Friday, November 04, 2005

Science and Cinema

I'm gonna chime in on this one, even though PZ Myers already has. In case you don't have access, I'm talking about the book review in Nature of Mad, Bad and Dangerous: The Scientist and the Cinema. I haven't read the book, nor do I intend to, so this is neither a review of the book, nor a review of the book review. I have my own little anecdote that I would like to share.

I caught the movie Laurel Canyon on HBO a while back, and I cringed painfully at its portrayal of a graduate student. She was at the thesis writing stage and had moved from Boston to Los Angeles with her fiance (an intern in psychiatry) to live with his mother (a sixties era rock 'n roller in the middle of producing an album for a British pop-rock band). Can't you feel the tension building? A straight-laced doctor and scientist living in a perpetual party atmosphere! I'll pause for a second, and let you wipe the drips of sarcasm from your monitor.

Apparently, the grad student is working in Drosophila genomics, although from the one requisite expository scene you would think she was studying Drah-sew-feel-ee-ah. Honestly, how hard is it to find an expert advisor to ensure the tiny bit of science in the film is presented with a semblance of accuracy? The film takes place less than ten miles from UCLA, a 15-30 minute drive depending on traffic. I’m sure they could have scrounged up a grad student from the molecular biology department to ensure that Drosophila is pronounced correctly. Pay that kid a couple hundred bucks and promise them their name in the credits, and they’ll definitely be in.

From what I remember, the way she describes her project, it sounds like she’s studying protein-protein interactions for the entire proteome, but you can’t be sure. That’s not entirely important, though. What irks me most is that the one time they pay any heed to her research they make her sound like an incompetent moron. In case you’re wondering, she is supposed to be writing her dissertation, but gets caught up in all the sex, drugs and alcohol. Her advisor keeps emailing her, and she keeps ignoring his requests for a completed draft. I would think the guy would have some hook-ups at UCLA, and could set her up with some office space there so that she could get away from the crazy party.

And if you think this is my own little issue that no one else shares, it’s not. I’ve had multiple conversations at Drosophila meetings in which this has come up amongst grad students. We all come to the same conclusion: what the hell is a Drah-sew-feel-ee-ah? It’s not a difficult word to pronounce. Say it with me, “Dro-soph-i-la”.


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