X-Files mythology, TenThirteen Interviews Database, and more

Written By: A Viral Inspector: The science advisor to Chris Carter's The X-Files takes no credit

Written By
A Viral Inspector: The science advisor to Chris Carter’s The X-Files takes no credit
Richard Stayton

By Anne Simon, Ph.D. (as told to Richard Stayton)

This is Chris’ show. He writes it. He’s the creative force behind it. All I do is help with the science. I’ve occasionally gotten some of my original ideas on the show, but the most is a line, and it’s up to him to use it or not. He’ll call me and say, “How can I tag someone with their small pox vaccine?” I didn’t come up with tagging someone with small pox vaccine. He did. I just gave him some science.

I always say, “Oh, just e-mail it to me. Let me look at it first, and I’ll make sure that the science is correct.” But it’s his storyline. His story. His idea. He writes the scripts. All I do is help a friend.

It’s because of my dad [writer Mayo Simon]. I’m very sensitive to how little control that you have in Hollywood and how upset my dad got when people were taking credit for things that he had written. And in science we really don’t like it when people take credit for our ideas, and we’re very careful to attribute things in science. We’re careful about what we’ve done and what we have not done. I understand the pain that writers go through.

When people take credit for your writing, it’s terrible. You’ll have this wonderful movie, and who gets the credit? It’s the director who did it, and it’s the actors who did it, and who mentions the writers? And it’s ridiculous. It’s the writer who did it. The director is just going from the script, and the actors are just doing what the director says that’s in the script. I grew up with that.

During my book tour, I’d make reporters swear that they would not say that I wrote for the show. “I’m a science advisor,” I’d tell them, “I help with the science.” They end up writing, “She writes for The X-Files.” And I think, My God! I know what my dad would think. So I began the interviews by saying, “You’re a writer. You know what it would be like if somebody took credit for your writing. Well, think about how I feel when people write that I am doing the writing and providing the creative ideas behind what somebody else is doing.”

Contacts and Connections

When I was much younger and living with my parents in Pacific Palisades, Chris’ wife was a friend of my dad’s. So Chris was over at Thanksgiving, Passover, the usual affairs. I got to know him as a really cute surfer, which was what I thought of him. He was gorgeous: blond and always tan. I didn’t think about him as a writer at all. His wife was the writer.

Then when I got my assistant professorship at the University of Massachusetts, I didn’t really think about Chris until five years later. I was going through the TV Guide, seeing if there was anything on, and I read this description for this show on Fox: two FBI agents investigating cases of the paranormal. I like science fiction, and I thought this could be a really interesting show, especially because it describes the woman as a medical doctor and scientist. I was watching the show every week, and about halfway through the first season I get this call from my mother and she says, “Do you know that Chris has a new show called The X-Files?”

Chris is a real fan of science. In another life he would be a scientist.

Once I had corrected a script. But I said, “Do you realize this term is incorrect? Do you want to have it wrong in the script?” He said, “Yeah, it’s more conversational.”

Chris and I discussed whether or not you could have virus in pollen. I said, “Sure, I could do it. It would have been tricky. But you can do pretty much anything.” So he sends me this film script. And I’m number 10 to see it because the scripts were all numbered. Our names stamped on every page. Mine was spelled incorrectly. I got to look at my incorrect name on every single page.

I’m reading the script, and Chris starts talking about how the virus gets into a person and turns into this horrible alien organism. Chris’ idea was that the virus was the original inhabitant of the planet. But when I’m reading it, it’s like the virus turns into this horrible creature. And he’s describing the big black eyes of the virus. And I’m going, “Oh my god!” I work on viruses. Viruses can’t turn into anything. If a virus turns into something, it’s not a virus. I was really horrified. So I read the rest of the script, and I came up with a different science that would only change a few conversations, but it would change the idea of what the virus was. And I had my fingers crossed that he’d go for it. If Chris wanted that virus to turn into something, he would’ve done it whether I wanted it to or not. But he loved the new idea: The virus integrates itself into the DNA of the person. That’s what a lot of viruses do, activate a resonant program in the cell. There’s a program in all our cells, in our DNA that starts with that single egg and turns us into a person. And that’s encoded in our genes, in our genetic makeup.

The problem is that there’s a huge amount of DNA we don’t have a clue about. There’s a whole lot of DNA that we call junk DNA. We don’t have a clue what this junk DNA is doing. My idea was the virus activates a resonant program in the junk DNA, and that the junk DNA is actually there to turn a cell into the horrible creature, which means that we are the aliens.

Once Scully was so upset when she had this horribly deformed baby that she accidentally misspoke and called the illness an autozomal dominant disease when it’s really an autozomal recessive disease. There’s a huge difference because if it’s dominant, the parent had to be dead at birth. And that can’t happen if you’re talking about the baby, so obviously you can’t get around that. But there are some people who nitpick and say, “The writer obviously made this bad mistake here.” But I say, “So what? Writers aren’t scientists. I see plenty of mistakes in grant proposals from professional scientists.” It’s not my job to sit here and go through the problems. These are not scientists. They do a terrific job of making the science look real, and occasionally there’s a little problem. So what.

Anne Simon, Ph.D., is Professor and Associate Head of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department at the University of Massachusetts and author of The Real Science Behind The X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants.

Tags: ,

Comments are closed.