggles would become wars between mages; and then nobody would be able to stop the vampires. Whether this is a good reason is left open...
    • In Dead Beat it is implied that WWI and WWII were caused by the white council battling the necromancers.
    • Or rather, engineered by the uber-Necromancer Kemmler to give him plenty of bodies to work with.
  • Theodicy is essentially the study of why God, the main character of The Bible, doesn't just solve all of our problems in Real Life. Is it possible that Status Quo Is God?
  • A Ray Bradbury short story ("A Piece of Wood") has the army-employed scientist protagonist invent a machine that causes immediate rust: a pen, a tank, a rifle will dissolve into red dust. The finale reveals that since the device has a time delay: he has been walking around the entire military base disabling the entire installation, and it is revealed he plans to do this to the entire world. (How he would get there is unaddressed.) The story ends with the general he was talking to getting up from his chair and breaking off a leg, intending to use it as a club.
    • Another Bradbury story, "The Flying Machine", was set during the Han Dynasty. The Emperor of China witnessed a man flying by means of a bamboo-framed dragon kite, similar to a hang-glider. The Emperor, after confirming that no one else saw the man fly, ordered the kite destroyed and the inventor executed. When the inventor asked why, the Emperor explained that he feared this invention would be ultimately used by China's enemies to attack China. The Emperor admitted that he had no desire to kill the inventor, but felt that it was necessary to safeguard his people.
      • The Flying Machine was really about how the Emperor couldn't really prevent flight. Just delay it.
  • In The Watch books, the Others do interfere with human affairs, but an elaborate system of mutual sanctions makes sure that interference isn't overt. The sanctions were set up to preserve the Balance, which, in turn, was established because open warfare between the Light Others and Dark Others left catastrophic casualties on both sides (not to mention untold collateral damage). Of course, this doesn't stop each side from trying to find an advantage that would allow them to win without triggering Mutually Assured Destruction.
    • They have to be even more careful now, as us regular humans are now also fully capable of Mutually Assured Destruction, partly due to the Others' interference. In fact, it's mentioned that both Nazism and Communism were failed attempts at creating a perfect society. In the latter case, the attempt was deliberately sabotaged by Geser after realizing that it would result in a world even worse than ours. Also, humans have nukes, which kill the Others just as well as anything else.
    • The great danger in Final Watch is a group of Others hiring human mercenaries and giving them enchanted weapons. Anton is a Light mage Beyond Categories (i.e. extremely powerful). Even he is powerless when a merc is aiming a submachinegun at him with bullets that kill anything up to three Gloom levels. The only thing that saves him is a Heroic Sacrifice by a female werewolf, a Dark Other. Also, the same Others start using top-of-the-line human weapons like remote-controlled turrets to take out powerful Others.
    • The Others also don't shun human technology. Oftentimes, they live just like regular people, owning houses and apartments with all the appropriate amenities. They drive cars and fly on planes. Even those who are hundreds of years old have no trouble adapting. Anton's original job within the Moscow Night Watch was in the IT department. Field work is a recent promotion. One of the stories even mentions that Others' customs have scanners that can detect a low-level magical "passport" of sorts.
  • On the Discworld, Lord Vetinari keeps Leonard of Quirm under lock and key for the express purpose of ensuring that Reed Richards Remains Useless. It also helps that inventors like Urn realize that they're better off being useless, and that the magical equivalents of things like movies, rock and roll, and guns are powered by evil or destructive forces.
  • Similarly, from Pratchett and Gaiman's Good Omens:

"Think of all the things you could do! Good things!"
"Like what?" said Adam suspiciously.
"Well... you could bring the whales back, to start with."
He put his head to one side. "An' that'd stop people killing them, would it?"
She hesitated. It would have been nice to say yes.

  • Played with in the NUMA Series. Valhalla Rising starts off with a ship powered by a magnetohydrodynamic drive, which is shortly set ablaze. It turns out to be sabotage to discredit the drive, and it apparently works. The eponymous ship of The Oregon Files' has those same drives, but it's mentioned that most countries' maritime boards banned them after "a fire" onboard "a ship" with them until they could be tested. The Oregon flies the flag of Iran, since they have "cavalier" attitudes towards maritime law. There are several revolutionary technologies in the series that don't become available to the public because of this trope. Valhalla Rising, for instance, ended with Pitt discovering a functioning teleporter. Presumably it's still a national secret.
  • The main character of The Witches of Bailiwick controls weather, noted as a perfect example of Reed Richards Is Useless at the top of this page. Even stranger, the protagonist's weather control ability is always treated as mundane and relatively useless.
  • At the end of the Wild Cards novel Suicide Kings, Mark Meadows decides to start defying this trope by devoting his pharmacological genius to curing disease rather than continuing to turn himself into a superpowered Knight Templar.
  • Attempted in the Roald Dahl story George's Marvelous Medicine where the titular character does somehow come up with a medicine that increases the size of livestock that could in theory end world hunger. However, he never knew the recipe for the medicine, since he made it out of dozens of random items by pure accident, and all his attempts to recreate it result in increasingly bizarre results.
  • In Wearing the Cape, Verne-types (gadgeteers) are superhumans whose power is the ability to create Weird Science stuff, like powersuits and antigravity pods—but only for themselves; nothing can be mass-produced from the designs and formulas they create.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Magician scientist Zelda Spellman from Sabrina the Teenage Witch tried to make a machine that would somehow, using de-ionization and the Hanta virus, to process dirt into edible protein pellets and end the suffering of millions. When the first prototype blew up she became frustrated and quit trying, blaming her disinterest on a lack of electricity in the poorest areas... Yeah, right.
    • Played with in one episode where Mr Kraft buys a magic box that he discovers can copy items. He uses it to duplicate his gold bars and wonders whether it can be used for other resources as well, then promptly forgets about it.
  • To name just a few of a hundred examples from The 4400:
    • The 4400's in general were supposed to have powers that could radically change the world to avert a futuristic catastrophe, but humanity's general fear & paranoia kept this from going beyond isolated examples of killing specific people who would cause harm or fixing up a single neighborhood park. The whole "Ripple Effect" from the first season became something of an Aborted Arc.
    • Collier shows that his supers can use their powers for good by getting one of them to turn a square mile of the Sahara into wheat fields... and never does it again. The only message this should send to normals is that the 4400s could help you out, but they won't 'cause they don't give a shit.
    • Collier's movement from Season 4 tried to avert this. He sectioned off an abandoned part of Seattle and his newly-empowered followers had powers that could fix many problems, such as a woman who could de-pollute a lake just by swimming in it. All the government heard was "Collier took a piece of land that technically belongs to us" and started a mini-war, ensuring that none of his improvements spread beyond that part of the city.
    • One guy's saliva could cause weight loss. Companies sought him out to potentially market a revolutionary weight-loss drug. But it turns out that the saliva doesn't stop working and eventually the people who were under its effects become emaciated.
  • In one episode of Law and Order, a misogynist modifies a commercially available machine pistol from semi-auto to full-auto, turning it into a highly efficient killing machine. He uses it to shoot a group of female med students, killing 15. He pleads out by about 0:35, and in a brutal subversion of Your Princess Is in Another Castle, Jack McCoy decides to go after the pistol's manufacturer for knowing their product could be easily modified and not doing anything about it. (It's mentioned that the gun has been used in a hundred-odd crimes in a few years, and in every case but six the gun was modified.) 15 counts of negligent homicide, and the city of New York wins. While everyone except the defendant is celebrating, the judge goes "Hold it!" and delivers a directed verdict of "Not Guilty", due to the people basing their case on emotion rather than fact. Immediately followed by an Author Tract, in classic trope style, about how the problem can't really be solved by putting people in jail. If the original verdict had held, it would've heralded the start of a new age of corporate accountability, leading to widespread change in the L&O'verse. Can you say Status Quo Is God?
  • The Stargate Verse is full of this. While the series begins with 1995 people using 1995 technology, and the SGC really hadn't managed to collect much alien tech (let alone understand it), the end of the series has them in the possession of the full library of knowledge of two distinct intergalactic cultures, one of whom left detailed replication instructions for everything, not to mention a bunch of alien allies and enough offworld colonies to solve pretty much every population problem (living space, famine, etc.) on Earth five times over. Getting public support would probably allow Earth to expand across the entire galaxy in the span of a few decades. While the later episodes indicate some of this tech is beginning to filter down (a prototype energy weapon, medical nanites in development, etc.), for the most part the government is unwilling to break the ruse since other groups consistently misuse the technology. It also helps that they're constantly in the middle of secret wars and probably don't want to reveal themselves at a "low point".
    • Not only that, but they've learned from the experience of one of their former allies, the Tollan. The Tollan shared their advanced technology with a neighboring world, only to watch as that world destroy itself, devastating the Tollan homeworld in the process. There's a good reason the SGC is introducing things slowly.
    • There were two times that they met with an alien race called the Aschen, who offered to solve a massive part of Earth's problems, and the heroes were more than willing to go along with it. The Aschen were actually evil and intended to turn Earth into farmland to feed their own population, at which point the whole thing was conveniently reset with time travel. Later, when their own technology went far beyond the Aschen, the Masquerade still remained the primary concern.
    • The state of NASA in the Stargate 'verse is never really touched upon, but if they are still counting on chemical rockets to get small probes into orbit and then waiting six months for said probes to get to say, Mars, it's a serious case of this when Humans are already darting around the galaxy in human-built spacecraft.
      • In early Season 1, NASA saved SG-1 and Bratac in the shuttle Atlantis, which seems to be the SGC's in-orbit rescue craft in the pre-Prometheus era. It's heavily implied that NASA scientists are the "civilian" scientists around the SGC and Area 51 R&D departments, astronauts are probably the EVA technicians on the Daedalus-class cruisers, and NASA is known to be involved in the construction of F-302s and Daedalus-class starships. Luckily, NASA's current goals relating to the study of the Solar system aren't really in Homeworld Security's jurisdiction, so they do launch all those shuttles and probes to do research because the SG-teams are dealing with diplomatic problems in 2 galaxies and the occasional rogue asteroid. So, in short, NASA gets a good deal, doing all the research and advanced tech without paying for it. Of course getting transferred from the SGC to NASA in Houston is considered a bad thing for obvious reasons.
  • Dr. Morris and his team on Now and Again successfully created an artificial human body with superhuman strength and a nanotechnology-based Healing Factor, and then successfully transplanted a human brain into it. Any one of the solutions to the problems they had to have overcome to do this would revolutionize medicine; for example, a method for reconnecting nerves would end trauma-related paralysis by itself. To be fair, Dr. Morris does want this technology to be available to everyone, but it's both ridiculously expensive and a military secret.
    • The same goes for the force field technology demonstrated in one episode. Justified, as it is designed to be a missile shield and, so far, only works in a highly-ionized atmosphere (i.e. a thunderstorm), which can't be created on demand.
  • In Heroes, the Healing Factor is so powerful and so intrinsic to an individual's cells that a single blood transfusion is shown to be able to cure a bullet wound to the head. There are currently three main characters possessing this power (although admittedly one of them is a sociopath), yet neither them nor anyone else has even considered that they could literally save thousands of lives every single day with nothing more than a needle, a tube, and a constant supply of plastic bags.
    • Claire at one point wants to use her power for just this purpose, but is convinced otherwise by her father. Remember, Them What Have Powers in the Heroes universe have good reason for remaining incognito, and such activity would attract dire attention.
    • During the eclipse, Claire started dying because of an extremely large buildup of bacteria and viruses. Apparently, her powers prevent her from getting sick, but the high concentration of bacteria and such would certainly show up in any blood she donates, even if it wouldn't harm the recipient.
    • And once word got out that Claire's blood heals, she would become a 24 hour cure-all potion factory for the rest of her life (and given that she is immortal...), strapped to a machine with no freedom. Admittedly, it would be a noble sacrifice but it's unfair to put that burden on a 17-year-old girl. Peter is not a problem anymore, but even when he had this power, he had acquired it through empathic mimicry and it's possible the blood would not retain its properties after it left his body.
    • The old 70s TV series The Immortal actually played this premise out. The hero had blood that could heal any disease. He donates at a blood drive, not knowing this. An old, dying, powerful, rich man gets the transfusion and has a miraculous recovery. He tracks down who donated the blood. Cue the chase music...
    • An episode brought the idea back up to cure Hiro's brain tumor. Claire's offer was immediately shot down by her father because the regeneration factor would make Hiro die faster.
  • In Smallville, Clark Kent discovers that his blood can bring people back to life, but the revived people have to keep taking it every twelve hours or else they die, for good. And, being around kryptonite hastens the time limit. In addition, they come back increasingly psychotic. Clark disposes of all the blood samples, deciding it isn't worth it.
    • In a recent episode it was subverted when Clark used his blood to revive Zod of all people, not only bringing him back to life, but also giving him/releasing his locked super powers. No 12 hours limit there - possibly due to Zod also being from Krypton? Way to go Clark.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Magic can (supposedly) only be used to bring people back to life if they die by supernatural means. So Buffy can be brought back after her death in season 5, but Joyce and Tara have no such luck.
    • It was also noted that the Urn of Osiris, that resurrected Buffy, was the only true way of bringing someone back from the dead, body and soul intact. When Willow acquired it, she was lucky, because that was the very last one, and it was smashed and defiled, so if it had been pieced back together it still would have been useless.
  • As mentioned in the page intro, Star Trek is rife with missed opportunities and blindness regarding the application of the technology available. There usually end up being more rationalizations and justifications as to why something doesn't do something useful than techo-babble about how it works in the first place.
    • The original series had an episode involving a plant that could cure any disease, and regrow severed limbs. The plant was conveniently forgotten in all future episodes.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Rascals", they accidentally discover the secret of eternal life (by turning four crewmembers into children via the transporter, while they still retain their memory). No one ever tries to find out how that worked.
      • This also occurred in the second season episode "Unnatural Selection". After being artificially aged, the crew is able to revert Dr. Pulaski to her normal age using a DNA sample and the transporter. Ironically, earlier in the episode as she was experiencing accelerated aging, she commented that she was getting a better understanding of Geriatrics. Considering that they seem to have found a cure for old age this new understanding ought to be irrelevant.
      • Although transporters can filter out pathogens and other substances, they seem unable to filter out Borg spyware implanted on people being beamed aboard the Enterprise along with unknown contaminants.
    • In literally dozens of episodes over the course of the many series, there have been face-to-face hostage situations with the good guys carrying sidearms that will safely and (mostly) reliably (almost) instantly render unconscious any number of targets. Yet the option of simply hosing down the entire situation, victim and aggressor together, and sorting it out when everything's safe isn't even discussed. Star Trek: Enterprise thankfully averted this by having Reed just shoot T'Pol and the guy holding her hostage in one episode.
      • Phaser technology regresses considerably over the course of the various Star Trek series. In the original series it was shown that a handheld phaser could be used to flood an entire room with a stun field. The ship could even stun an entire city block from orbit. In later series the phasers gradually seemed to first become limited to absolutely specific narrow beams that had to hit individual targets, and then further on large phaser rifles appeared to be only capable of firing little bursts of energy. They only seem to remember wide beams when they want to tunnel through rock.
      • Versions of the 'stun everyone' tactic have been used in real life hostage situations, for instance in the 2002 Moscow hostage crisis.
    • Time travel seems to be a side effect of Warp Drive technology under special but not uncommon conditions, all the way "back" to the chronologically-first series having an entire story arc based around time travel. Yet every time it's encountered, it comes as a complete surprise to the characters in question, with a "How is this possible?" attitude, instead of a more-expected "Oh no, not again!" There's no less than 41 episodes that deal with time travel in some way, which indicates that the average Starfleet crew probably runs across an incident of time travel a couple of times per year.
      • Lampshaded in Trials and Tribble-ations (in the novelization, at least), which has a dedicated branch of Starfleet/the Federation to clean up the mess left by all the time travel and other weird incidents. They complain about having to deal with an inordinate amount from the crew of the Enterprise...
    • Geordi LaForge's visor: Geordi claimed to have been blind since birth and everything including cloned implants has been a failure. He also claims that the VISOR causes intense pain but he will not take drugs to dull the pain because "It would affect how these work". However, the Star Trek Universe has proven able to cure just about every current illness, let alone alien diseases. This includes genetically correcting deformities prior to birth. This anomaly, of course, is retained so that Geordi can act as a role model for the physically challenged. Geordi did eventually get some nice robot eyes in the movies, though.
      • To address correction of genetic anomalies in particular, that bit of science is currently off limits and highly illegal, due to the effects of the Augments and the subsequent wars. If a person is found to be genetically modified, they are almost always barred from serving in Starfleet and are, in some cases, kept in protective custody. Julian Bashir was deemed to be a special case, partly because he suffered no adverse psychological effects from the therapy, and partly because he had been demonstrated to be a trustworthy asset to Starfleet.
    • Replicator technology. Every sophont and his dog seems to get it shortly after developing warp drive (it's a logical spin-off from transporter technology, after all), and yet there are still traders who deal in small, easily portable, mass-produced items (which were probably made in a replicator in the first place). Artwork and particularly obscure substances/items a replicator can't (currently) produce make sense as trade goods, as do items too large to be produced by one, but given the ubiquity of replicators, the only reason that trading self-sealing stem bolts makes any sense is because the writers want a point of familiarity.
      • Strangely, this technology is conspicuously absent for most of the races in the Delta Quadrant, except for the most advanced (like the Borg and the Voth).
    • Interactions with the Mirror Universe tend to occur under anomalous conditions, and traveling back from whence one came is usually a matter of reversing a problem. However, one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine sees Mirror!O'Brien abducting and returning Sisko to and from his universe, seemingly completely at will. Since this is possible, this poses the questions of why no regular avenue of transit is established between the two universes, and why the regular universe does not see an inundation of Mirror Universe refugees (given the Slave Race status of humans there).
  • In Power Rangers, humanity made First Contact in Power Rangers in Space, fielded an interstellar colony in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy, and mastered Ranger technology by Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, with giant robots, plasma weaponry, and miniaturized antigravity backing it up. State universities offer courses in Galactic History and Mythology. And civilian technology remains exactly the same as real life, down to the four-wheeled road-bound fossil-fuel-powered internal-combustion-engine driven cars. Then again, it's implied that Ranger tech has a massive energy cost; outside of the supernatural power sources that most Rangers use you'd need the output of a nuclear power plant or more (like the megareactors seen in In Space and Lightspeed Rescue) just to field a five- or six-man team.
  • Invoked in a later episode of Charmed, when Paige's newest romantic interest discovers the fact that she's a witch, and, upon parsing the reality that magic exists in the world, he wonders why the supposedly 'good' witches don't use their powers to better mankind. By the end of the episode, however, he understands the evil that also exists has to be held back by said witches.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Mentioned explicitly in GURPS with the "Gadgeteer" advantage, which allows characters to invent new gadgets more easily. While Gadgeteer allows characters to make gadgets for themselves or to solve problems that arise during an adventure, in order to sell their gadgets for money (or even outfit their teammates with gadgets) they must purchase additional advantages which cost more Character Points.
    • Explicitly subverted in the house superhero setting, International Super Teams, in which by 1990 safe and reliable fusion plants, high-energy-density power cells, and other ultratech devices exist—and have begun changing the world—because of the combined effect of supers, gadgeteers and good old-fashioned science.
  • This is a general rule for superhero gadgets in Hero System as well. Devices cost character points to have; while other people are allowed to borrow them once or twice, they can't keep one unless they pay the character point cost as well.
  • Both averted and played straight in White Wolf's superhero deconstruction Aberrant. "Project Utopia" is dedicated to using the new superheroes for the betterment of mankind, including greening the sahara, patching the hole in the ozone layer, getting rid of pollution, inventing new technology, toppling dictators, etc. However it is also dedicated to regulating technology, especially that created by those super-beings who are hyper-intelligent, and hiding away those it deems society can't handle.
    • Naturally, there is a thriving black market for such technology as a result; the Yakuza, and in no small way, Japan as a whole, make excellent profits that way.
    • Aberrant's Player's Guide provides options for keeping "super-science" from changing things excessively; basically, provides those running games the means to enforce this trope as they see fit.
    • Prequel game Adventure! also has super-science. In this case, only the Inspired, the pulp heroes of the setting (not to be confused with Genius's Inspired, below), can create super-science inventions, but plenty of them are attempting to use said inventions to change the world. By canon, they largely fail; when the supers of Aberrant arrive on the scene, the world looks much the same as it does in our timeline.
      • And the d20 version of Adventure has Maxwell Mercer doing things like finding an anachronistic transistor-based computer built decades ahead of its time... and locking it away in a vault forever 'because mankind is not yet ready'. Sheesh! When did you suddenly turn into Randall Dowling, Max?
  • Genius: The Transgression features many of the Inspired trying to stop being useless, but it's not going well because normal humans cause Wonders to break, dissolve, or start hungering for their creator's blood.
    • This trope was played with in the Old World of Darkness. Spectacular changes like a Universal Translator or a superpowered healing magic were certainly available to player characters, especially in Mage: The Ascension. However, they were prone to malfunction because the world was a World Half Empty running on Clap Your Hands If You Believe and humanity just didn't believe in the super-tech or old magic. Many supernaturals and human groups also had very good reasons to enforce The Masquerade, and would make sure any Reed Richards who drew too much attention was discredited and then buried in a shallow grave. However, using your power to make the world subtly better was certainly possible. Running around the hospital ward curing folks like a Dungeons & Dragons cleric was right out, but having a "health spa" that believably helped assuage sicknesses was possible. The Technocratic Union from Mage, in particular, were creating super-science and trickling it out to normal humans when "reality" could handle it, averting this trope.
    • The fundamental question of Genius is "what does Reed Richards think of Reed Richards Is Useless?"
  • Not done with technology but with magic in most editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Depending on the level of magic in a given campaign world, it may be hard to justify any famines, diseases, plagues, etc. An astute player may even realize with enough magic, it is possible to instantly transport a ton goods an infinite distance every six seconds all day long, thus rendering ships, caravans, and the like impractical. Yet it seems most magic is only used to crawl through caves, kill ugly people, and take their stuff, while all the peasants can keep on dirt farming.
    • Averted in Eberron. Low-level magic is common, but high-level magic is rare and monopolised by the Dragonmarked Houses, who exploit their inherent magical abilities for profit. Their efforts have raised the standard of living in Khorvaire's main nations, resulting in a setting closer to Dungeon Punk than your standard medieval fantasy.
    • Also, the key phrasing is "enough magic". How many mages that can cast that spell do you think there are?
      • By the DMG's means of generating cities, you can pretty much guarantee one's existence in a metropolis.
      • If he also has the Craft Wondrous Item feat, he can build a self-resetting magical trap to cast the spell for him repeatedly even when he's not there—or even long after he's dead.
      • Creating a long-distance fixed-point-to-fixed-point teleportal requires one 9th-level arcane spellcaster who knows the teleport spell and the Craft Wondrous Item feat, 75,000 gp, 6000 XP, and 75 days. If he knows the Portal Master feat as well, halve the cost and the construction time. While that looks expensive, an average sailing ship costs 10,000 gp (and takes at least a month to build), in addition to what it would cost in hiring a crew, provisions, and overhead. The portal would already pay for itself after moving enough cargo from port to port to fill only eight cargo vessels, and it could do that as fast as you could throw the shipping crates through the door instead of taking weeks of sailing time. By any remotely rational understanding of the economy of scale, every major trading nexus in the world should be linked with these things.
    • Teleportation aside (as it is fairly powerful magic), less potent spells should eliminate all kinds of hazards. Even low-level curative magic should prevent folks from dying from anything which doesn't kill them outright. Remove Disease costs a low-level cleric nothing to cast and a few of them could essentially eliminate the danger of sickness in a community (especially if they understand triage). Furthermore, spell casters should be researching spells and making items which aren't related to dungeon-crawling to use in their mundane lives. However, since no player is going to get excited about "Ripen Crops II" and "Plowblade of Quick Tilling," they won't be in more recent (3.0 and later) editions. Earlier editions actually had such mundane magic from time to time.
      • Being fair, given that the typical published d20 worlds have population levels and surplus wealth entirely out of line for realistic medieval economies and more appropriate to a world in at least the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, its entirely likely that they are using ubiquitous household magic to make up the gap. In fact, it would be a Plot Hole if they weren't.
  • Explicitly enforced in Warhammer 40,000, with the Imperium (or more specifically the Adeptus Mechanicus) declaring the invention of any new technology to be Heresy and focused only on recovering millenia-old Lost Technology. Furthermore, using Xeno technosorcery is strictly forbidden, and while that doesn't stop more wealthy/powerful individuals it isn't exactly helpful to the average human.
    • To put this in perspective for those who don't follow the setting, the Imperium consists of countless worlds, some of which are using technology that corresponds to the late Renaissance or earlier. Some humans are living in pre-agrarian societies. In one instance, Imperial citizens traded with a race of aliens, the Tau, for farming equipment. They were declared heretics and punished.
      • There are a damn good reasons for this however. Alien technology has a tendency to drive users insane, transform them into aliens, or just plain turn out to be incompatible with humans. As for innovation, well; apart from the constant and omnipresent threat of demonic corruption, there's also the fact that Imperial technology is already Sufficiently Advanced, in accordance with Clarke's Third Law, that no one outside of the Magos of Mars have a freaking clue how they actually operate. Finally, good luck coming up with something more efficient and reliable than the technology that has been tried, tested and refined by the greatest minds of the galaxy over the last ten thousand years.
      • Averted with the Tau, who do innovate and have managed to get several worlds to peacefully join their empire/alliance by showing them all the benefits their more advanced technology would bring. Of course, the only reason they can innovate is because they are immune to demonic corruption.
  • In the New World of Darkness sourcebook Immortals, this trope is justified with regard to the procedures used to keep the Patchwork People alive: the book acknowledges that these techniques would revolutionize health care across the world, but points out that they were developed through horrific experiments on unwilling subjects and require forcible extraction of necessary parts from live donors. The doctors who developed them are Genre Savvy enough to realize that if what they had done ever came to light, they'd be trying to outrun the Torches and Pitchforks, not stopping by Stockholm to pick up their Nobels. So they prefer to keep it a secret and sell their services to the rich and immoral.
  • Being a superhero RPG, Mutants and Masterminds can often turn into this. Given powers are scaled (logically enough) to value combat uses, a character could very well make 'world problem solver' a gimmick with a fairly light investment of points.
    • In the first edition of the game the standard form of the Creation power could create any inanimate objects. Given the rate at which it can be used, even a low-level hero could probably have solved world hunger if he wasn't off using it to make anvils over villains heads.
    • A liberal combination of Stretching, Gadgets and (depending on your opinion of him) Super Intelligence can result in you the player being Reed Richards. Subverting or playing the trope straight is up to you then.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Mega Man X is an example of why it's better for a scientist to be useless. While Doctor Light created X and his endless capabilities, the humans of the future couldn't fully replicate his design, nor did they bother to put their reploids under a special mental-stability diagnostic like X had been. The result was a race of intelligent free-thinking androids that weren't completely stable, causing endless wars.
    • The whole series until Mega Man ZX also points out that humanity has a firm grasp on the Idiot Ball (building so many high-powered robots with built-in weapons, not executing dangerous scientists once arrested), which explains why this trope is in effect.
  • In Pokémon Bill has invented a way to store objects as data (and the ability to use this to transport objects cross country instantly) and time travel and all that comes of this tech is for trading Pokemon.
    • Well think about it: there doesn't seem to be much of a shipping industry in any of the regions, as they are composed almost entirely of pedestrian trails. It could be that the technology is how the Poke Marts stay stocked.
    • However there is a town in Black and White Versions where there is a storage yard, with many, many containers, as well as employees keeping track of them. Clearly, some things are being shipped somewhere. We need you Bill!
  • In Raidou Kuzunoha VS King Abaddon you can find an "element #115", which matches to the atomic number of Ununpentium an element where all known isotopes have a half life measured in milliseconds, that can stay in your items for the entire game. What do you do with this seemingly stable form of an element too short lived to research? Make swords!
    • This is a Shout-Out to X-COM, a game made before the element physically existed.
  • In Portal, Aperture Science developed several technologies that, with proper application, would have revolutionized the world. Just one, the portal gun, could have, in an instant, solved nearly every transportation and logistical problem on the planet, enabled Casual Interstellar Travel, and incidentally made the company trillions. They also developed Brain Uploading, true AI, Hard Light, some really amazing hardware to prevent injury from falling, and a variety of other things. The only justification for why they did all this and still went bankrupt is that they were so into testing all their Mad Science inventions that they utterly failed to market them properly—or marketed them for entirely the wrong things. It also doesn't help that they ignored even the most basic of safety standards, to the point where their facilities would have given OSHA inspectors a heart attack. And then, of course, they were all killed by the AI that they put in charge of the facility, which happened around the same time as the Combine invasion of Earth.
    • In summary, Aperture doesn't change the world because Cave Johnson is loony.
  • In almost any RPG with an onscreen plot-related death, you will have at least one healing character—in some particularly absurd cases the majority of your party—present who has up till now cured everything up to and including most minor forms of death, and they do precisely dick this time for some reason. Sometimes justified with whatever kind of magic killed them, but usually not. Some games actually do a better job of explaining it: a common theory is that they're not exactly dead but almost dead, or just incapacitated.
    • This is true, as seen in Final Fantasy V, where one of the main characters dies on a onscreen plot-related death and the rest of the party tries to use curative spells and items on him, but they turn out to be useless, as he dies anyway. Also, many Japanese RPGs use the word "K.O.'d" or "Wounded," oddly even after being hit by a spell that says "Death."
    • IIRC the original Pokemon in Japanese were "Dead" rather than K.O.ed. But this is from the series that describes a slug as hotter than the sun...
    • This is not the case in many Western RPGS, however common a trope in Eastern RPGS. In Planescape: Torment, for example, once the protagonist The Nameless One can raise party members at the end of the very first dungeon, he can always do so if that party member hasn't been removed entirely from the game by the player. Even the plotline deaths can be undone in the Golden Ending, except for the Nameless One's own death and acceptance of damnation. Given the Eldritch Abomination, World Half Empty, The Undead, The Legions of Hell, and all the other things arrayed against The Nameless One and cohorts, this isn't a Game Breaker. It's not even a Disc One Nuke.
    • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim features a quest in the Mage's College story arc where the player comes upon a dying NPC who sputters out his last words and then bites the dust. No amount of healing spells, regardless of how powerful your magical ability, will prevent his death.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Justified in Fine Structure, which makes this a plot point. Scientists would like to use The Script for teleportation and other discoveries, but they'll only work until the the fundamental laws of the universe are changed by Something so it can never be used again.
  • The SCP Foundation could have changed the world with the SCPs...if they weren't so dangerous and most of those that aren't are mostly used to help containing other SCPs. And the Serpent's Hand still consider the Foundation enemies, because they do not want to improve the world with [SCPs=].
  • Superdickery.com.com presents the most inefficient use of Superman. "Again, couldn't he pretty much instantly win the war if he wanted to?"
  • Chuck Norris' tears can cure cancer. Too bad Chuck Norris has never cried. Selfish bastard.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a comic that explores how to utilize Superman as efficiently as possible.
  • Jayden and Crusader has a character Smic who is apparently a genius, inventing an infinite pizza machine, a working time machine, man-eating anteaters (presumably genetically engineered) and a steam powered time travelling hover-cycle. However he never seems to have turned his skills on anything useful in the slightest.
  • Girl Genius serves as a good example of why anachronistic world-reshaping technology isn't going to do anything good. An awful lot of inventions come from insane epiphanies that can't be reproduced, most of them are dangerously unstable (e.g. most things remotely self-aware try to maim their creators), and many of them are built and used for the express purpose of destroying the inventions of rival mad scientists. Scientific miracles abound, but most of Europe seems to be stuck in a Dark Age most of the time. Commoners have little access to all the technological wonders but plenty of exposure to many technological horrors, and many see the Sparks as "witches" (you can't really blame them if you consider what a Spark can do), so even if Richard tried to be useful they would just give him the Burn the Witch treatment. Furthermore, Reed Richards Is A Dick.
    • That's was stabilized only recently. Europe ended up dominated by the Mad Scientist who mostly curbed the usual Control Freak streak and got the special talent for... reverse engineering. Instead of building whole armies upon powerful, but one-gimmick inventions he found in his and others' crazy gadgets material for a few robust and mass-produceable systems and still had time for refining them. By the same token, found good use for a wild variety of monsters.
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Dracula found the cure for cancer. He hid it on Mars. Also, he lives on the moon and has a teleporter.
  • Justified in Mind Mistress—the title heroine has the most advanced technology in the world, but is afraid that released it could change our society for the worse.
    • It's a good thing Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk didn't feel this way.
      • The Universe wasn't so determined to convince them they should keep their inventions for themselves as is for her - every time she tries to improve the world it ends badly. She once took two kids as her studends, so they could revolutionize modern physics. One of them turned into Omnicidal Maniac and the other killed him and ran away. There is probably one attempt that didn't ended in something terrible and it was to give bunch of chimps human intellect. That is, if you ignore that one who turned to murder. And the Elephant.
    • On the other hand, Forethought, the only person smarter that Minidmistress, is actively trying to save the humanity from self-destructing war he forseen. Too bad his first idea was to create more people like him, well aware that humanity would turn on them. And lost.
  • A side-story of PS238 explores the logical extension of this trope, with NASA outsourcing the design of their new space rocket to Herschel Clay, a metahuman Gadgeteer Genius with a love of tinkering. Problem is, by the time their own engineers have had a chance to try to comprehend his designs Clay has already found a way to improve it. In other words, they get a new design in the mail that becomes obsolete by the time they're ready to take that one off the drawing board, and so on: They simply can't keep up with his constant improvements.
    • PS238 also averts this trope with the Rainmaker Project, a section of the school where students with powers that don't lend themselves well to combat are trained on how to use them in civilian life, like a kid with the ability to turn anything into food was trained to turn things like rocks into nutritious but low calorie diet foods that tasted like high quality chocolate. It's also shown that many superhumans use their powers in a variety of ways for the civilian sector; the previously mentioned Herschel, for example, has his own company that apparently produces a large number of superscience inventions for everyday life.
    • By the end of Wonderburg arc we see a lot of strange stuff put into production small series to industrial scale, from rapid construction methods to very strong and/or polymorphic cloth. It's not cheap, of course.
  • In alternate dimensions of Sluggy Freelance the Plot Technology of the usual mad scientists were used to change the world, sometimes for the better and getting themselves canonized, sometimes just improved what might've been a crappier-sack world, and in the latest storyline what looks like a change for the worst. And in the main dimension of the series, it looks like Schlock is attempting to avert this by selling Riff's robot design to the Department of Defense.
    • Riff gets called out on this (albeit inadvertently) by a character where Riff devoted his time and brainpower to building devices to help the disabled (among other things) rather than just building cool weapons for his own use.
  • When Big Killhuna, a Mad Scientist from Super Stupor, hears that his favourite writer, Terry Pratchett, has Alzheimer's, he wants to help him by... building a doomsday device and threatening the world with it until all scientists on Earth agree to work towards a cure.
    • Because he flunked out of "Useful Sciences 101"...
  • Xkcd points out the problem in the context of time machines. Also, one of the natural brakes on proliferation of even seemingly trivial things.
  • In the Whateley Universe, there are two types of inventor mutants. The first are Devisors, who warp reality slightly to allow for physically impossible inventions, which can then never be reproduced by anyone else (or sometimes even by them) and often don't even work for other people in the case of extremely impossible stuff. Some of them sell their tech, but since only a single person can produce it, it's generally extremely expensive and supply is very limited. The second are Gadgeteers, who have a variant of psionics that allow them to intuitively understand how to make things, but can't do anything that's literally impossible. Some of them have changed the world, but apparently being good at engineering leads to being incompetent at interpersonal relations, resulting in most of them getting ripped off by the companies they sell their inventions to and either not having the resources to do any inventing, being suppressed by people who don't want the world to change because a lack of that particular technology is profitable to them, or turning evil to get back at society.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Batman the Brave And The Bold has the seemingly retired, former Blue Beetle convincing the current Blue Beetle to help put the alien technology that gives him his powers to greater use via a fleet of perpetual-energy machines and robots that'll irrigate the Sahara, end world hunger and turn the world into a paradise. Of course it doesn't work out that way, but neither Batman nor the Blue Beetle stops to wonder if such a plan really wouldn't be better than just using it to beat up crooks. Note that the former Blue Beetle was actually dead, this guy was an impostor, and he planned to use the robots to conquer the world.
  • In Captain Planet and the Planeteers the Planeteers fly around in the "Geocruiser" a smallish VTOL aircraft which was designed and built by by Gaea (who knew she had a machine shop on that island?) and is stated to run entirely on solar power and to produce no pollution whatsoever. It can apparently fly anywhere in the world in a few hours at most without ever producing a sonic boom and is so simple to control that a teenager can operate it without any training whatsoever. Yet even when one of the antagonists builds an equally impossible super-aircraft that runs on smog and makes even more smog Gaea never once considers she could do more good with her own ubertech than she could by keeping it exclusive to five self-righteous idiots who use it for nothing but getting to the next poor sap they feel like preaching to.
  • Professor Membrane of Invader Zim can more or less do what he wants, suggested throughout the series that his genius is the only thing actually sustaining what is otherwise a civilization in severe decay because it's populated entirely by morons/jackasses. He only seems to create things on the basis that they interest him, pose an intellectual challenge or that he finds it utterly flabbergasting nobody else has already solved the problem in question, and the fact that he's probably the most powerful and wealthy man in the entire world seems to mean absolutely nothing to him. He once created perpetual energy, then decided not to implement it after all (which was probably a good thing, considering what the rest of humanity could have done with it).
  • Phineas and Ferb build interplanetary rockets, animal translation devices, and the like every morning. But by the time their mom gets home everything is back to normal.
    • Although in the future episode it's implied Phineas has won the Nobel Prize and Ferb is at Camp David, so they presumably grow up to tackle more "serious" concerns. One episode also has them consider starting a "jellybean-based economy for emerging nations," semi-lampshading this trope.
    • They arguably Averted Trope this trope in some ways---several of their inventions get used for "mundane" purposes, such as helping their friends or family with something. It's just they never bother trying to fix any big problems, quite possibly just because they're young and don't know about much beyond their neighborhood.
  • Examples of this trope being averted in the DCAU continuity.
    • In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Paging The Crime Doctor" Crime Boss Rupert Thorne's thugs are shown stealing futuristic looking lasers destined for a hospital.
    • In the pilot episode of Justice League NASA finally lands a man on Mars.
    • In Justice League, the immortal Vandal Savage sent a laptop containing current technology to himself, allowing him to depose Hitler, creating a present in which Savage rules the world under the Nazi banner. However, after the good guys beat him, Hitler was dethawed from cryogenic suspension, putting WWII back on track.[1]
    • In Justice League Unlimited, two Thanagarian law officers used advanced alien science to transform ancient Egypt from a barren desert into lush agricultural land when they crashed on Earth. After all, their ship was not going anywhere, so the least they could do was make a nice home out of the hellish Sahara and attempt to improve the lives of the natives. The problem is that they only educated their people to the level of tool users, never progressing to tool makers (This is, in Real Life, a critical sociological point), and the humans had no experience or training when it came to the maintenance or construction of the advanced alien technology. When the aliens themselves died, their wonderful utopia vanishes in a generation.
    • Another aversion was in the episode "A Better World," where the Justice League decided to stop just being heroes and did solve all the worlds problems... by conquering the planet and being it's dictators.
  • In one episode of Dungeons & Dragons, Dungeon Master grants one of the adventurers his powers. The newly uber-powered member uses his power to bring forth water for the thirsty teammates. Dungeon Master responds that by using the powers to generate that water, water from another area had to be deprived.
  • On The Venture Brothers, a parody of Reed Richards is shown to be a sociopathic arm of the military-industrial complex, abandoning Dr. Venture in the arctic wilderness for procrastinating and flirting with his oppressed wife; later, he withholds alien technology, needed to save the world, that was left to Venture by his father, claiming it's because Venture is not responsible enough to have it (which is a quite reasonable argument) but most likely due to him wanting all the credit. In general, there's lots of other super-science doo dads floating around in the series that the general public never gets a chance with.
    • Also lampshaded on occasion: in "Tag Sale, You're It!", one of the items in the titular sale is an actual lightsaber which Rusty couldn't sell because "The Army told me they don't fight with swords, and Hasbro wasn't interested in a toy that cost $20 million in parts alone". To add insult to injury, it doesn't even work.
  • On The Fairly OddParents Timmy is always running into issues with Da Rules, yet he never actually reads them nor wishes he knew all of them as this would save him a world of trouble and cost the writers a ton of plot.
    • Unlike Timmy, Chester tries doing this after he's granted Norm, the temporary ex-genie, as his fairy godparent. Of course having a Jackass Genie as a fairy godparent predictably doesn't turn out well for him. When he wishes the deserts would have enough water for everyone to drink or make the ice-caps warmer to make the penguins less chilly, he ends up flooding the deserts and creating boiling pools of water causing global warming.
  • In Xiaolin Showdown, an item said to possess infinite power, and could solve pretty much any energy related problem, is used to power a time machine. So yeah.
  • An episode of the Michel Vaillant animated series had the team participating in a special race for environmentally friendly vehicles only. Their Gadgeteer Genius mechanic builds a car that not only is pollutant free, but can actually hover above the ground via electromagnetism. Regardless of how much the thing cost, it would revolutionize transportation forever. Instead, it's used to win that one race and is never seen again.
  • Averted - sort of - on G.I. Joe, the X-Men animated series, and any other cartoon where the animators realized that having soldiers or police officers carry energy weapons would let them get around the problems of having to depict bullet wounds and the taboo against showing realistic guns in American cartoons.
  • There's a retrospective inversion of this in the 1980s Transformers cartoon, where the later series, set in the early 21st century, depict humanity as having energy weapons and spaceships and being on friendly terms with lots of alien species. When the real early 21st century turned out to be a bit different, fans rationalised this as being down to the Autobots sharing their technology.
  • Homer Simpson's brother Herb became rich after inventing and selling a device that translates baby talk. After that episode, the device was never seen again on The Simpsons.
    • In "Treehouse of Horror XVII" a meteor with some living blob crashes into the Simpsons back yard. Lisa says how humanity could possibly learn about interplanetary transportation from the creature. Homer decides that it is more important to eat the creature.
  • Averted in the Young Justice cartoon, where the combined efforts of the titular characters and Lex Luthor preventing the assassination of representatives from Captain Erastz duplicates of North and South Korea lead to the two countries signing a peace treaty that can "lead to eventual unification"
  • In Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, the Flame Keeper's Circle wants to avert this by using alien technology to bring Earth into a golden age. Ben and the other Plumbers enforce this since introducing alien technology to a world that isn't ready for it is just a recipe for disaster. Julie tries to call out Ben (who uses a piece of powerful alien technology to make the universe a better place as a superhero) on the hypocrisy of this policy, but Ben points out that recklessly accelerating a planet's development via alien technology will usually lead to the planet's doom.
  • Ms. Frizzle could make ludicrously large piles of money working for, say, NASA. Just for starters, her school bus can travel from Earth to the Sun to Pluto and back in the space of a day, and comes stocked with spacesuits capable of withstanding the conditions on Venus.
    • Also in the E/I ask the director bit afterwards they mention that this was simply done for the story.
  • Averted in Recess - Gretchen comes up with something that is promptly seized and erased by the FBI.
  • In Archie's Weird Mysteries, Dilton invents some rather...advanced things. Why the heck he's still in a public school is beyond anyone's guess.


Other[edit | hide]

  • Santa Claus. Apparently able to make toys for every good little child on earth. Multiple toys. Multiple Expensive toys. That's about 1.8 billion children. In only one year, every year. Yet he can't solve world hunger?
    • Interesting point. Toss the Easter Bunny in that group, too.
    • Screw the production aspect, he has all year and armies of slave elves doing the "making". In order to deliver gifts all over the world in one night, he's obviously mastered either teleportation or time-travel. Or maybe the rumors of massive Santa-clone armies is true...
    • Production has never been the problem. According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization eighty percent of all malnourished children live in areas of food surplus. Distribution is the issue...but that still doesn't stop Santa from using the sleigh to make a few relief air drops in the off-season.
  • There's a commercial where a couple train their son to be able to dunk a basketball, in order to obtain scholarships later. The kid looks to be about five or six. The implication is that they trained the kid personally, not hired someone, in which case thousands of parents would give their eyeteeth to give their kid that kind of skill. If this ever occurs to the couple or gets out, they're likely set for life.
  • There are many food commercials that sidestep the "you have to pay for this product" issue, leading one to wonder why it isn't just handed out to the hungry people of the world.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • It's one thing to invent something. On the other hand, it's much harder to find sponsorship, do expensive safety tests, deal with any side effects, find a way to mass produce it, and be prepared for potential backlash if something completely outside your control goes wrong...
  • Carl Friedrich Gauss, called "the prince of mathematics", had a habit of coming up with brilliant mathematical proofs and not publishing them. Considering the numbers of things already named after Gauss, this may be just as well.
  • The sheer number of people who are not organ or tissue donors. This is mostly an issue in nations where the system for donation is opt in (where about 25% are donors) rather than opt out (where about 25% are not donors, while some opt out countries like Belgium or Austria only have 2% not being donors). Even if the DMV asks you if you want the pink dot on your license (as in California), most just automatically say no due to the way its asked and many others forget even being given the choice. Add to that that the family still gets final say and that most are too distraught at losing someone to be amenable to cutting them up.
    • In an effort to boost organ donation, countries such as Israel place preferential treatment on registered organ donors in receiving organ transplants.
  • Similar to the organ donor shortage is the shortage of blood donors. It seems far more people are claiming to be afraid of needles than there are people actually afraid of needles.
    • There are a fairly sizable number of people who are otherwise willing to donate blood but who are forbidden by the collection service due to their strict requirements that are in place to prevent contaminated blood being used in a transfusion. Even though blood is screened (albeit in large batches, not individually) before storage, ALL gay men have life-long bans on donating blood in most countries because men who have sex with men (2% of the population) account for 61% of new infections according to 2009 CDC reports.
      • Any place with blood donation obviously puts a very high priority over avoiding things such as HIV, to the point that a false-positive reading on HIV rendered this (virgin, heterosexual) Troper unable to donate. Remember, a false-positive's entire shtick is that who or whatever examined your blood made a mistake. Especially with large batches being tested for HIV the norm (mine was tested individually), that's a lot of useless blood for one missed case of HIV.
      • Also, there isn't any real day-to-day blood shortage, and during crises so many people turn out to donate that there's not really a shortage then too. After 9/11 this troper tried to donate blood and was turned away at the door because 'we have so many donors already that we don't have any place to store all this blood before it spoils'. They can afford to set high rejection standards to increase safety; they've already got more coming in than they can use.
  • Pre-Colombian Americas had plenty of scientific innovations that were never used by the natives, such as taming the Buffalo, using the wheel for tasks other than as a toy (i.e. grinding grain, pottery), and the Incas never bothered to use their iron deposits to make tools.
    • The lack of domestic bison, at least, makes sense, even if the others don't. The American bison is the largest living land mammal native to North America, it's very powerful and aggressive towards humans. No culture native to North America appears to have had the technology necessary to build corrals that could hold them, meaning that keeping them long enough to domesticate them would have been impossible.
    • This issue has been discussed at length in Guns Germs and Steel, by Jared Diamond. Basically the big five (horses, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) are the only large animals capable of domestication (note 'domestication' is a step up from 'taming' which has been done with cheetahs and elephants).
  • A steam engine prototype was invented in the early Roman Empire, only to have other people dismiss it as a toy.
    • Largely because it was a toy. There's no way to scale the aeolipile (which, despite being steam-powered, is really nothing like a Watt steam-engine) up to any kind of a useful size.
    • On the other hand, Hero of Alexandria also invented a device that was the first pneumohydraulic piston (a piston head was moved by water displaced by expanding vapor). The problem is, that working steam engines require an adequately advanced metallurgy that was unavailable in ancient times.
    • Again see Guns Germs and Steel, printing was invented thousands of years ago, but many other components (like paper) were just not cost effective enough.
  • Look at the Guinea Worm infection, a tropical country disease that causes painful swelling and a worm to erupt out of your leg. The disease can be prevented by filtering water through a cloth and keeping infected people (with open sores on their legs) away from water. Despite the easiness of prevention, Guinea Worm continues to infect millions.
    • Hopefully to become an Averted Trope in the near future, as various agencies are making serious efforts to eradicate the pest, and the infection rate is falling at a good speed.
  • Aerospace technology in general. Despite space travel and supersonic flight being half a century old, virtually all examples thereof are solely controlled by governments and cost megabucks.
    • Artificial satellites improve everyday's life: telecommunication, weather forecast, GPS, ...
    • Several companies have started exploring the idea of "space tourism" but for the time being it's really just sending a (super rich) person briefly out of the atmosphere for a few minutes. A large part of the problem is the lack of anything worth getting once you're past satellites means combined with physical requirements and security concerns means that the costs are too high.
    • It actually takes a lot of time and money to certify equipment for use in military aircraft, and even more for civilian aircraft. Part of the certification is to prove that the equipment is sufficiently reliable based on how vital its operation is to continued safe flight. Thus, there are many aircraft with equipment that is not certified for general use, but only flown on an experimental basis.
    • The legal certification process would also apply to other inventions such as miracle drugs and medical treatments, automotive or robotic technology, or anything else that is regulated by most governments, which is practically everything these days.
    • Remember that 'only 1 in 100,000 chance of lethal failure' = 'for every million customers, you get ten fatal accidents'. "Safe enough for test pilots/astronauts/the military/etc." and "safe enough for commercial sale" are two very very different things for a reason.
  • Electric and hybrid cars may be an attempt to "replace" the petrol engine, but now petrol made from genetically engineered bugs is being created. However, this will be used in an attempt to solve the world petrol crisis, making this a deconstruction of why this trope can be bad.
    • It's also being used for diesel as well. So looks like electric and hybrid cars may not be needed in the near-future, with possible Zeerust implications...
    • There's pretty much no way that these technologies would be enough to sustain the world's need of oil should production start dropping (do you have any idea HOW much oil would be needed in a SHORT amount of time). Still, it's always nice to have stopgap solutions to make the transition process easier.
    • One energy policy analyst once said that switching from petroleum energy to solar power is like "being addicted to vodka and switching over to gin." Therefore, the analyst stated that instead of trying to develop some revolutionary new power source, the solution should focus more on less energy consumption and a diversity of energy sources.
  • China use to be the world's leader of scientific and technological development, with their many inventions including fish farming, the wheelbarrow, gunpowder, paper money, and even industrialized iron production. China at one point had established naval contact throughout Asia and Africa. However, the emperors eventually decided to close their country off from foreign contact and ideas. This led to China faltering scientifically, economically, and militarily.
    • Not only that but they had a very real chance of conquering much of the world and, in fact, had sent out a massive armada West towards India. Unfortunately, when a new emperor came to power, he ordered the armada back and then had the ships and all the records burned. Had he not done that, we could be speaking Chinese right now. China also had vague dealings with Rome, usually through independent merchants.
      • While China has been the worlds most developed region during our history, it was only for a relatively short ammount of time. For most of our early history the Middle East was ahead of China, then the mediterranean area became the worlds most advanced region. During the middle ages China was pretty much ahead, but it lost the position ones more to the west a few centuries ago. So while the entries above are technically correct they really only take into account a small part of humanities history. For many early inventions the circumstances were simply better in the Middle East, which is why they were invented there first.
        • The Middle East also enjoyed a unique advantage of position; for the great majority of history it was the place almost every practical Europe-to-Africa, Europe-to-Asia, or Africa-to-Asia trade route all ran through. Scientific discovery was enormously enhanced by being in a position to synthesize and cross-reference everybody else's discoveries first. When transport and communication methods became advanced enough that a worldwide scientific community could form without needing to take land caravans through the Middle East first, it lost its position as the R&D center of the world.
  • In the early 19th century, American physician John Gorrie developed an early model of air conditioning. However, successful lobbying by America's ice industry, and combined with the fact that early air conditioning did not control humidity, blocked the implementation of Gorrie's device.
  • Countless scientific/technological innovations were suppressed in various communist* governments with purges, suppression of free markets, and blatantly false science. Notorious examples include Lysenkoism (an agricultural "science" that rejected the basic premises of heredity) and probably the worse was the Khymer Rouge (who sought to abolish all modern technology in Cambodia).
  • Cracked.com supplies the following:
  • The book Super Freakonomics describes how in 17th or 18th century England, there was this one doctor who had a pair of metal forceps that could correctly orient a baby to come out the correct way from the mother's uterus (that is head first rather than feet first). The doctor kept the tools a family secret for centuries. Millions of lives lost, and huge amounts of pain could easily been prevented.

As a side note, Doom is pleased with the name of this trope. He would prefer it to be lengthened, but the censors wouldn't allow it.

  1. According to Stan Berkowitz, part of the reason Savage's Germany was winning was because Savage directed Germany's resources and manpower toward the war, rather than genocide. So when the Justice League defeated Savage, that resulted in a timeline where WWII was fought but the Holocaust was cut short or never happened at all.