On Halloween, I gave a short presentation as our first Cafe Scientifique of the year. The main intent was to introduce our schedule for the year and to give an amusing introduction to the media image of scientists by showing a few movie clips…and to say a few things about how we really ought to be seen.
I’ve put most of the clips on youtube, so you can see what I was talking about below the fold.
Here’s the schedule for the 2006-2007 year.
28 November : Theodora Economou: Causation in law and science
30 January : The Chemistry Discipline: Chemistry in the home
27 February : Arne Kildegaard: The electricity industry and current renewable energy policy
27 March : Kristin Kearns : Astronomy
24 April : Tracey Anderson: Insects
I know the last two are a little general right now; Tracey and Kristin have a few months to refine them down a little.
The first movie clip I showed was the archetype, the one that really defined how scientists were going to be portrayed in the movies: Frankenstein, the 1931 movie starring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff. This is the sequence where Baron Frankenstein reanimates his monster; just look at the ACTING!!.
One of the common techniques in movies, well overplayed in this scene, is to show scientists as completely oblivious to the consequences of their actions. In this scene from The Bride of Frankenstein, Baron Frankenstein needs a young, strong heart…and sends the delightful Karl (Dwight Frye) off to the “Accident Hospital” to pick one up.
By the way, I wonder if Colin Clive was entirely sober when he was playing this scene.
Scientists, of course, don’t believe in anything, as we see in this clip from The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.
Scientists are also insufferably arrogant and egotistical. Steve Martin plays a neurosurgeon in The Man With Two Brains.
This is actually a clip I agree with: Christopher Lee instruction a young lady on the applicability of morality to science, from The Horror Express.
One last horror movie: the trailer for Them!. The paranoia of the 1950s illustrates a conflicted attitude towards science: it’s science that sets off the atom bombs that cause the problem, but you still need the darned clever eggheads to help solve the problem.
The giant ants actually made a nice segue into talking about real scientists, and how they don’t seem to be anything at all like the insane monsters of the movies. I first showed part of this recent interview with EO Wilson—the parts where he first talks about his obsession with the ants, and then the segment where he talks about the roles of the scientist, in this particular case in working to recruit evangelicals to help save the planet.
Finally, I’ve mentioned this fellow before: I ended it on Jacob Bronowski and his Ascent of Man, from the “Knowledge or Certainty” episode.
You really can’t get much farther from Colin Clive in Frankenstein than that. Where Baron Frankenstein shrieks about being like a god, Bronowski denies the whole idea that scientists should aspire to godhood—it’s enough that we embrace humanity.
Afterwards, Jen Goodenough of the chemistry discipline showed us how to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen, a good mad scientisty thing to do, and we all had a fun time talking about our favorite scary movies.