Bashing Science December 28, 2007Posted by gordonwatts in Pop Culture, science.
I’ve not seen the new Will Smith movie, I am a Legend. I’d had no real plans to see it. My mother-in-law handed me a Dan Gardner column on the movie (warning: it contains spoilers). I’m even less inclined to see the movie now.
But Gardner’s thesis is interesting: bashing science in a popular movie doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Bashing religion does:
As the controversy over The Golden Compass amply demonstrated, it’s impossible for a major movie to include even veiled criticisms of Church and Faith without generating angry denunciations and calls for boycotts. But release a movie that explicitly scorns Science and Reason, a movie that vilifies technology, a movie that claims there is superior wisdom in prophecy and superstition – do that and there won’t be a peep of protest.
The plot of this movie sounds a lot like Jurassic Park — arrogant scientist tries to over rule the “natural order” and is wiped aside. However, unlike JP, this movie sounds like faith and religion and belief there-in are what saves (read the column to find out more if you aren’t planning on seeing the movie).
In the first place, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to have the same sort of protests and calls for boycott when a movie like this comes out. Science can stand on its own two feet — it must be, by its very nature, self consistent, and so should be able to withstand any sort of attack like this. Besides, this is a movie. It is entertainment. I like science fiction – even Star Trek. Warp speed? Clearly a fiction (warp speed is faster than the speed of light). Star wars? Same thing.
On the other hand, I’m uneasy. Look at the doubt that the Bush administration has been able to sow in the USA by repeating over and over, very loudly, that climate change is not a problem. There is no scientific evidence for that position. Yet, a good fraction of the US believes it (fortunately, that fraction is dwindling by the minute).
Gardner has another good point, which matches both Paula and my readings of the various movie reviews out there:
Reviewers often mentioned that the movie touches on deep themes but none that I know of spelled them out.
I think the reviewers could easily have brought up the “themes” without spoiling the ending: science and religion and their roll in society, or similar. Why not (ex: NYTimes)?
In the end, I love entertainment. Movies, TV shows, the web, stories, fiction, etc. And I don’t really care what people write or film – but as a society we have to keep them separate from real life. Science is science, and sometimes, unfortunately, it doesn’t really tell us what we want to hear.
Have you seen the show House? A seriously dysfunctional pain-killer-popping diagnostician goes around solving those cases that no one else can — he sees patients only after everyone else has given up? I think of that as a science-positive show. House and his team uses science, logic, and sometimes gut instinct to solve various medical cases. They don’t always make it. And they leave room for faith in there too – there was one episode (which I can’t find) where shear faith by another doctor (Cuddy) saved the day. I remember the end of that when Cuddy says something like “see — I was right” and House responds with something to the effect of “No, that was a bad decision – the statistics all go against what you did; I was right all along; you were lucky.” That is keeping science in its proper place.
Or maybe I’m taking this waaaay to seriously.
I’ll end with another quote from Gardner:
Of course, it probably didn’t occur to the makers of I Am Legend that many of them would be dead – or would never have been born – if it weren’t for those well-meaning but foolish scientists. Ditto for the audience. Our ingratitude for the bounty of science is boundless.