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Science of TRON

Listen to audio from the "Science of TRON" panel, featuring director Joe Kosinski, producer Sean Bailey, and science consultants Sean Carroll & John Dick. Learn More

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Welcome to the Neighborhood

To two neighborhoods, actually. One is Los Angeles, where the Science & Entertainment Exchange has recently set up shop, and which the Norman Lear Center, which I direct, also calls home.

The other ‘hood is more metaphorical. The Exchange is in Westwood, located at UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute; the Lear Center, based at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, is housed in Beverly Hills. But both of us are also in Hollywood, an industry that permeates the region, both literally and virtually.

In particular, both the Exchange and Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S), a Lear Center project on which I’m the principal investigator, have a shared mission: improving the accuracy of the scientific information depicted in entertainment.

Model Transformers

Variety and oi9 have both posted articles in the last few days about the unique relationship between the film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and the U.S. Armed Forces.

Ripped From the Headlines! (Of Scientific Journals)

There’s one scientific question that rivals all others. Okay, it may be more a philosophical dilemma than a scientific one, but it has kept scientists and thinkers, the world round, busy for millennia. Apparently, it pits Stephen Hawking against Aristotle, if you believe Wikipedia. To know the answer would be to understand existence. I am talking, of course, about the question of the chicken and the egg. Which came first?

I'd Like To Thank the (National) Academy

Remember the scene in Back to School where Rodney Dangerfield’s millionaire character hires Kurt Vonnegut to help him write a paper about the works of Kurt Vonnegut? Or the scene in Annie Hall where Woody Allen pulls Marshall McClune out of nowhere to settle an argument with some idiot outside a movie theater? If only that happened in real life. 

But wait a minute, I forgot, it does happen in real life now that the Science & Entertainment Exchange is up and running. Hollywood professionals really do have that kind of quick access to top experts across all areas of science.

Culture Shift

A couple of years ago, at a friend’s party, I wound up chatting with one of the writers/producers on the hit TV series Bones. When I mentioned I was a science writer, he visibly paled and became instantly defensive: “I know, I know, the science on our show is unrealistic, DNA results never come back that fast….”

I assured him I loved the show and the occasional scientific liberties didn’t bother me, because the stories and the characters were so compelling. But I thought it was a shame that this very smart man only heard from the scientific community when they were complaining about whatever the show got wrong. So he associated scientists with factual nit-picking and finger-pointing, when in fact, science is every bit as creative and innovative as writing for film and television, and can be a treasure trove of inspiration to a writer seeking funky new plot twists and characters.

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