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Do Movies Hurt People’s Understanding Of Science?

PhyOrg.com has an article entitled UCF physicist says Hollywood movies hurt students’ understanding of science. Basically, the professors who were interviewed take issue with the implausible physics scenarios we see in movies all the time. From there, they go on to say that many students who take physics classes in college are scared of the course, and are in dire need of re-medial classes just to come up to speed.

To help, Prof. Efthimiou created a class called “Physics in Film” to help alleviate the problems many students have. Not surprisingly, its one of the most popular courses on campus. Now all this is interesting in itself, but the fact that a course like this is needed at all is an indication of the serious lack of science education in pre-college schools today. As stated in the article, this lack of education leads people away from the sciences, and will result in America losing its technological leadership.

The headline really doesn’t capture the real message of the story, that America needs to get is science act together, but reaches for sensationalism, which is another problem in today’s society, but I digress. The upshot: we need better science education at the lower school levels. I’m pleased that my oldest son’s two favorite subjects are math and science. But we can’t expect the school’s to do it all for us. I think we, as parents, need to do more to encourage our kids’ interest in science. That’s where SF comes in.

Yes, SF stories don’t always hew rigorously to science fact. But, they are a gateway to the imagination. Many scientists today where influenced by the original Star Trek TV show and entered various technical fields. So we see that visual SF can have a positive effect on people. What would help would be for Hollywood to produce better, more accurate films and TV programs, but we also need better educational curricula and more engaged parents. I think we can, as a society, interest our kids in science, but it will take a lot of work on the part of a lot people to get there.

I think handing a child an appropriate SF book is a good place to start.

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

3 Comments on Do Movies Hurt People’s Understanding Of Science?

  1. Fiction.

    …as in: “Science FICTION”

    Fiction does not need to be bound by real events. Even the laws of physics are optional. The purpose of fiction (“science” or otherwise) is to entertain. If reality gets in the way, then it can be safely dispensed with in the interest of telling a good story. Hell, there is an entire sub-genre of science FICTION that pretty much depends on the laws of physics being mere “suggestions”: Fantasy. We might as well be talking about how the Harry Potter movies are confusing people about the nature of Wicca.

    Smart people know that there is no air in space and you’ll never actually hear a spaceship explode unless you were on it. Less informed people have no clue about any of that. BOTH groups of people can (and do) enjoy a good exploding spaceship scene in a movie. If we have a problem with people not knowing the laws of physics, the real culprit is society (where “dumb” = “cool”) and the failing educational system. Movies are only confusing people who have already FAILED basic physics!

  2. Well said, Dark Icon.

  3. Anything (science fiction books, movies, fantasy) that makes kids, adults or adults that act like kids dream or imagine is an excellent and necessary art.

    Theoretical physics, for example, takes not only the requisite mathematics and physics background, but it takes a hell of an imagination. How can you conjure up string theory without a great fantasy?

    I do take issue with books or movies that write a story without researching to see if some already known fundamental principle is broken; in my opinion, that’s just careless and should be avoided (as should contrived endings and the like); it should be considered part of the craft.

    But, as Dark Icon said, as long as the story is entertaining….

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