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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

If you liked the science in the movie Arrival, I want to have a (single) word with you

By Phil Plait

I recently wrote about the ridiculously small input I had on the script of the movie Arrival. Since that time, however, I have decided it was actually a critical piece of editing that made the movie all it was, because in the intervening time, I found out the script won the Writers Guild of America award for Best Adapted Screenplay and was up for an Oscar and a slew of other awards. Obviously — obviously — all these accolades were due to my changing literally just one word.

Still, I was interviewed about it by Christophe Haubursin for Vox, which is cool. Even cooler, they put together a short, fun video about it, and you will see me as a floating cartoon head, which, to be fair, is pretty much how I see myself.

Sadly, my floating cartoon head did not win an Oscar (I was hoping they had simply read the wrong name, but hats off to Zardoz anyway).

Anyway, it’s always nice to see the Science and Entertainment Exchange get press, because they do good work. A lot of movies and TV shows benefit from their help, and I always appreciate seeing an effort made on the part of Hollywood to better depict science and scientists. The video above makes it clear that this really is important; most people think of a middle-aged, balding, bearded white man when they are asked to picture a scientist*, and people do cite media being the source of that representation in their heads.

If you’re interested in finding an actually more diverse group of science types, I created a public Twitter list of scientists and science communicators I follow. That’s a good place to start. My pal Laura Keeney also has a list of women scientists on Twitter, and honestly, if you do a Google search, you’ll find lots more diversity than people who look like me.

Seek them out. The thing about reality is, we all interpret it a bit differently, and the best way to make sure we’re as close as possible to truth is to make sure we have outside viewpoints and voices against which to compare our own. That’s one of the very bases of science itself, even when the object of study is science itself.

* And while in my case that might be true, it’s still a bad precedent. Also, I never wear a lab coat.

I have a special bonus just for you, Bad Readers: Astrophysicist Andy Howell has done an episode of his video series "Science Vs. Cinema" on Arrival. It's quite entertaining. But it does contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the movie, I suggest seeing it first, then watching the review!