Philip Ball on Hollywood science

”The challenge for moviemakers is not how to respect physical laws, but rather how to break them while retaining an illusion of plausibility.”

- Philip Ball

In his column, the science writer Philip Ball brings us news of an about-to-be-published article by American physicists Costas Efthimiou and Ralph Llewellyn in Praxis der Naturwissenschaften Physik lamenting Hollywood’s frequent abuses of science.

Of course bad science in movies is nothing new, but the two physicists contend that gratuitous errors (such as noisy explosions in space, or Harry Potter not blacking out when exceeding a certain g-force on his turning broomstick) are dumbing down the general population.

Ball himself, quite reasonably, isn’t so bothered by these sorts of things. In his view, movies are “the modern equivalents of classical myths, their scenarios so unashamedly fantastic that we have no illusions about what we're getting.” He does, however, profess an interest in a growing YouTube genre that shows scientists doing actual experiments in real time.

Educational and anthropologically interesting, to be sure, but perhaps not as good with popcorn.

You can read the rest of Ball’s article on Nature online.