There have been some spectacular scientific blunders in feature films over the years. If you’re in for a giggle check out the Telegraphs 20 worst science and technology errors in films (or even Evie’s post). In particular if I can draw your attention to numbers 4, 6, 12, 15 and 19 on that list I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. However its the final sci-fi film no-no, ‘Eco Worriers’ (# 20) that is of the greatest interest to me…
The 2004 movie extravaganza The Day After Tomorrow was a massive success (in monetary terms). If you didn’t get a chance to see the movie, I highly recommend that you check it out from the video store; however the trailer (above) gives a pretty good summary of what happens. To briefly explain the ‘science’ behind the movie’s plot, the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation shuts down due to global warming. This triggers abrupt and catastrophic climate change with extreme storms and weather events around the world and eventually (as in a few days later) the next ice age.
This blockbuster had scientists, politicians, advocacy groups and many others in heated discussions before it was even released. There were concerns that the public would see climate change as a far fetched concept and dismiss it completely. These groups should have given the US public a little more credit! Dr Anthony Leiserowitz, from the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University studied the effects that this climatic disaster movie had on the US public that watched it (Leiserowitz, 2004). I was surprised to find that movie-viewers were much more likely to rate climate change as a higher national priority than those that hadn’t seen it, yet they didn’t tend to then think that it was a ridiculous issue. The public were able to ascertain that climate change is a gradual model and abrupt changes like in the movie were unlikely.
In Burns, et al. (2003), there is mention that promoting action through science communication is a process:
Raise Awareness → Develop Understanding → Cause & Promote Action
Personally I feel that some people were reading a little too much into the movies intentions. A Hollywood movie is always going to aim to gain large profits despite the social ramifications. Climate change has been a hot topic for many years now & as its nature is to be surrounded in a lot of uncertainty, its a prime target for a Hollywood movie plot. However despite the lack of scientific truth, I doubt half as many people would have paid to watch Jake Gyllenhaal sitting on the beach for 100 years watching the sea level rise less than a metre. The gross exaggeration of the truth in this film has therefore been a useful science communication tool as its been proven to raise public awareness (in the short-term) and even convinced people to positively change their actions in relation to preventing climate change (Leiserowitz, 2004).
But maybe public awareness about climate change is well and truly established by now. Should media stop clouding up an already confusing and overcrowded area of science to try and develop public understanding and actions against the issue?
Would love to hear your thoughts about scientific inaccuracies promoting public interest & awareness…
Burns, T. W., O’Connor, D. J., and Stocklmayer, S. M. (2003) Science Communication: A contemporary definition. Public Understandings of Science, 12: 183 – 202
Leiserowitz, A. (2004) Before and after the day after tomorrow: A U.S. study of climate change risk perception. Environment, 46 (9): 22-37. Retrieved from Proquest.
Image 1: Warming Cartoon (2010) Orion Energy. Available from http://www.oriones.com/blog/tag/energy-efficiency/