Dr. Kel Burtt is currently a AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow working with the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).
At the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in San Diego, there were several discussions about the interaction between the scientific and entertainment communities. One particular panel, organized by the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences (and recently featured on the Armed with Science webcast) raised many questions about how science is used and/or represented in various media, from movies to TV shows to comic books.
One big question raised: Is there an obligation for the entertainment community to be 100% correct in the portrayal of science? The entertainment community is in the business of…well…entertaining. And, the more entertaining something is, in general, the larger the audience it creates. Is there perhaps a benefit to the scientific community from entertainment media that isn’t completely scientifically accurate but still raises valid and worthwhile issues?
An example was presented at the panel about two movies dealing with the issue of climate change. One was the 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow”, which grossed ~$500 Million worldwide. The other was the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” which grossed ~$50 Million. The former is not nearly as scientifically accurate about climate change (but still was correct in broad terms – many of the inaccuracies dealt with how fast climate change problems could occur) while reaching 10 times the audience of the latter movie. So which movie did a better job raising awareness of climate change issues? Interesting questions to be thought about.
The same panel discussion also raised questions of the use of new media, such as the YouTube clips to reach larger audiences. One panelist by the name of Jim Kakalios, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota, was a consultant for the recent comic book movie “Watchmen”. He has a YouTube video on the “Science of Watchmen” that has been viewed over 1.5 million times (see below). By combining the scientific discussion with a pop culture subject, and using a non-traditional teaching medium, he was able to reach exponentially more “students” than he could by teaching his normal university classes.
Overall, the panel discussion (along with several others along similar lines at the conferences) raised a great many questions that are worth contemplation. And these questions can be asked by the DoD scientific community as well.
What do you think are the best ways to present DoD-specific scientific issues, concerns, problems, successes to a broader audience? What lessons can be learned? Interesting questions, indeed.