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Can Movies Inspire Kids To Be Future Scientists? 298

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the look-at-all-the-kung-fu-pandas dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "MSNBC reports on a recent panel that discussed studies showing that people, especially children, often model their behavior on what they see on the big (or small) screen and science shows up in many Hollywood films. In fact, 22 of the 60 top-grossing movies of all time are science-fiction or superhero flicks, including history's No. 1 box office hit, Avatar. The movie science doesn't even have to be entirely accurate, some of the panelists added when asked to consider the role and impact of science in cinema. As long as it plants a seed of curiosity in viewers, it may spur them to investigate scientific issues on their own — and perhaps consider a career in science down the road. 'It's not an educational medium, it's an emotional medium,' says Seth Shostak, an astronomer with the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. 'Kids get turned on by the emotion.' Interestingly enough although movies work hard to get the science right, many make errors ranging from the understandable to the egregious, but that's ok, say the panelists. 'Even if a film or media product is not very accurate, that becomes a teaching moment,' says Arvind Singhal. 'So there's room for everything.'"
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Can Movies Inspire Kids To Be Future Scientists?

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  • Avatar is what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Avatar is a modern fantasy, not science fiction. There's barely anything plausibly speculative about Avatar. The few pieces of plausible fiction (cold sleep, avatars, aliens, and mechs) are plot devices, not plot points. All of the actual plot is implausible speculative fantasy.

    • Re:Avatar is what? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by BobMcD (601576) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:25PM (#34692792)

      Didn't read the article, did ya? The protagonists in Avatar are all scientists. They go on to win the day. Ergo, kid scientists. The movie doesn't need to be about lab tests and submitting papers to have the desired effect...

      • by zarzu (1581721)
        Oh really? And there I was thinking the main character was a former marine who had absolutely no understanding of science and simply stumbled into everything. I was also under the misconception that the whole movie was resolved in an armed conflict, where scientists were hardly more than feel-good side characters that provided the necessary moral frame for the main act, which was senseless war.
        • by BobMcD (601576)

          If you're going to rebut not reading by not reading, why bother?

          The EMOTION is all that matters. RTFA!!

      • by lennier (44736)

        The protagonists in Avatar are all scientists. They go on to win the day.

        By punching people in the face with dinosaurs.

        (and carefully observing the results, while previously observing the results of not punching the same person in the face with the same dinosaur, and then forming and publishing a hypothesis to the effect that punching people in the face with dinosaurs is AWESOME).

    • by node 3 (115640)

      The few pieces of plausible fiction (cold sleep, avatars, aliens, and mechs) are plot devices, not plot points. All of the actual plot is implausible speculative fantasy.

      This is absolutely irrelevant to the point being presented, which is that kids will see the scientists in the movie, and some of those kids will be inspired by them. These kids presumably haven't acquired the same taste for hard science fiction that you have, so they don't immediately eschew the idea of there being science involved in a movie like Avatar.

      In fact, the scientists are the heroes. Avatar strikes me as an excellent movie for promoting science to children.

      • They were not portrayed so much as scientists, more as linguists, and the protagonist was a marine. I think the movie probably made more kids want to "go native" or exist in some fantasy realm like WoW or something. I for one wanted to be a scientist because of science fiction books and some movies such as "Enemy Mine" or "Star Trek", as well as science fiction themed games like Star Control. As non-plausible as Star Trek is I always wanted to go to other planets and explore, which I got to "sort of" satisf
    • One teacher I had in high school (english teacher mind you) told me that fantasy is science fiction, I always thought that was stupid because it seemed like it should be the other way around. Thankfully today most people recognize them as separate categories so there is no more confusion.
  • Avatar (Score:5, Funny)

    by Undead Waffle (1447615) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @06:48PM (#34692406)
    I know Avatar inspired me to be a one dimensional money-driven corporate manager.
  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @06:48PM (#34692412)
    The media also strongly discourages participation in science when it depicts it as a field that only socially awkward people would ever have an interest in. We really see a lot more of that, coupled with a strong push for everyone to become some kind of businessman, than we see of movies that might encourage children to become scientists. Welcome to American culture.
  • We need Scientists of ALL kinds.

  • Some time ago, violent movies were supposed to be what caused violence. Now they generally blame videogames. Whatever, if that was true, smart movies should make smart people too. But to be honest, I think movies are just education. Like any educational tool, it teaches anything. It can teach good, bad, right, and wrong. If people decide to do good, bad, right, and wrong, smart or dumb, it mosly takes a lot more study, education, effort, time, and encouragement, from parents, teachers, friends, family, ne
  • Are there any good sci-fi movies that have a positive view of the future? Most recent things I've seen paint the world / galaxy as some sort of war-torn dystopian nightmare.

    Best I've found so far was AstroBoy... I'm even renting out ST:TNG, though it's annoying because I feel socially compelled to filter out some of the softporn situations :-P

    • by raddan (519638) *
      Hey, man, soft porn is the positive* view of the future.

      * for certain values of "positive"
    • Are there any good sci-fi movies that have a positive view of he future?

      Not any I know of. A positive future doesn't make for intriguing drama (almost all stories are based on conflict) .

      Most recent things I've seen paint the world / galaxy as some sort of war-torn dystopian nightmare.

      I watched the World News last night also.

      I think it's great that movies focus on that kind of thing. Many of us sit discontentedly in our safe little sheltered lives, and movies based on conflict like that allow us to explo

  • otherwise we are doomed on security. every part of password can be verified stand alone in every movie.

    but then again, we will have awesome webcams with infinite detail zoom

  • Can Movies Inspire Kids To Be Future Scientists?

    Comics, TV and movies have been generating interest in science and engineering for generations. Do you think there was a shortage of NASA engineers in the 1960s who had not read sci fi comics or watched sci fi shorts/serials in the theaters when they were kids? Do you think there was a shortage of engineers in the 1980s who were not avid Star Trek viewers?(*) Do you think there is a shortage of engineers today who were not fans of Star Wars, Blade Runner, Aliens, etc when they were kids?

    (*) How many Moto

    • Sorry, but SF-Movies did nothing to encourage kids into pursuing a scientific career.

      How many movies/series do you know where scientists are the ACTUAL HEROES? You mentioned the notable exception: Star Trek. The only show where engineers are the guys who save the day in the end. (Even if it's with technobabble and reversing the polarity of something, they're the guys who save the asses of those phaser-wieldind or buthlet-swinging jarheads)

      The usual image of scientists is more along the lines of "Q" and "R"

      • by perpenso (1613749)

        Sorry, but SF-Movies did nothing to encourage kids into pursuing a scientific career. How many movies/series do you know where scientists are the ACTUAL HEROES?

        It is not the humans themselves that generate the interest, it is the technology and the idea of new lands to explore. The human characters are secondary.

  • We're talking about kids here.What grabs there attention and fires their imagination is different than what we see. Even if you don't think Avatar will inspire future scientists, some other film or program might and probably will. Has Slashdot so soon forgotten that why the Milwaukee School of Engineering awarded an honorary doctorate to James Doohan?

  • Movies may have scientists, but no real science (as in the scientific method). Show kids THAT in a classroom. Show them how powerful it is. Make them experience personal achievements by applying science.

    The last time something really influenced kids was getting men on the moon. A movie is just generally background noise and cheap entertainment these days. I certainly wasn't motivated to do something based on a movie I've seen in my childhood, but I was motivated by programming in LOGO and discovering how
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:07PM (#34692606) Homepage

    Why become a scientist in the US today? You go to school forever, spend years in a dead-end postdoc, and then can't get a tenured position. You're then 35, a decade behind in starting your career, and overqualified for most jobs.

    • You are conflating "Scientist" and "Professor". Aside from the academic track, as a Ph.D. scientist, you can work in industry, especially if you have a background in organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics or materials science. You could also skip to DC and work in public policy and education. Or you could join a law firm as a patent agent, work a few years, and have a J.D. from a top-tier law school paid by your employer while making top dollars as patent attorney. Or maybe you'd like to work VC as a scie

    • by ultramk (470198)

      ...for the same reason that people have been becoming scientists since well before the concept of "scientist" was codified. I'll give you a hint, and tell you a few things that it's not about:
      - fame
      - wealth
      - job security
      - the "cool factor"
      - the sexy colleagues
      - the easy job
      - the power
      - the influence ...so what's left? Why, everything that truly matters. :-)

      • by haruchai (17472)

        It's not like that everywhere and it's too bad that's the way North America has gone with recognition. I've heard (anecdotally) that Nobel Prize winners ( except perhaps for Peace) get rock star treatment in most Asian countries.

      • the sexy colleagues

        Actually, in the biomedical realm, this is a factor. Seriously. Walk around a med school campus some time and you'll see what I mean.

      • by pooh666 (624584)
        Yeah you are right, since in the past many of the greats already had as much of all of the above as they wanted and didn't care about the rest. Just having one of the above makes it a lot easier, just ONE.
    • There are quite a few of former math / physics guys developing software at my workplace. I get excited when I get to code the exponential function...pretty depressing.
    • Most reports I've seen show that about 30% of PhDs eventually end up with a tenured position. Which I consider good odds. http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/issuebrf/sib97321.htm [nsf.gov] Of course, there's more career paths than just being a tenured Professor. Overall, PhDs have a fraction of the unemployment rate of the general public and higher pay. http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm [bls.gov] So its unlikely that you'll actually be worse off by making the attempt.
    • by joe_frisch (1366229) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @08:03PM (#34693164)

      The main reason to become a scientist is because it is fun. Science includes a wide range of types of work, from purely theoretical to grungy hands-on work with real hardware (my favorite). Not everyone in science needs to go the academic path, some take staff positions after grad school, some work in science related fields after just an undergrad degree.

      I think it does help when even vaguely science-related materials appear in the media, but at the same time the almost universal mis-representation of what science is like may cause a lot of people to either not choose it as a career, or to be unhappy after they do.

      It takes a certain type of personality to find science fun, but some people have it. Seeing the fuzzy egg-crate pattern on a screen and realizing it is individual atoms. Seeing a faint smudge and realizing that it is a jet of gas millions of light-years long, or a spot on a screen that is a gigawatt X-ray beam, or realizing that a slight offset between the calculated center of mass from gravitational lensing relative to luminous mass means that you may have just spotted the missing 90% of the matter in the universe.

      All of the above are very exciting (to the right person), but unfortunately none make good movies.

      I've been a working scientist for 20 years, and its a great job. I briefly went to work for industry, but got so tired of the easy work and high pay, that I gave it up.

      --- Joe Frisch

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:07PM (#34692608)

    How about we inspire them with actual science rather than wasting their potential trying to condition them to be passive consumers. The latter is the ultimate goal of popular entertainment. This just sounds like an attempt to use science as a fig leaf.

  • Because this is what happens: http://www.iontrap.wabash.edu/teaching/FoxTrotPhysicsLab.jpg [wabash.edu]

    Kids get an expectation of "COOL, lets do Science!" and end up with boring, complicated, and badly taught stuff that turns them away instead of getting them interested.

  • How many folks (of a certain age) were so blown away by Tron, that they wanted to do something with computers? Having the PC revolution right around the same time really helped, but there was a huge influx of geeks thru the 80s and early 90s that helped fuel Silicon Valley.
  • Watching the original "Star Trek" (ST) probably inspired more kids to become engineers than visiting the local science museum. A museum tells you what has been done by humankind, but a film like ST tells you all the possibilities that remain to be achieved. They include warp drive, natural-language computers, time travel, etc. Those possibilities capture the imagination of children, who tend to have active imaginations. Just look at all the kids who contribute to Slashdot!

    Many Slashdotters have admitt

    • Many Slashdotters have admitted, in various articles over the years, that Mr. Scot (the chief engineer of the "Enterprise") motivated them to become engineers. He out-engineered all the adversaries (of the Federation) by making the "Enterprise" nearly invincible.

      And probably everyone else IN the Federation....

  • Kids that choose science as a future are doomed. Why would you want to be scientist anyway? Besides, the portrayal in movies is absolute nonsense. Another lesson these brats need to learn is Hollywood is fake! Its like deciding to become a lawyer based on watching Perry Mason episodes!
    The work is not always as great as you first imagine, the reception is unappreciated no matter what you do and the pay is poor.
    Let kids become doctors, lawyers, and business people. They will be smart and have lots of
  • My high school science teachers taught us how to be past, not future, scientists. We badly repeated experiments with known outcomes to confirm models about which we didn't care. I would not say it was very inspirational.

    There just might be something to this future scienist idea.

  • by delibes (303485) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:27PM (#34692810)
    Avatar, Star Trek, Star Wars, X-Men ... these are not science movies, they're sci-fi and fantasy. They show you awesome special effects, lots of action, and funny looking aliens/mutants. They lack a "Hero" role in these movies where the character uses, say, the laws of thermodynamics or Newton's laws of motion to save the day. In fact "Evil Science Co Inc." is often the bad evil corporation trying to exploit nature to make a profit (Aliens, Avatar ... Frankenstein?).

    Good *science* movies are much harder to find. There's some vaguely interesting scientific issues raised in films like 2001 - where did life come from and what would extra-terrastrial intelligent life be like? Solaris perhaps? And film's like Lorenzo's Oil show science in a positive role. I did like Apollo 13 though for showing the engineers doing the almost impossible to save the astronauts. Can anyone help me make a list of others?

    • by PCM2 (4486)

      I liked Primer [imdb.com]. It's not exactly "science," since it's about time travel, but the portrayal of engineering culture was spot-on, and it demonstrated how smart people live and work and achieve in the real world (rather than some rarefied academic/government fantasy-land where they don't have to worry about anything except how to get the Earth's core spinning again).

      And Raiders of the Lost Ark was great for demonstrating how a guy who teaches boring history lectures by day doesn't have to be a boring, do-not

    • by Aim Here (765712)

      The Andromeda Strain [imdb.com] is the only movie I can think of which depicts actual bona-fide scientists performing something close to actual bona-fide science - there are a number of experiments (including some not overly humane animal experiments) performed by the main cast in order to ascertain the nature of some deadly space plague. What's more, you can actually tell, more or less, how the experiments work and what they're intended to achieve, unlike most science in 'science fiction' films, which generally invol

      • by khallow (566160)
        I think a decent recent variant of this was "Legend" with Will Smith. There's a scene where he's trying to find a vaccine to a nasty plague. He records his one voice and the camera pans over dozens of pictures of failed experiments including some human ones.
    • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @09:08PM (#34693728)

      Buckaroo Banzai! You can be into particle physics and still rock out and save the world from the Red Lectroids.

    • There is a difference between a special effects movie and a "good science" movie. But, there is also a difference between a "good science" movie and a movie that can potentially get kids interested in science and technology. Movies like War Games, Weird Science and Real Genius were probably a big inspiration for many of us 30-somethings to sit down and dig into technology. Even if the initial lure was to hack into the school computers to change your grades, create a super-model genius girlfriend with a s

  • Well, I'm a scientist now and am so for two reasons:

    1. Bill Nye. Because, honestly, who wouldn't want to have your own theme song that repeats your name 'BILL BILL Bill bill bill!' (And, really, the guy was legitimately cool)

    2. Weird Science. It was always going to be way easier for me to synthesize the girl of my dreams than win her.

  • Short answer: No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:39PM (#34692900)
    If movies gave a true depiction of being a scientist, they would be full of people writing submissions for funding, trying to get some budget for new equipment and emailing off papers for publication. There has not, ever, been a real-to-life scientist characterised in any movie - ever. If people see "scientists" in movies and are then inspired to become like those characters they are in for a massive let down if they try to pursue that mythical career. It simply doesn't exist.

    What's nearly as bad is the science career advice children receive at school. Almost no teachers anywhere have ever met a professional scientist. Even the few who might be married to one have no real idea what their partner does on a daily basis and they are in no position to advise on either the suitability of a child to try to become a professional scientist, nor on what that child could expect from a career in a scientific job.

    The single biggest failing of science is that it does nothing to prepare the next generation for work in the field. Meaning that those children who leave school to attend a university science course, assuming it will be like the science they did in school, have one hell of a big surprise when it turns out to be completely different from what they expected. The surprise is nearly as big as the one science graduates get when they discover, in turn, that working as a professional scientist is again, nothing like what they thought it was when they were students.

    • If movies gave a true depiction of being a scientist, they would be full of people writing submissions for funding, trying to get some budget for new equipment and emailing off papers for publication. There has not, ever, been a real-to-life scientist characterised in any movie - ever. If people see "scientists" in movies and are then inspired to become like those characters they are in for a massive let down if they try to pursue that mythical career. It simply doesn't exist.

      That's true of just about every job portrayed in movies, though. FBI agents don't spend most of their time chasing down brilliant serial killers, physicians don't spend most of their time making life-saving diagnoses of mysterious illnesses, etc. The real problem is that movies and TV have given us an unrealistic expectation of everything, and they seem to be about the most pervasive single influence on how we perceive the world. (And no, geeks are not immune to this -- look how often Gattaca and Jurassi

  • by cdrguru (88047) on Tuesday December 28, 2010 @07:53PM (#34693034) Homepage

    You can't win by fighting popular culture. Today science and technology are very, very low on the pop culture totem pole. Drug dealers aren't that great, but they score better than scientists. Hip-hop rappers are way, way up. Rock stars are out. Supermodels aren't cool, but pseudo-idol teens are in.

    And none of them are getting A's in school.

    Avatar is a horrible examine of a pro-science movie. The scientists for the most part got kicked off the planet in the end. The chief scientist for the Navi cause died. No, I don't think it is inspirational to present the idea of dying on a far off planet in a feud with a paramilitary force.

    Face it, in the US today isn't respected to be a scientist. It is respected to be a drug-addicted rap singer that can't use the word "woman" but instead says bitch constantly. It hasn't been respected to get good grades in high school and to spend time studying. There are popular songs with phrases like "Should I be a straight A student? If you are then you think too much." This is the culture we have created and what we are going to have to live with for the next 20 or 30 years.

    Look at Asian families where if the kid brings home a B they are beaten. The kid knows it, studys and doesn't get the beating so there is no awful social stigma. In the 1950s white middle class families did the same thing which is why we have science and technology companies in the US today. As a society we have lost that motivation and it is going to hurt.

  • Forbidden Planet --> Voyage to See What's at the Bottom --> Star Trek --> 2001 --> submarine nuke --> Fermilab main control room crew chief. ymmv.
  • I remember after seeing the first Indiana Jones I was interested in archaeology and medieval history. All I could find in my school library about archaeology was a 30 year old book in a discard bin. All my teachers could tell me was something I could study after finishing a college degree. Sure, there was history: timelines and name lists from 1492 onward.

    I'll always be left to wonder how my life would have turned out differently if I had someone in my life at that time to help me explore the interests prov

  • "How the White House secretly hooked network TV on its anti-drug message: A Salon special report."
    http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2000/01/13/drugs [salon.com]
    "President Clinton's drug czar, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, some of America's most popular shows -- including "ER," "Beverly Hills 90210," "Chicago Hope," "The Drew Carey Show" and "7th Heaven" -- have filled their episodes with anti-drug pitches to cash in on a complex government advertising subsidy."
    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/04/movies/04flyb.html?_r=1 [nytimes.com]
    P
  • Heck, Spiderman comics first got me interested in chemistry (I stumble across some old issues where Parker was actually a scientist). Show kids that their favorite hero likes science too and who know where it could lead.
  • Most kids who watched "Back to the Future" identified with Marty McFly. I did, to, but I also aspired to be Doc Brown. It was a major inspiration in my pursuit of science.

    However, it ALSO gave me aspirations of pursuing science even if it's outside of the traditional routes. Thusly I didn't care to put up with academia and only do "garage science", exploring pet crackpot hypotheses in my spare time. So maybe we should take things like that into account.

  • but Wargames made me want to be a hacker.

    So did Tron.

  • I have heard many times, for many different nerdy professions stories or surveys that show countless nerds were inspired to their professions by some work of fiction. Yet, I rarely hear that about non-nerdy professions. I have never heard a police officer point to a cop movie as a source of inspiration, nor a fireman, nor a teacher, nor an athelete, nor a soldier... OK, I can think of one exception to this, I have heard some pilots point to movies, but other than that it always seems to be nerds. What giv
    • by Grygus (1143095)

      I have heard many times, for many different nerdy professions stories or surveys that show countless nerds were inspired to their professions by some work of fiction. Yet, I rarely hear that about non-nerdy professions.

      I have never heard a police officer point to a cop movie as a source of inspiration, nor a fireman, nor a teacher, nor an athelete, nor a soldier...

      OK, I can think of one exception to this, I have heard some pilots point to movies, but other than that it always seems to be nerds. What gives?

      I think the question is being asked backwards. Nerds are nerds because they are interested in nerdy things. If a movie presents that proclivity in a positive light, the nerd is pleased and remembers the movie warmly. I don't think scientists were "inspired" by movies - they might have gotten some sort of idea or new image in their minds, but they were always going to be scientists/hackers/whatever. The movies are beloved because they showed something positive coming out of it.

      Most people don't identify

  • I do neuroscience research for a living, and I can definitely say that I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for Hollywood. I remember watching computer-glorifying movies like "Flight of the Navigator", "Tron", and "Star Wars" when I was in first grade in the early '90s. That was an era when we didn't have a VCR at home and going out to the movies was something of a treat. Since today's elementary school kids all have iPods to take to school and DVD players in the family minivan, it's easy to remembe

  • ... most people want to work to live, not live to work. And unless you are really good/passionate about science and have the work ethic you're not going to get anyone into science.

    The real issue is cost/benefit and status, if you want more scientists you have to pay them like you do doctors or bankers. That's the truth, you have to make science a high status job.

  • So kids want to be eight foot tall and blue?

  • So in the next 20 years we are going to have a bunch of scientists needing grants to study vampires and werewolves?
  • We need someone to make Science propaganda films for 10 year old students again. The Bell Science series produced by Frank Capra and starring Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (or the prototype of his character) were terrific. If you had any sort of interest in how things work an exposure to these was a huge recruiting tool.

    The science in these films was pretty forward thinking too.

    Here's a clip from one:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7ksqNV1IiE [youtube.com]

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