Monday, November 26, 2007

Guess which way they vote

Two University of Central Florida professors show just how poorly Hollywood writers and directors understand science in an article published in the German journal “Praxis der Naturwissenschaften Physik.” Common sense may indicate that people should know the stunts in movies are just make believe, but the professors say that’s not necessarily true.

Some people really do believe a bus traveling 70 mph can clear a 50-foot gap in a freeway, as depicted in the movie Speed. And, if that were realistic, a ramp would be needed to adjust the direction of motion to even try to make the leap, said UCF professor Costas J. Efthimiou, who co-authored the article.

“Students come here, and they don’t have any basic understanding of science,” he said. “Sure, people say everyone knows the movies are not real, but my experience is many of the students believe what they see on the screen.”

And that’s not just a UCF problem. Efthimiou said students across the United States seem to have the same challenge with science. It starts young.

The Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 report seems to support his observations. The report shows that the average science scores among 12th graders in the U.S. dropped from the previous year. The scores remained stagnant in the fourth and eighth grades. Worse, only about one-third of all students tested were proficient, meaning they had a solid understanding of what they should know.

If youngsters aren’t getting the basics at the elementary level, it becomes very difficult for them to continue to study the subjects in college and virtually impossible for them to make significant contributions to the scientific community, Efthimiou said.

Efthimiou began teaching a basic physics course at UCF in 2000. He described the experience as “horrible.” The students feared the subject matter and complained his class was too hard. Instead of continuing with the standard fare, he approached former UCF physics chair R.A. Llewellyn. Together, they came up with the movie approach now known as “Physics in Film.” They launched the course in the summer of 2002, and today it is among the most popular on campus.

This strikes me as yet another manifestation of the same phenomenon I have been on about (off and on) for months. My guess is that the good professors didn't ask about politics, but I would bet hard money that the folks who believed in Hollywood physics (a) thought Iraq was going just peachy, (b) tended to watch Fixed Noise and/or listen to Rush Limbaugh and (c) favored Preznit Bush in numbers well above the national level.


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