"Star Trek TNG" nitpick: How could the Ferengi not have scientists?

In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dr. Crusher volunteers to help a Ferengi scientist with his astrophysics research. He acknowledges that he is an oddball among his people: “I realize a Ferengi scientist is almost a contradiction in terms.” That makes sense in terms of the profit-obsessed Ferengi culture as presented – pure scientific research is rarely commercially profitable when it’s done; the money is in technical applications, and those take time, usually a whole lot of time. But the Ferengi are also portrayed as a hi-tech spacefaring race. Without their own scientists, how could they ever have gotten off their own planet?

Let’s be serious. The Ferengi are the cartoon version of the eeeeevil businessman. Got it? EEEEEEEEVIL!!! It doesn’t make sense, because it’s based on an absurd assumption. But even then, the writers gave themselves an out. Almost a contradiction, but not quite. Of course if they’re really eeeeevil businesspeople, they just steal technology from other companies, I mean countries, I mean planets…

Yeah, they do that when they can . . . but to be in a position to do it, they would have to develop space travel on their own first, wouldn’t they? I mean, unless they’re such sharp traders that, the first time extraferengarial explorers landed on their planet, the Ferengi bought a starship from them (plus technical manuals, training programs, and all apparatus necessary to build an industrial civilization) for a handful of glass beads and iron cooking pots . . .

Nobody ever seems to ask this same question about the Klingons. For a race so obsessed with killing one another, how did they ever get smart enough to build spaceships?

At least Ferengis have the lobes. Klingons are fucking stupid.

Huh? The Klingons could sell billboard space on those lobes. (Assuming you mean frontal ones.)

He meant ears, I’m assuming, since the Ferengi are at least gifted in that respect.

On our planet you can achieve profit by making a better mousetrap than your competitors. Patent law allows an inventor to profit from his own work. Probably more so on the Ferrengi world. IIRC in the episode the discovery was potentially highly profitable, which is why someone murdered him for it. Also it has been said that the structure of the Ferengi brain gives them all innate mathematecal skills. So really, I don’t see why a Ferengi scientist should be a contradiction at all.

I thought for an instant that he might have meant ears. But the whiplash from the non sequitur gave me a neck cramp. How are the Klingons stupid just because they don’t have big ears?

I could imagine the TOS-era Klingons having scientists, but not the current lobster-heads. I have a hard time imagining Worf and his bretheren being technologically savvy enough to invent the lightbulb. The first time we saw the inside of a Klingon starship, I half-expected to see the hallways lit with flaming torches.

Let’s face it: Star Trek aliens are one-dimensional caricatures.

Actually, Star Trek is inconsistent on this point. In some episodes, “lobes” seems to mean ears. In others, it’s stated that their maths and business acumen comes from the structure of their brains, which have 4 lobes.

Maybe they kick started their space faring by pursuing those technologies that let them get a head started and traded, stole and cheated for the rest?

Well, originally, the Ferengi were supposed to be the primary opposition in TNG (The Next Generation). They certainly fit all the sterotypes certain Hollywood types like to hate. Their first two or three appearances made them look a little silly, but quite efficient. Their Marauders were fully equal to Federation craft, and they appreciated war as well as commerce.

By DS9, however, all aliens worth more than one appearance were reduced to one-note jokes. The Klingons, once a mysterious and deep people, more concerned with galactic politics and workign to end the Federation, had become a race of space vikings who, for no known reason, charged into battle waving swords and still won. Bajorans were religious, etc.

I thought that was a follow on from Star Trek IV, the Klingon Empire broke down and became a little more feudal and less civilised.

Maybe the Ferengi have only gotten this bad in recent times ? Once they are off in space and in contact with other races, they can afford to degenerate into technological parasites, and get what they need from trade/theft.

One of the more amusing and stupid moments in Star Trek: TNG was when they first encounter the Ferengi. Data compares them to “Yankee Traders.” Yankee Traders? Yankee Traders!? Dude, replace the big ears with big noses and the Ferengi become the worst Jewish stereotypes this side of Der Sturmer.

Many of the species in Star Trek were ridiculous. The Klingons were all honor-obsessed warriors. The Ferengi were all money-obsessed lechers. The Vulcans were all emotionless rationalists. On earth, even within individual small countries you have wide variations of personalities, desires, ethical codes, etc. In Star Trek, whole species were all exactly the same.

I entered this thread to comment on this point. I always felt that the Ferengis were just a Jewish stereotype cloaked in big ears. To make it worse, many of the actors who played Ferengi on the show were Jewish. I offer as proof Aron Eisenberg, Armin Shimmerman, Andrea Martin. I wasn’t offened enough to stop watching DS9 but it always bothered me that nobody else caught the racism inherent in the Ferengi depiction.

The Ferengi scientist calling himself “almost a contradiction in terms” would seem to be a sort of kinda-ironic self-effacement from someone who acknowledges there is a reality behind the humans’ stereotyped expectations, and preempts the expected skepticism. (Kinda like the episodes of Queer Eye where they made a running joke of how the “Straight-guy-of-the-week” wrote musicals or was a figure skater.)

Now, let’s consider that in Earth reality, even in human cultures and time periods where there was not much use for pure research, there were in all the societies shamans, herbalist-healers, stargazer-astrologers, alchemists, etc. who, depending on the complexity of the culture, could cooperate with builders, engineers, shipwrights, weaponsmakers, etc. in order to create some slow but real progress. And of course, during periods of turmoil e.g. wars, Ages of Exploration, etc., the need for new tech would be a driver for research.

In the particular scenario of the Trek-verse, they do have the ever-denounced defect of most commercial SF that all alien races seem culturally homogeneous and monolithic (OK, so lemme get this straight, in Earth there are still people who are ethnoculturally Southern USAmerican, Russian, Scots, French, Irish, Japanese, etc.; but all Klingons, all Vulcans, all Romulans, all Cardassians, all Ferengi come in just one flavor? A likely story.). But in that case, it could be a question that their worlds were once multinational and diverse, and there were whole nations with radically different worldviews and “Renaissances” and “Enlightenments” and “Ages of Discovery” wherein art and science for their own sake flourished, and only when they got to the point where there could be mass communications and world-hegemonic powers that could export their culture, did they start homogenizing. But by then the technology sector was advanced enough that they could continue research for the sake of the potential commercial opportunity (Ferengi) or for the potential military application (Klingon).

Still it’s true that some of the minds behind TNG, including Gene himself, were intent on hammering us with the message about what they found wrong in OUR society, thus the whole “oh, look at these Ferengi always thinking of profit, isn’t that worthy of derision?” vibe. But even then they must have realized they could not posit that these peoples were REALLY devoid of scientists.
What I’d like to know is what was up with that one species of really, really, REALLY stoopid aliens who once kidnapped LaForge (“ooh, you’re SMART!”).

Maybe the Ferengi are distantly related to the Pakleds. After all, they *were * presented as not too bright, but managed to acquire what they needed to make their ships go.

Have you ever thought that noone else caught the racism inherent in the Ferengi depiction because it wasn’t there?

He was just being playing to stereotypes and being facetious, like “American ettiqutte expert,” “French hygenist,” or “lover of British cuisine.”