We started off this morning with a real treat: A talk by Jennifer Ouellette, science writer and now director of the the National Academy of Sciences’ Science and Entertainment Exchange. Jennifer talked about how despite past tensions between the two groups–and occasionally egregious anti-science, like the Eli Stone anti-vaccine storyline–Hollywood now appears to be increasingly interested in real science and the plots it can impel. Granted, there are still plenty of “socially inept nerds” and “literally mad scientists” (as in Fringe) to be found; but such stereotypes are increasingly balanced by really good stuff, like Bones or Numb3rs.
Jennifer’s central point was that scientists have to stop being in full-on criticism mode towards entertainment, and instead, should work to bridge the gap with creative people–who are very open to using as much science as they can to tell a good story. We all just need to take our defenses down, and focus on commonalities rather than differences. That’s what the National Academies started late last year with a gala event bringing together luminaries from both fields, and “they just started talking to each other,” said Jennifer.
“It is not scientists swooping in to correct Hollywood,” she emphasized. “We do not ‘scold’!”
Jennifer then went into much more detail about her job–how the Exchange helps Hollywood’s writers and other creative talent get science content into their work. Some TV shows have a regular science consultants, knowing they will regularly need them (e.g., David Salzberg and The Big Bang Theory); in other cases, it’s a one-off affair. Most of the consultants aren’t paid; this is generally a nonprofit endeavor.
In my opinion, the NAS Exchange is among the best and most innovative programs out there for bringing science into a new and different arena; hopefully Jennifer’s presentation was as eye-opening to the students as I had hoped!