In which I SEE and agree with Dustin Hoffman

By Phil Plait | June 17, 2009 11:21 am

I’ve written a lot about science and scientists in movies. I have long hoped that real science would find its place in Hollywood, with TV shows and movies doing more to promote actual science and try to get it right. There’s been a lot of progress lately, with science advisors becoming more common in the script-writing process, and then — gasp — actually being listened to!

This has taken a giant leap forward with the creation of the Science and Entertainment Exchange (SEE), a project of the distinguished National Academies of Science to encourage and foster a relationship between scientists and Hollywood. The cast of characters involved is impressive: Jerry Zucker (cripes, he wrote "Airplane!"), Seth MacFarlane ("Family Guy"), and Dustin Hoffman among many others on the entertainment side, and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, science writer Lawrence Krauss, and John Rennie (Scientific American editor-in-chief) advocating science. My pal (and TAM 7 speaker!) Jennifer Ouellette from Cocktail Party Physics is running the shebang, too.

SEE logo

They have a blog which is both very entertaining an informative… which I suppose makes sense, given the two fields we’re dealing with here. I particularly liked this entry written by Jerry Zucker. It looks to me that he Gets It, and it’s extremely cool to see someone highly placed in Hollywood who does.

Dustin Hoffman does, too. He’ll be hosting events for SEE to try to get more folks involved. I love Hoffman, despite some, um, not-so-scientifically accurate movies he’s been in (cough cough "Sphere" cough "Outbreak" cough cough), and I’m really happy he’s involved.

In fact, I just think that overall I’m really happy SEE exists. It’s already producing results, and I fully plan on getting more involved with them as time goes on. The portrayal of science and scientists in movies is important to me, so I heartily stand behind SEE’s efforts.


Comments (35)

  1. Thanks for pointing us to this… great website… just spent some time poking around. Also a funny essay by Zucker.

    REALLY looking forward to the Moon movie next month. What I personally hope to see are more movies where science gaps aren’t filled in by “magic” and more bio-pics about people who changed our understanding of the world… not just disasters, psychos or aliens.

  2. Matt M

    I still like Stanley Kubrik use of sfx in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Expecally, where Dave is blown into the airlock from the shuttle craft!

  3. Eric

    As a one-time scientist, is there anyway I can contribute to SEE?


  4. I picked up a book called something like the top science articles of 2007 and one of the articles was about how movies were trying to get sciency types more involved, like making what the scientician actor is saying actually sound plausible.

    I take offense at your Outbreak comment. There was plenty of factual science, like the way the helicopters flew, monkeys are cute, and rednecks will always try to run a military blockade in pick up trucks (In Red Dawn it worked).

  5. Thanks for promoting this! My friend, Dr. Sidney Perkowitz from the Physics Dept. at Emory is one of the folks working hard on this project and I’m glad it’s getting more exposure. Awesome stuff.

  6. Peter Beattie

    “science writer Lawrence Krauss”? Did I miss the irony, or did somebody else miss that he has recently been promoted to professor of physics at ASU? ;>

  7. I’m focused on Science of the Star Trek movie at
    right now, but delighted to SEE this program started!

    The real science trumps fiction almost everytime, and where you have to use “the force”, at least SEE can help them make it PLAUSIBLE techno-babble.

  8. Vernon Balbert

    Maybe SEE would get more attention paid to it if they called it the Science & Entertainment Xchange.

  9. RL

    I really like Zucker’s Science Smackdown idea. That would be awesome. Now that would get people’s attention!

  10. Hey! I liked Outbreak!

  11. BJN

    I had less problem with “Sphere” being unscientific than for having such relentlessly stupid characters who supposedly are scientists.

    “Moon” looks worth seeing, but it sounds like the premise for having one guy man a mining station for three years is pretty thin:

    Everbody knows that scientists are sexy, brilliant rock stars as demonstrated on the documentary, “Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension”.

  12. Ryan

    I didn’t watch Sphere for the scientific accuracies, did you?

  13. Harknights

    Hey! I wanted to like Sphere!

    …but I couldn’t.

  14. !AstralProjectile


    Brian Greene
    Marvin Minsky
    Rob Reiner

    (I’m also a closet Outbreak fan.)

  15. Peter (#8); I know Krauss is a scientist, but he’s better known as a science popularizer.

  16. Zyggy

    @ The Chemist: I liked Outbreak too, (and The Core /duck) but I remember the science in them as being poor. And I think that was the point there. I did, however, feel that Outbreak was a copy of The Andromeda Strain, just updated.

  17. I thought all the celebs with literary ambitions were blogging over at Huffington Post. Are these the celebs who aren’t into alternative medicine, etc?

  18. 13. BJN Says:
    Everbody knows that scientists are sexy, brilliant rock stars as demonstrated on the documentary, “Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension”.

    Yeah, yeah… laugh while you can, monkey boy.


  19. Caleb Jones

    I can see how given the choice of two equally appealing options one being a misrepresentation of reality and one more true to reality movie directors should be guided to choose the latter. However, I think it is unrealistic to expect directors to avoid creating scenes that sell merely because an advisory or agency recommends they don’t. Directors will film what makes money.

    Now, there are creative ways to infuse reality and sell (‘Primer’ anyone?). I’d just hate to see creative license get sacrificed just because someone has a problem with willing suspension of disbelief when it comes to movies.

  20. Davidlpf

    Sounds like a good idea let’s see how it works.
    But missing Wapner.
    Have watch to Wapner.

  21. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Um, isn’t Hoffman’s forte to make the unbelievable believable? I’m pretty sure he takes odd roles and movies just for the heck of it.

    That said, it would indeed pay off for Hollywood to capture a larger crowd, either by appealing to “common science” with correct effects or common people with grandiose effects.

    Down with “The Blob”, in with “Grey Goo”?!

  22. GGremlin

    “Jessica Alba really is a nuclear physicist?”

    That was just possible after all Danica McKellar(The GIRL from Wondor Years) is a Mathematician and Mayim Bialik, Blossom has a degree in neuroscience. But for Jessica, it’s only beauty and not the brain.

    I should know better, but one can hope, right?

  23. mike collins

    If Gerry Zucker is going to invoke Marshall McLuhan he should spell it righter.

  24. UK actor Ben Miller is something of a science nerd, and yet he stars in Primeval, a show that runs fast and loose with logic and “science”. It must keep him up at nights.

  25. James F

    A nice antidote to Expelled!

  26. IIRC Dustin Hoffman is not a Scientologist, but a quite vocal supporter of the Church of Scientology, comparing the observation of Scientology in Germany (where they want to achieve the tax-exempt status of a more conventional church) to the Nazi’s persecution of the Jews. (IIRC this was spelled out in an open letter written with Chic Corea and perhaps some other celebrities—I don’t know if John Travolta was involved. (To get back to real science, Olivia Newton-John, who starred with Travolta in GREASE, is the granddaughter (via his daughter) of Max Born.)) Let’s face it: Scientology is up there with homeopathy and anti-vaccination a prime example of crackpot pseudo-science. It was even invented by a science-fiction writer, according to some sources as the result of a bet he made that he could start a religion. Let’s hope that Hoffman doesn’t have a hidden agenda here. Put on your sceptical hat if Tom Cruise jumps on board!

  27. Dunc

    “I love Hoffman, despite some, um, not-so-scientifically accurate movies he’s been in”

    A gig’s a gig. If an actor were to insist on only appearing in scientifically-accurate movies, they’d never work again.

  28. DinoBoy

    Dear Phil,

    About Sphere. I remember liking the book in high school. I’m just curious, if you read it, did you happen to like it any more than the movie?

    Anyway, great blog, great post, great news. Thanks!

  29. Dutchdoc

    Unfortunately, John Rennie is no longer Scientific American’s editor-in-chief.
    He got booted out. His farewell note appeared in the July edition.

  30. For Eric and anyone else interested in volunteering to work with The Exchange, please do get in touch! The program is only as strong as the people involved and so we want to hear from you. Our contact information is on our web site. Follow this link to get to us:

  31. Gary Ansorge

    26. Phillip Helbig:

    Ref: Ron Hubbard: It wasn’t actually a bet. At a SciFi con in 1947, he was complaining to Issac Assimov and Robert Heinlien that the only way for a SciFi writer to get rich was to start a new religion. Later reports(mostly unsubstantiated) had him noticing that churches were tax free, so of course, he glommed onto that,,,(and died with 60 plus million in the bank)( I actually have to give him kudos for that).

    GAry 7

  32. Nova Terata

    @teacherninja For years I thought I made the cappuccino that inspired Sidney Perkowitz’s cosmic foam theory, but he claims he made it at home. Dude definitely had trouble sleeping at night. OMG Perk-o-witz perfect name for a dual purpose warp drive and espresso machine.

  33. I’m glad to see that they also represent computer science, even though it’s not a natural science.

  34. Josh

    I know this is an old article, but I thought I’d mention that SEE has apparently changed their link structure from to http://www.scienceandentertainmentexchange/blog/ .

    Just thought I’d point it out for anyone that wonders why they are getting a 404 like I just did. :)


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