[ RadSafe ] Another look at fear of technology (and radiation?)

John Jacobus crispy_bird at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 22 11:03:31 CDT 2006

Editorial: Nature 441, 908 (22 June 2006)
Published online 21 June 2006 at

The mad technologist

Abstract:  Hollywood warms to science, but fears

Cinema has been around for more than 100 years now,
but the world has not tired of it. According to the
Motion Picture Association of America, 9.6 billion
tickets to the cinema were sold around the world in
2004. Film was, arguably, the single most important
artistic medium of the twentieth century. Its
resonance and power alone make it an object worthy of

It is also an art that technology has rendered
possible. More than an opera, a play or a novel, film
is a technological product, spawned directly by the
inventions of electricity and celluloid. Before the
Lumière brothers' cinématographe showed moving images
of Lumière factory workers knocking off work for the
day, the groundwork was laid by the invention of the
pinhole camera and Eadweard Muybridge's
motion-capturing photographs, for example.

So how does this most modern of media see science?
On-screen, apart from a few earnest biopics of Louis
Pasteur or the Curies, scientists are often portrayed
as comically inept eccentrics or evil geniuses bent on
world domination. They frequently re-enact
Frankenstein-creator Mary Shelley's lesson about
playing god — and are almost as frequently dispatched
by their own twisted creations.

Yet scientists are less interested in creating things
than in finding things out — discovering new species,
rather than manufacturing them. Many 'mad scientists'
on film are really engineers of one kind or another.
They are technologists.

Films such as Primer and Schläfer have given the world
a more realistic look at scientists, albeit ones with
more interesting lives than most.

This muddling of science and technology is common, and
it could be argued that scientists haven't helped
things by claiming full credit for technologies — such
as nuclear power or modern medicine —that they merely
made possible through their discoveries. If we tease
science and technology apart, we find that pure
scientists are often treated kindly by film-makers,
who have portrayed them sympathetically, as brooding
mathematicians (A Beautiful Mind) and heroic
archaeologists (Raiders of the Lost Ark).

It is technology that movie-makers seem to fear. Even
the best-loved science-fiction films have a distinctly
ambivalent take on it. Blade Runner features a genetic
designer without empathy for his creations, who end up
killing him. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, computers turn
against humans, and Star Wars has us rooting for the
side that relies on spiritual power over that which
prefers technology, exemplified by the Death Star. Why
would an inherently technological medium seem to be so
wary of its own creator?

Modern technology has changed lives considerably, as
becomes clear when we consider that television has
been around for only about 70 years. No doubt
technology has improved lives in ways that can easily
be felt and measured. But it takes some getting used
to. Many people find the constant introduction of new
gadgets and the faster pace of life alienating and
exhausting. It may be that our first completely
technological art form is the one best suited to
exploring how we feel about modern life.

At any rate, the mad scientist is not the only image
of science. Films such as Primer and Schläfer (see
page 922) have given the world a more realistic look
at scientists, albeit ones with rather more
interesting lives than most. There is drama and pathos
to be found in the laboratory, even without the wild
hair and insatiable desire to rule the world.

"You get a lot more authority when the workforce doesn't think it's amateur hour on the top floor."
GEN. MICHAEL V. HAYDEN, President Bush's nominee for C.I.A. director.

-- John
John Jacobus, MS
Certified Health Physicist
e-mail:  crispy_bird at yahoo.com

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