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The hotline Hollywood calls for science advice


There’s this scene in the movie Arrival
where Jeremy Renner’s character, who’s a scientist, is brought in to try to help the military
deal with alien spaceships that have landed across the globe. And in an early version of the script, he asks
if the aliens have responded to Fourier series sent out by the humans. Problem is, that wasn’t really the right
math reference. “Well, a Fourier series is a mathematical
concept, but it’s not, like, a series of numbers so I, I changed that to Fibonacci series — which
is in fact a series of numbers that aliens might actually send us as a way of getting
our attention.” Phil is an astronomer and science blogger,
and he’s also part of the Science and Entertainment Exchange, an organization that connects creators
in Hollywood with scientist script advisors. They set up a phone number for screenwriters
like Arrival’s Eric Heisserer, who want their scientific references to sound right. “Here’s one of the things I wanted to
make sure to do with this movie — and that’s not to be embarrassed about complicated ideas,
not to be embarrassed or ashamed of hard science. That these are the words and the terms that
people in this position would be sharing with each other.” Phil’s advice to use “fibonacci” added
that extra bit of credibility. “And a I didn’t really think much of that
but then you know, I go see the movie, and Jeremy Renner actually says that…. “Have they responded to anything — shapes,
patterns, numbers, Fibonacci?” “… and I’m nudging my wife like, pointing,
pointing to the screen, pointing, like yeah, he said what I wrote, that’s so cool!” There’s a lot of really bad science in TV
and movies. “I’m getting hacked!” There’s bad computer science, bad geology,
bad physics. So in 2008, the Office of Communications at
the National Academy of Sciences launched the Science and Entertainment Exchange. Here’s how it works: you call the number,
you describe your question, and then the team filters through their database of 2,400 scientists
and engineers to put you in touch with the right person. They estimate that they’ve done between
1700 and 1800 consultations since they started. That includes almost every Marvel movie, and
two 2017 Oscar nominees. A lot of times, the consultation boils down
to changing a line to include a scientific concept. In early discussions for the 2011 Thor movie,
producer Kevin Feige needed a way to represent the “rainbow bridge” that reaches between
Earth and the realm of the Gods in Norse mythology. So he met with Sean Carroll, a physics professor,
who later paraphrased their conversation in a blog post. Carroll suggested they describe the bridge
as wormhole. Feige didn’t want to do that, because it
sounded too Nineties. MERCHANT: And he said, “Well, there is this
thing called the Einstein-Rosen bridge.” “Einstein-Rosen bridge? What is that?” Einstein-Rosen Bridge is the technical name
for a wormhole. And they said “We LOVE Einstein-Rosen bridge.” Listen to the dialogue in the movie, and you
can hear where they added in the concept of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge. “An Einstein-Rosen Bridge is a theoretical connection between two different points of space-time.” “It’s a wormhole.” But the team’s focus isn’t just about
what characters are saying — it’s also about who is saying them. In the original Thor comics, Natalie Portman’s
character — Jane Foster — is a nurse. The physics professor who consulted the filmmakers
argued that it would make more sense for the plot if she was a physicist studying the
wormhole that brought Thor to Earth. And for the Exchange, that sounded like the
perfect opportunity to break down gender stereotypes. “We love nurses, but we also really love
the idea of a strong female character who was an astrophysicist.” So the writers changed it. “You’re an astrophysicist, not some storm
chaser.” “I’m telling you, there’s a connection.” Two years later, that character was the focal
point of a contest hosted by Marvel and the Science and Entertainment Exchange, where
young women interested in STEM careers could interview female scientists in the Exchange’s
database for a chance to tour laboratories and film sets. “We are very concerned with the way that
scientists are portrayed onscreen. We want them to be — I mean, you always
want them to be the hero, that’s the best thing — and a main character is fantastic. But we want to see women, we want to see people
of color, and we want to see them woven into the fabric of the everyday life that you see
onscreen.” Since 1983, repeated studies have shown that
when children are asked to draw a scientist, they overwhelmingly draw old, white men. Children usually cite film or cartoon characters
as their main source of inspiration. In the original research, children drew these
stereotypical characteristics more and more frequently as they got older. Science has had another image issue in Hollywood,
too. A survey of over a thousand horror movies
distributed in Britain between 1931 and 1984 found that scientists and their work were
the villains of 41 percent of films. Scientists were heroes less than 1 percent
of the time. In the decades since then, perceptions of
science have gotten better. An analysis of over 3,000 interviews on public
opinion about scientists found that American adults in 2001 were much less likely to hold
negative stereotypes about scientists than they were in 1983. And they were much more likely to believe
that a science career was a good choice for their children or for themselves. “I mean, people do learn from film and television. Whether you want them to or not. We often refer to it as an ‘accidental curriculum.’” One of the most talked-about examples of that
is what’s called the CSI Effect — the idea that chart-topping crime shows increased
interest in forensic science, but also spread a lot of misinformation about
the field. CSI didn’t just launch a franchise, it created a false impression when it comes to solving crimes. Researchers in 2010 found that watching the
show is associated with perceptions of DNA evidence as much more reliable than it actually
is. The Exchange wants to mobilize that kind of
effect — and hopefully make science more understandable and more accessible for everyone.

100 Comments

  1. Matthew Walton Author

    Okay how did this turn from being a simple phone number that Hollywood producers consult when in need of advice to a rant on the "all scientists are old white men" stereotype? Well Vox, I have something to tell you: the reason why many scientists are white men is because they are more likey than minority groups to work their asses off in grade school and attend a nice college afterward. I am aware that the Asian community is especially proficient in the academic world, but many of them choose to become doctors instead, and why wouldn't they? It pays better. Women, on the other hand, before the 2nd wave feminist movement in the 1970's, were seen as housekeepers and their first priority would be to look after the kids and complete the necessary chores than inevitably comes with home ownership, as it has been for the thousands of years human civilization has existed. Only very recently has the gender roles twisted around and the perception of science being a male-dominant field is just lagging behind. Give it time, and I'm sure that future generations will begin to draw males as well as females in equal numbers donning lab coats. God, 3rd wave feminism is the absolute worst.

    Reply
  2. Supernova12034 Author

    goddamn, science is about discovery, and the truth. It does not care if you are a women, or a black. FFS they trying to bring PC to science now….

    Reply
  3. SlayTheRake Author

    I would counter with the idea that the stereotype of the crazy old scientist with all-over-the-place hair and very pale skin is entertaining in and of itself, which is why tv uses it, it's instantly recognizeable as a 'scientist' and so that's what kids draw.

    Reply
  4. MARK MAHAN Author

    There is no true hard sciences. What we know can be termed known! But hard science is a false statement. Look at all the "hard science" that was know for years. Only to be questioned or doubted now. Science is evolutionary, because we are constantly finding out how little we actually know. The only why we will have hard science is when there is nothing left to know. But that will probably never happen. With the shear size of the macroscopic and the visual universe. Never mind the processes of the earth's land masses. With all of the plants, animal, bacteria, and viruses. The oceans and lakes. Deserts, rainforests….. U see my point. There is more to learn about just the planet we inhabit. Let alone the closest heavily bodies in space. So do we have hard science? Just remember that most of the higher sciences are made of theories. Our histories are full of theories as well. Assumptions based on theory are constantly being revaluated. We have more theory than anything about just humans.

    Reply
  5. Brony Philosopher Author

    Honestly, I could see why Science wants to preserve its image, like how people think of good Scientist like "Bill nye the science guy" or "Carl Sagon" rather all those other scientist that contributed much more than them

    Reply
  6. 415 k1ub Author

    The Office of Communications at the National Academy of Science launched the Science and Entertainment Exchange. So a group of scientists eventually got so fed up by the bad science in movies and tv that they made the thing.

    Reply
  7. Siana Gearz Author

    Would you like to expand on what shows like CSI teach us wrong in general, taking a step beyond things that are obviously hilarious and wrong?

    Reply
  8. deven blake Author

    1:30 (NCIS bad science clip) There's a fan theory that might explain the logic there, though: NCIS is (possibly) Gibbs' story about his team and how it evolved over the years, and because he doesn't really know about computers it could just be that he remembers it differently. As of now I don't think this is canon so you can take this fact with a grain of salt.

    Reply
  9. SantaMuerte1813 Author

    So what are the implications of scientists being more likely to be the villain than the hero in horror movies? None, because it has nothing to do with a bad reputation of science, but instead with the way a horror plot works. In horror the hero has to be the most ill-fitted person in the situation. You want the ordinary guy in there, no crisis training, no understanding of the matter. The villain on the other hand has to be powerful/in control of the situation.

    Reply
  10. [TSN] Stonepilot Author

    why are all the comments political? Also, why did this turn into the perceptions of science… I just wanted to know about the hotline lol.

    Reply
  11. Giacomo Zundo Author

    If you knew anything about science, you would know that DNA evidence is almost 100 percent certain. It's the most reliable way to find the culprit because the chance that someone shares identical DNA with someone else is almost nonexistent (except for identical twins of course)

    Reply
  12. Matt Merrill Author

    "Draw an actor"
    everyone proceeds to draw men acting
    "Guess people think only men can be actors"
    That's probably how those test were done. (fyi Only actors are men because women are actress.)

    Reply
  13. Sweet Potato, BEST POTATO!!!!!!!! Author

    Dear everyone who thinks they were promoting SJW BS near the end: They weren’t. They were simply explaining the reasons why the science and entertainment exchange was invented…

    Reply
  14. Billy R Author

    When Vox stick to facts instead of whining about some imaginary injustice they can make a good video. As for their other ones, at least some of their titles like "color film was built for white people" let you know what you're about to watch. In this video the switch to whining about children drawing old white men and how scientists were misrepresented as being evil came out of nowhere. Well done on luring me in for about four minutes before letting me see what your agenda was. Well played.

    Reply
  15. tj22 Author

    Women can do anything…
    …Except enter the STEM field without massive amounts of hand holding, social prodding, financial assistance, and Hollywood propaganda.

    ^Of course, I'm only kidding. But that actually is the implicit message of the demagogues who spread the kinds of messages like the one Vox has presented here. There's no evidence that young women are being discouraged from joining STEM. The fact is, even with us actively encouraging (ie forcing) it in the ways I listed above, most young women still don't want to do it.

    The greatest bit of evidence that the "women in STEM" discussion is purely political indoctrination is this: nobody asks for more women in coal mines, more women electricians, more women operating forklifts, more women driving school buses, more women loggers, etc. The things people want more women in are: Doctors, Lawyers, CEOs, and STEM. In other words, they're only interested in stacking elite positions with women, not with equality or proportionality as they claim.

    Reply
  16. Felix O. Author

    The problem. is that this whole stereotype debate leads to women and people of colors having special events and projects dedicated to them which provides them with opportunities that a white man wouldn't have.

    Reply
  17. Michal Valta Author

    Of course she was a nurse in comic books… It makes sense when you know Thor's human name was Donald Blake and he was a doctor.

    Reply
  18. samdum :0 Author

    video: [mentions that people predominantly picture scientists as evil old white dudes, which is not exactly accurate]
    comments: RAAAAAAH SJWS !! IDENTITY POLITICS!! GO MAKE ME A SANDWICH!!

    Reply
  19. Bjørn Bjørnsson Author

    Wait… Why was the Science and Entertainment Exchange contacted for help on Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter? Are there vampire experts there?

    Reply
  20. Martyn IRL Author

    I too want to see more people get into the professions of science and technology but I came here to watch a video about Hollywoods science hotline not about diversity.

    Reply
  21. Phyzin Author

    Every Vox video has the same problem with diverging theses. If you're going to talk about A as a jumping off point to B, don't title your work as A. Stick to B, and reword A to support B.

    Reply
  22. Amara Jordan Author

    I am not at all against having a video about women in STEM careers and those portrayals or lack thereof in movies, but I’d like the video to be about that. This was supposed to be about Hollywood getting science help. I was very interested to hear various projects they helped on and what gets changed. I’d have preferred more examples. This video was way too short to split in half on the topic. If it was 20 minutes I’d still be a bit upset. Maybe 1/4 would be okay, if it was longer. But this feels like, not clickbait, but a bait and switch.

    Be better than this.

    Reply
  23. Mark Fennell Author

    I would love to see more white male scientists and the movies. I am a white male scientists.

    Tesla, Newton, Bohr, Faraday are all white male scientists.

    Reply
  24. Mark Fennell Author

    If you want to represent reality in movies, then do this: your smart scientist should be male, white. Preferably from Germany, Russia, or Denmark.

    Your enemy, your evil villains, should be women from Berkeley. Or the Rothschild family.

    There is your reality.

    Reply
  25. bad99teddy Author

    So directors don't like the reality of the maturity of male scientists so they make their movies less acourate….This is a video about a Hotline for accurate SCI-FI info.

    Reply
  26. ThatOneGuy Author

    Goes from talking about accurate science in movies to gender politics. Can Vox ever do a video where they don’t whine about how ”oppressed” women or other races are?

    Reply
  27. CornHub Premium Author

    I hate analysis like this because it is not the responsibility of entertainers to change people perception it is the viewers responsibility to have a realistic perception of the world it’s pretty simple

    Reply
  28. Ang Author

    everybody tries to encourage kids to do STEM, but also fails to mention that becoming a science researcher is nearly impossible. that is the worst stereotype that movies/tv teach: that it's a realistic career that anyone can achieve

    Reply
  29. Richard Pauli Author

    The Sharknado movies are still great entertainment. … no make that intense, fun entertainment. Thanks for this really important video.

    Reply

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