Although I have no interest whatsoever in seeing The Happening and I’m not particularly enthused about the new Incredible Hulk, I couldn’t help but observe this years’ (so-far mediocre) crop of summer movies features a few scientists as heroes. First there was archaeologist Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and yesterday audiences could see Edward Norton take up the role of fictional scientist Bruce Banner in The Incredible Hulk (“Doc Bruce Banner, Pelted by gamma rays, Turned into the Hulk. Ain’t he unglamorous!“). While not featuring a heroic scientist per se, the protagonist of the newly released The Happening is a elementary school science teacher who tries to figure out why people are feeding themselves to lions and throwing themselves under lawnmowers, among other things, therefore fitting into the general category I’m talking about here.

How do such films shape public opinion about science and scientists? Is there even recognition that the protagonists are scientists or are we so wrapped up in their abilities/the problems they face that it is irrelevant? For better or for worse scientists are still appearing in major films, and since I’m going to be hiking for most of the day I thought that I would open such questions up for discussion. What do you think?


  1. #1 Podblack
    June 14, 2008

    There’s actually quite a bit of research on this, which I’ve blogged:

    And yes, I’m a former English teacher, who cared about what I taught to my students. My Year 10s were the best students of the genetics unit held in the Science classes, due to GATTACA!

  2. #2 natural cynic
    June 14, 2008

    The thing that I detest the most about the depiction of science in so many movies is the lone wolf scientist with his odd hypothesis that turns out to be true while everyone else is wrong. I think that this gives rise to so many creationists thinking that their one point will unravel the whole ToE or heliocentrism or BB or whatever. The lack of collaboration between scientists in all these movies is rather obvious and unrealistic.

  3. #3 podblack
    June 14, 2008

    Well, I’ve posted about this before – one of the impacts it has is the public perception of scientists…

    As I say in those posts, you might like to check out the work of Biotechnology Australia, a government-funded group who have done some work on the perception of biotechnology and found that misinterpretations of science concepts can be inspired by such films, even in today’s ‘online information rich’ environment.

  4. #4 Peter Bond
    June 15, 2008

    I saw the Incredible Hulk yesterday and it was excellent! Much better than the annoying first Hulk movie.
    Anyway, scientists-in-movies bring the focus of science to children. Children who become interested in science and then go on to choose a life in science (scientist, teacher, artist, etc..)
    Also, hero-scientists are much better than crazed, evil mad scientists!

  5. #5 Blake Stacey
    June 15, 2008

    The only disappointing thing about the scientist/engineer in Iron Man is that by midway through the movie, he has a power source capable of providing stupendous quantities of clean energy, and an AI which could pass the Turing Test if it cared. . . and judging from the stinger scene after the credits, the next movie will involve him and Samuel L. Jackson beating people up. Yeah, Jackson is a BMF — his only weakness is raptors — but, sheesh, people, use some imagination!

  6. #6 Michael Suttkus, II
    June 16, 2008

    Ah, but that is the problem, Reed Richards is Useless, as says.

    I remember when I was a kid, watching monster movies. Most of them had scientist heroes, or at the very least, the hero had scientist backup. It made scientists look important. It’s a large part of my ongoing fascination with science. I’ve long lamented the loss of the scientist hero.

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