March 29, 2019

The future of science in film

Science on Screen sponsor Doron Webber tells Science magazine why the partnership of science and cinema matters.

"...[Narrative films] can reveal to the public the multitudinous figures who live, breathe, and struggle creatively in the great human endeavor of science that, for mostly better and sometimes worse, helps define who we are, where we came from, and where we're going."

In an op-ed titled The future of science in film, Doron Weber, Sloan Foundation SVP and director of their Public Understanding of Science and Technology program, argues that the “universal language” of cinema is uniquely able to convey the power and beauty of science to modern humanity. The piece was published in the March 22 issue of Science magazine.

Scientific endeavor, Weber says, is a rich source of material for filmmakers. The story of NASA computer Katherine Johnson, which became broadly known only after the release of the Oscar-nominated 2017 hit film “Hidden Figures” is a prime example: a tale of aerospace mathematics so compelling and socially relevant that you leave the film amazed that you didn’t learn about it in grade school.

It’s important to tell such stories, Weber argues, because science and technology “have shaped the modern world but remain little understood and poorly integrated into mainstream culture.” The ongoing pursuit of knowledge science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—what Weber calls “the great, ongoing human enterprise to understand and enhance the world around and inside us"—is at worst mischaracterized and distrusted today, and at best not a frequent subject of day-to-day discussion and water cooler conversation. But movies are, and the more the two are brought together, the fuller our common understanding of ourselves and our world will be.

Read Mr. Weber's editorial here.

In the video above, Mr. Weber explains how on the Science on Screen program fits into the Sloan Foundation’s larger efforts to promote public understanding of science. By “democratizing” science—taking it out of the lab and the classroom and bringing it into the public sphere of the cinema—the program provides lay audiences the opportunity to see that STEM “could be entertaining, could be fun,” Weber says says. “Science and technology can be the stuff of your local cinema that everyone wants to go see.”