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"Then John Henry, he said to his captain,

He said a man ain’t nothin’ but a man,

But if you bring that steam drill round, I’ll beat it fair and honest,

I’ll die with that hammer in my hand--

But I’ll be laughing, 'cause you can’t replace a steel drivin’ man."
Johnny Cash, The Legend of John Henry's Hammer

In a competition of science and technology versus simple hard work, science and technology will almost invariably lose. See, science finds an easier, faster way to achieve something and is therefore cheating and far less honorable than honest sweat and effort. Thus, no matter how much a scientist researches, experiments and innovates, he will never achieve what someone else can with good old practice and hard work.

This trope works because 1) hardly anyone in the audience knows much about science, and 2) people are always eager to believe that anything they don't understand couldn't possibly be important.

If there's any fair justification for this, it's that the scientist is operating only on booksmarts and theory, or using a untested prototype, and thus lacks the experience necessary to win. Perhaps after lessons learned the first time, a series of rematches would actually go in the scientist's favor from then on. Because of the attitude behind this trope, this rarely happens.

This is not the quite the opposite of Hard Work Hardly Works, because The Gift beats both hard work and science, and science may actually be given a fair shake by being represented as the hard work it is. But science is the lowest spot on the tropic totem pole.

Note that this trope applies equally to scientific or technological methods that are explicitly cheating or explicitly allowed. It doesn't matter if the "scientific" competitor is illegally using steroids, or legitimately pitting man against machine as the whole point of the competition.

Very much related to Dumb Is Good and Rock Beats Laser. Might somehow be related to Reed Richards Is Useless. See also the physical equivalents Technician Versus Performer (where The Gift overcomes intense training) and Good Old Fisticuffs (where simple fists beats flashy kicks).

Whenever this trope shows up, the ideological basis for the conflict is usually Romanticism Versus Enlightenment, with the Romanticist good guys taking on the Enlightened scientists.

Further, there are two different flavors of this trope. If the point is to stress the importance of hard work, then the technological/scientific opponent is presented as an intimidating Goliath that the plucky underdog must struggle to overcome. This can be done fairly enough - after all, hard work IS very important.

But if the point is, instead, to deride technology or science as unworthy of human effort and manly men, the opponent is presented as a total joke and the hard worker wins easily. A Straw Man propaganda story. Also, what this trope consistently forgets is that science is hard work, requiring considerable intelligence, as well as lengthy and difficult procedures to create anything useful. Yet rarely or never is the hard work of the science-user shown on screen in relation to plain old guts.


  • This is Older Than Radio due to the legend of John Henry, which is perhaps the defining example. Steel-driving man versus steel-driving machine... Man wins, but dies soon after. Even the mightiest of steel drivin' men would have to kill himself to barely beat out modern machinery. Man might win the moral victory, but machinery wins the long race.
  • Amino High School in Eyeshield 21 - whilst they have turned themselves into impossibly large-muscled superhumans using a variety of advanced methods, the Devilbats win in part because they've just returned from their Training From Hell, "the Death March." Subverted in that it's explained why they lost: the Amino team may be juiced-up and muscular, but their minimal training left them with poor endurance and a mediocre grasp of football fundamentals compared to the Devil Bats.
  • Rocky IV. Ivan Drago is given steroids, computer monitors and high-tech work-out equipment to show his superhuman development. Rocky trains with farm equipment in a barn. In spite of being physically inferior, Rocky wins the day through heart. This is a bit of a case of Science Marches On, as strength-training machines such as those used by Drago have been revealed to be inferior to Rocky's old-fashioned free weights.
  • In Shaolin Soccer, the monks use their supernatural kung fu techniques against Team Evil's American steroids and high-tech training. The monks can only barely hang on, but ultimately pull out the victory with the unbeatable combination of two powerful techniques.
  • The baking contest between Kazuma Azuma and Shigeru Kanmuri in Yakitate!! Japan. Shigeru is a Harvard graduate majoring in food science, whereas Kazuma is the Genius Ditz, who works mainly by intuition and random inspiration. Kazuma wins, of course.
  • In Twister, The Rival is almost totally dependent on his weather-tracking technology to find and rate tornadoes while the heroes use their gut instincts and, more importantly, their past experiences with giant storms. However, he had simply taken the heroes' technology and gotten corporate backing - all the concept and experiments behind it had been done by the heroes, who were better scientists than he was.
  • The Pokémon series had an example where Ash was up against a trainer who constantly statistically analysed all the Pokemons' abilities and used it to direct his Pokemon in battle. While this served him well for a time, when battling Ash, the weakness was exposed that when the battle got too fast, he couldn't focus on both his Pokemon and his laptop at the same time. (That and the fact that Ash's Pokemon started giving off "impossible" numbers).
    • Another Pokemon example came when Ash battled his Pikachu against the Cubone of an Insufferable Genius from the Pokemon Academy. Due to type advantage, Cubone was immune to Pikachu's electricity, but Ash was able to beat it by battling with trickery and speed. The genius was taken back by this idea, having fought her Pokemon mostly in simulators and never seen a Pikachu win without electricity.
  • More clear in Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, where Lt. Sterling points out "Skill over Technology". And humans indeed win the combat against robotic shadows
  • Virtually every series featuring combat robots will have them defeated by human opponents. If there are different groups of humans, the one with less tech will win (Like Vipers Mk II in Battlestar Galactica).
  • In Soldier, Kurt Russell plays a veteran super-soldier who is pit against a group of genetically-engineered uber-soldiers. Russell loses to the new soldiers in purely physical contests, but when it comes to the battlefield, he slaughters them all single-handedly using his superior tactics and cunning gained from years of experience.
  • Possibly played in Reaper Man, where Death is just barely beaten in a corn-harvesting competition by a "combination harvester". Though this is because Death insists on harvesting the corn one stalk at a time...