Earlier this week the BBC published an article titled “Does Jurassic Park make Scientific Sense“- the answer in short is No!! But, for me that doesn’t really matter. I would be watching the film for the action, not for the science.
But, this article did get me thinking about the portrayal of Science throughout media. Science is often portrayed unscientifically… but thats not really that odd. There are a lot of subjects which are not shown accurately in the media- its widely known, for example, that programmes with a historical backdrop often show various historical inaccuracies.
But having said that, there are a few things about how science and scientists are portrayed in the media which are… less than ideal.
Why does this matter? Movies, TV shows and books have a huge audience, and as such, are a powerful portrayal of science and scientists- and in turn can alter what people think of science and scientists overall.
This is not to say that the portrayal of science and scientists in the media is always bad, however, there are definitely instances where its portrayal is troublesome. Here are a few examples of science inaccuracies and portrayals of science in general, which in my view, are not good for science.
We can give you good usable data in an hour….
Ha ha ha!! If only!
Even though we as scientists know that, for example the identification of a DNA sequence from say a piece of cloth will probably take a few days to do (by the time you have extracted DNA, amplified it, sequenced it…) often you see people getting DNA results back in 2 hours on tv shows!! That just isn’t how it works!! This gives people the wrong idea entirely, and sets them up for disappointment when they find out that they won’t get an answer straight away.
We can splice together all sorts to make a genetic monster.
When the last Jurrassic park film came out there was a huge and super clever dinosaur that had been made by scientists. These clever scientists had found a way to splice together DNA from a tree frog (for camoflage) and cuttle fish, as well as DNA from about another 5 dinosaurs and a few other mammals for good measure. Realistically, mixing and matching genes from across different animals, and many thousands of years is not going to work- or at least won’t produce a dinosaur with particular traits…. The problem is that there is already a lot of wild speculation and negativity towards genetic modification.
Many scientists watched this film guffawing at this new genetic hybrid dinosaur. But, when you have heard rumours about a tomato which had fish genes added to it, and scientists exploring the possibility of bringing wooly mammoths back- does it really seem so out of this world? I mean, who actually knows what sort of experiments are being done behind the closed doors of labs?
We know everything from Biology, to Quantum physics.
This would be a nice thing- but most of us do not understand the workings of a fusion power plant as well as how to maintain cell cultures. In fact, as we progress in our scientific careers our knowledge slowly gets greater around a increasingly shrinking part of science! This means realistically you could not stick a Biologist like me in a Physics lab and expect me to be able to correct an experiment thats gone wrong!!
What a scientist looks like… and how we act.
Scientists are white and old, apart from female scientists who are white with the bodies of models. Seriously??!! Do I even need to go into what is wrong with this….
We now know that kids look at people in movies, and on TV as role models. They are also more likely to find something aspirational if they can relate to themselves, so if there are no scientists on tv which look like them, or come from backgrounds like them…
We are geniuses who don’t know how to interact with other people, and who only care about our science- regardless of the consequences.
This is so wrong, on so many levels. This is a cliche which is shown across all medias- the awkward scientist, the guy who doesn’t know how to talk to girls, the the inability to relate to anyone emotionally. We aren’t like that! We are normal people, who happen to wear a lab coat to work rather than a suit.
Luckily, it does look like the portrayal of science may be beginning to change (albeit very slowly.) But, in the meantime its down to us real scientists to show the world what we are really like and what we really do!