CERN, home of the notorious Large Hadron Collider, threatened destruction (via anti-matter) in the recent movie Angels And Demons and (via ghosts) in a recent Torchwood radio play. But CERN is just one example of how science fiction demonizes science.
No matter that the anti-matter menace in Angels And Demons is about as realistic as a ghost attack, because CERN would need billions of years to make a dangerous amount of anti-matter. The entertainment industry has decided that dangerous and destructive science is what makes for a good story, say Chris Mooney and Sheril Kershenbaum, in their article "Why America is flunking science," the first installment of Salon.com's articles tying in with their book Unscientific America. They write:
The experience of CERN is, more broadly, the experience of science in our culture today. It is simultaneously admired and yet viewed as dangerously powerful and slightly malevolent - an uneasiness that comes across repeatedly in Hollywood depictions. As science-fiction film director James Cameron ("Aliens," "Terminator," "Titanic") has observed, the movies tend to depict scientists "as idiosyncratic nerds or actively the villains." That's not only unfair to scientists: It's unhealthy for the place of science in our culture - no small matter at a time of climate crisis, bioweapon threats, pandemic diseases and untold future controversies that will surely erupt as science continues to dramatically change our world and our politics. To begin to counter this problem, though, we need to wake up to a new recognition: Fixing the problem of science education in our schools, although very important, is not the sole solution. We also have to do something about the cultural standing of science - heavily influenced by politics and mass media - and that's a very different matter.
They go on to quote Michael Crichton's four rules for movie storytelling, which Crichton believed would always be at odds with presenting science in a positive light, and veer off into discussing the creeping panic over the mistaken belief that vaccinations cause autism.
It's kind of sad that the main time we seem to see scientists as heroes lately is in disaster epics, like the recent miniseries Meteor and Impact, where a giant rock from space threatens the Earth. I guess we need a bigger enemy than science before we can turn to science for help. CERN image from JPCZJaya on DeviantArt. [Salon via Discover]