Taking science too seriously

Real science can’t compete at the movies with bad science. So writes my erstwhile colleague, the estimable Philip Ball, at news at nature.com.

" "I’m arresting you for breaking the laws of physics," says the policeman to the levitating man, in a cartoon that speaks volumes about the curiously legalistic terminology that science sometimes adopts. In this spirit, two physicists [Efthimiou and Llewellyn] at the University of Central Florida in Orlando seem intent on making a citizen’s arrest of all of Hollywood. In a preprint, they examine some egregious physical errors in recent blockbusters."

In the article discussed by Phil, the authors explain (with equations) why the bus in Speed couldn’t jump the gap, why the Green Goblin in Spiderman couldn’t hold up the cable in the New York tramway, and so on. The words "point" and "missing" come to mind.

As Phil more eloquently puts it: "Should we endorse the violations of physics routinely perpetrated by Hollywood? Efthimiou and Llewellyn clearly think not. I would argue that you might as well complain about ‘errors’ in the Greek myths or fairy tales, or Warner Brothers cartoons."

 

4 thoughts on “Taking science too seriously

  1. Phil put it nicely. While the best science fiction is firmly grounded in genuine science, that’s not necessary to the enjoyment of stuff like “Star Wars,” where the sound of blasters somehow carry through the vacuum of space.

  2. I also think scientists quite like to relax by laughing at the bad science in films! It is their little in-joke that the rest of us don’t get.

  3. The issue becomes more important when what appears in fiction films is taken to heart by the general public – in short, when inaccurate entertainment is treated as a documentary profile and begins to effect decision-making on a broad level. This is not uncommon for serious films without science, which people may be “influenced” by: war movies, fictionalized biographies, etc. It happens less often with science because there are fewer films even marginally realistic. But it does happen – “The China Syndrome” is a good example.

  4. The issue becomes more important when what appears in fiction films is taken to heart by the general public – in short, when inaccurate entertainment is treated as a documentary profile and begins to effect decision-making on a broad level. This is not uncommon for serious films without science, which people may be “influenced” by: war movies, fictionalized biographies, etc. It happens less often with science because there are fewer films even marginally realistic. But it does happen – “The China Syndrome” is a good example.

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