Leslie and Julia both grew up watching the X-Files, which helped influence their careers both in journalism and in public health.  With the recent revival of the show in a six part mini-series on Fox, they’ve discovered that the show affected them in different ways.  Leslie viewed herself in the 90s more as a Scully and still does; Julia felt like a Mulder and remains steadfast.  Today they go head to head over Mulder and Scully, faith and science.


 

Dear sweet, intelligent Julia,

I love your big juicy brain, so we need to talk about your identification with Agent Mulder over Agent Scully. Let’s be honest here, despite being an Oxford-educated criminal profiler, Mulder seemed to struggle with process and evidence, which are kind of big things for an FBI agent. Often he came to the ‘correct’ conclusions by nothing more than intuition or making extreme leaps in logic. In these circumstances he got it right more by chance and less by actual systematic reasoning.

There’s a point towards the end of the second episode of the series wherein Mulder confabulates the correct conclusions, but based on virtually nothing. While we the audience have seen everything happen, Mulder the FBI agent hasn’t been privy to that information. After he announces his conclusion Scully angrily says something to the effect of, “nothing, we know nothing more than when we got here.” And she’s right!

I’ve heard people ask how Scully remained a skeptic for so long and I don’t quite understand the question. If you look at the evidence that they had objectively, UFOs and alien abductions are not where the facts lead. Sure, they lead to government conspiracy, illegal tests and layers of lies, but as we know in reality all of those things have happened by humans to humans.

Scully was the first real female role model I had whose position in life were independent of her appearance and marital status.  She showed me what education and focusing on knowledge over appearance gets you: A career, respect and independence.  She was smart and that was something that would never fade or be taken away from her. Also, can we discuss what a jerk Mulder was? He constantly blew Scully off and ordered her around. As a budding feminist I remember wanting to inhabit Scully’s body and yell, “if that’s how it’s going to be, you can do this autopsy on your own!”


Leslie, my brilliant co-editor baboo,

MULDER ALIENSWho is Scully without Mulder? Someone wonderful, but who doesn’t dream bigger or is able to suspend disbelief long enough to explore what might be possible. A brilliant, analytical individual who wants to believe in something more but refuses to until she sees something with her own eyes, and is also able to cram it into previously established science and analysis. It often leaves her show-end report narratives littered with “inconclusive” findings but very little detail of how it might be worth exploring.

Anyone who works with data can tell you, it’s perfectly fine to describe speculative reasoning that dovetails with partial evidence, and describe methods to take the data analysis further to uncover the truth. Thus, her obsession with facts, logic, and systematic analysis oftentimes has her missing the forest for the trees.

In fact, Scully misses a lot – nearly every instance of aliens appearing in the X-Files features, Scully literally does not see. She’s in adjacent rooms, buildings, or locations, just a step behind. So many times I found myself yelling at the screen! Because if she’d had the opportunity to view these data points, she would be willing and able to analyze them as new evidence in the form of factual, tangible observations. Instead, she just gets argumentative about what something may or may not be – without really getting what’s happened. That’s hard for Mulder, who’s been involved in this for a long, long time.

Some of the most amazing scientific discoveries have sprung from something seemingly random that’s peaked a scientist’s curiosity. That willingness to speculate and experiment, venturing beyond one’s own comfort zone is what has given us so much in the world of science! And just because something isn’t possible as reflected by current data and studies, doesn’t mean that it will never be possible. With the proper conditions, observations, or in a differently controlled analysis, things may more apparent. After all, Scully is a practicing Catholic, so she does find it possible to have faith in something that isn’t currently clinically quantifiable.


Dear lovable, beautiful Julia,

Scully ALIENS MemeI see how you could see Scully that way, but I see her more as trying to either find an explanation rooted on terra firma for aliens and shape-shifting monsters, or using science to explain how they came to be. If anything, Mulder was just a crackpot jabbering on about aliens before Scully came along.

Mulder was so quick to jump to ALIENS! Everything was aliens! Aliens are to Mulder what Lindsay Lohan was to blind gossip items in the early 00s: the easy answer.

You and I both agree that it doesn’t matter if you’re right, if you alienate (no pun intended) your audience. I felt that Mulder did just that by jumping to the supernatural and ignoring the more logical explanations first (also, being on a short fuse didn’t exactly help). In rewatching those early episodes while on maternity leave, Mulder’s lack of both process and bedside manner really stand out as working against him and the truth.

Scully on the other hand goes through things systematically and only when all other logical explanations are exhausted does she then begin to consider the unknown. I think she says in the first episode something along the lines of ‘just because we don’t have an explanation now doesn’t mean there isn’t one,’ and that is so crucial to the idea of science and public health. We’re seeing it play out right now with microcephaly and Zika in Brazil.


My dear Leslie lovebug,

That’s what hypothesizing and the scientific method is all about! Scientific discoveries aren’t made by sitting back and waiting for breakthroughs to come to you after you exhaust the data – you have to actively seek, gather, and analyze new data yourself. As we’ve talked about – if you want to prove you’re right, try prove yourself wrong. Mulder is fine being wrong and doing the “wrong thing,” but doing the “wrong thing” gnaws at Scully.

Again, Scully doesn’t sees evidence of alien life herself for several seasons, so because she doesn’t see them, she denies their reality. And we know as viewers that she isn’t right! Reality for Dana Scully is oftentimes skewed by her limited perception of things, which isn’t wrong or bad – it’s just, limited.

What you saw as him being kind of jerk, I saw him as being protective of his pet project. Regardless of her gender, he knows Scully is a rule follower whose assignment is to be a mole on the X-Files – just so that top brass can snoop around in his business. The very same top brass whom he suspects is behind some of the crazy conspiracy things he sees (and he’s right). I’d be cranky as all get-out toward anyone hired by the bad guys to snoop around in my shop!

I’ll admit though, Mulder does sometimes comes up with big ol’ whoppers of stories and explanations. He is more prone to looking to the supernatural. He calls them hunches, you call it intuition. Science calls it unconscious cognitive processing, and it means that Mulder’s extensive amount of experience and exposure allows his mind to quickly recognize patterns and act upon them. That’s experience and corresponding wiring that Scully doesn’t have yet, and it takes her many seasons to even begin to cross that threshold. So sometimes what comes out of his mouth just sounds outlandish since it’s not the norm, and that’s off putting. But it doesn’t mean it’s incorrect (Galileo, anyone?).


Leslie: So they are two extremes, basically. I think Scully and Mulder are ideal partners; Mulder needs someone who can help bring him back to earth, so to speak, and help bolster the analysis that support his theories.

Julia: I agree – as much as they drive each other crazy, they’re great together. Mulder does need that, and Scully needs Mulder to help her broaden her thinking and explore what may be beyond her scope of expertise. It’s a perfect match.

Leslie: Do you know what else is a perfect match? Wine and dark chocolate.

Julia: Yes please!

 

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Categories: Faith + Beliefs, Science 101 + Mythbusting