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Are movies/films to blame for the misconceptions in science?

  1. Mar 24, 2013 #1
    Hi all.

    Have anyone came across readings/ articles that show that the misconception of science was mainly due to the media, especially movies? I'm interested to know why people have so many misconceptions about science in relation to the pseudoscience shown in movies. :smile:

    Any article appreciated. Thanks! :biggrin:
     
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  3. Mar 24, 2013 #2

    arildno

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    Was there a more correct public perception of science in the 19th century, when there were NO films or movies?

    Basically, you have turned the problem upside down:
    The major reason why there are so many misconceptions about science in movies and films is that to have MIS-conceptions of science is a perfectly natural thing to have, that only can be eliminated by actually studying science. Since most people do not study science, their misconceptions will remain, whether they work in media or elsewhere.
     
  4. Mar 24, 2013 #3
    I see. I didn't thought of that. Thanks.

    What about the people who watch movies? Do they readily accept ideas presented to them (whether real science or pseudoscience)? If they do, should there be greater effort to educate the public (at least in the universities) on the pseudoscience in movies? I'm just thinking about the possible impact on society. If people have these misconceptions about science, then learning new related science ideas may be hindered.
     
  5. Mar 24, 2013 #4

    arildno

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    People (including you and me) are not gullible in general, but "suffer" from bad judgment (gullibility and bad judgment is not the same!). The less you are interested in a particular topic, the worse your sense of judgment will remain, due to lack of knowledge, a knowledge that only those interested in the topic will bother to acquire from themselves.
     
  6. Mar 24, 2013 #5

    arildno

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    To give another example, not directly related to science as such, but about perceptions currently floating about the history of Church positions to "science". People are not, in general, particularly interested in obscure historical themes, and easily hold blatantly wrong perceptions like a) Christians burnt down the Library of Alexandria, b) The Medieaval Church generally opposed scientific investigations c) Thought that the Earth was flat d) Opposed ideas that life could exist elsewhere in the universe.

    None of these positions can with any degree of reasonableness be called True, relative to historical evidence, but a)-d) are still popular ideas about what the church has thought at one time or another.
     
  7. Mar 24, 2013 #6

    Ryan_m_b

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    I've read a few articles in the past written by people involved in making films that explained its not quite as simple as we might think. There are many different people involved in making a film and normally quite strict budgeting, because of this things can snowball. Ill try to find one of the articles but I remember reading a simple example of how a model military plane needed to be build. The model maker sent the model over at the end of the week for filming on Monday, it was only later that someone realised the missiles were wrong for the scene (air-to-air rather than air-to-ground I think) but by then it was too late.

    I think there is a negative effect here in the sense that films will reinforce people's misconceptions. One obvious example is in any film involving genetic engineering which inevitably will present the science completely incorrectly followed up by some disaster because of it. This is not unique to science though! We should be careful in conversations like this not to create a subtext that scientists are immune from having misconceptions that are unknowingly reinforced by media. For a start we're only marginally more likely to spot a mistake in a different field but in everything else we've got just as much chance as a layperson.

    I'm all for better education but if we want to combat this we've also got to start teaching about things like the Dunning-Kruger effect.
     
  8. Mar 24, 2013 #7

    arildno

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    "We should be careful in conversations like this not to create a subtext that scientists are immune from having misconceptions that are unknowingly reinforced by media."

    Hopefully, my last posts showed that existence of misconceptions are what we ought to expect from everyone given any field they do not know much about, and that persistence of misconceptions is largely due to continued lack of interest in the topic one has misconceptions about. Whether you are a scientist or not..
     
  9. Mar 24, 2013 #8
    I think movies have given people a misconception about scientists in certain ways. For example, a lot of people think there's secret laboratories underground where scientists hired by the government are working on technology the world isn't ready for. They think the government has scientists that are way beyond everyone else in the world.
     
  10. Mar 24, 2013 #9

    jim mcnamara

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    Humans feel threatened by change, real or imagined. In the case of Science, people are unable to discern what is real and what is a television producers view of Science. Or being able to make correct interpretations of the pseudo-Science perpetrated by writers like Erich van Daniken. So whatever the average non-Science person derives from junk like this is likely to be both exciting and scary. Therefore: "Science is threatening"

    IMO: junk Science is the scariest thing of all.
     
  11. Mar 25, 2013 #10

    Evo

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    The internet has made things much worse, now any screwball can set up a fancy looking website full of misinformation, misquoting legitimate sources to make their nonsense seem legitimate. And these same clucks with free software can make official looking "documentaries" pushing their nonsense even further.
     
  12. Mar 25, 2013 #11

    Curious3141

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    Good luck trying to teach the lay public about the Dunning-Kruger effect, because you're effectively telling them they're overconfident ignoramuses, and noone likes to be told that. Especially real overconfident ignoramuses.

    They'll just accuse you of being "The Man", i.e. the front representing the arrogant "conspiracy" of "scientists".

    Even more ironically, once you introduce a catchphrase like the D-K into the public consciousness (just a well-propagated internet meme would do), you're going to spawn a new generation of crackpots and charlatans who will expound their own versions of D-K mixed in with new age "quantum" philosophies and what-not to increasingly credulous audiences, who will just nod along in agreement with whatever rubbish is being spoken. Because *they* can't possibly be afflicted by a cognitive bias, oh no, they're above all that. Very soon, you're going to have the D-K effect about the concept of the D-K effect - a self-referential D-K, which is sorta kinda cool, now that I think about it. :biggrin:
     
  13. Mar 25, 2013 #12
    I think there are 2 issues that really trouble me - oddly 2 sides of a coin.

    1. I once worked with and became good friends with a few american fundamentalist christians. Talking to them however really was disturbing. And any polite suggestion that they use their own "god given" intelligence about certain questions immediately makes them produce the most amazing quantities of purile fantasy. They really trouble me.

    2. But perhaps the most dangerous are people who fail to understand what science is.
    And to a large extent that is most of us. Science is the practice of "give it a go and see what happens"

    Unfortunately there are many areas where "give it a go" is totally unsuitable (IMO)
    This includes almost all realease of genetically modified material into the wild.
    The term "food chain" seems to have gone out of fashion. Emphasis on the word "chain"

    But because it's done "scientifically" it is generally considered "safe" - in fact the reverse is the truth. The scientific method is seriously dangerous in some areas.

    Unfortunately it is seldom recognised that science is about guessing and then trying to prove the guess is right. Thats a very dangerous thing when it comes to food chains and global climate modification.

    Many scientist are really good I've noticed of late when it comes to saying "we believe that..." and "our current understanding is..." and thats a great and comforting way to discuss science. My suspicion is that when that gets translated into business use the genuinely careful scientist suddenly becomes persona no grata and term "scientific" is used as a synonym for "guaranteed".

    The word "catastrophy" does not seem dissproportionate.
     
  14. Mar 25, 2013 #13

    Ryan_m_b

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    Its not just the lay public who have difficulty with it, it's far worse when academics are guilty of it. In my experience everyone suffers from this with regards to most fields, the important thing is to be as aware of it as possible. I don't think fitting this into science education in school is likely to be as difficult as you think. Also IMO your post is a good example of what I what I posted earlier in the thread about creating a subtext of scientists being immune from this.
     
  15. Mar 25, 2013 #14

    Choppy

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    I think most people are well aware, at least to some degree, that what they see in (fictional) movies or on television is made up. We walk in willing to suspend our disbelief... at least to a point... in order to be entertained and grasp the basic message that the story means to convey.

    What becomes blurry is where the line between fact and fiction is.

    Yes, some people will walk away believing that some fiction is fact. Others will walk away believing that some fact is fiction.

    Most people, I suspect, will know that if they are in fact curious about something, that they should go look it up and really find out about it rather thany relying on what they've seen in a movie. And I think there's something good in that. Stories can inspire us to learn... even when they're wrong.

    I remember being captivated by Michael J Fox in the Back to the Future trilogy as a kid. I don't think many people left those theatres really believing there was "flux capacitor" that needed "1.21 Jigawatts" of electrical power to allow time travel. But there were perhaps a few, myself included, who got the basic message that science could lead to adventure, and began reading about real science a little more seriously.
     
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