Aside from politicians, religious fundamentalists, and that guy you know who’s always stoned, there’s no larger peddler of dubious science than Hollywood. NASA has decided to call “bullshit” on some of these films that exploit (or perhaps “molest”) scientific concepts to explain their silly plots. Some of the expected offenders are mentioned; Armageddon, The 6th Day, Volcano and The Core (the script for which sent a NASA consultant packing upon reading it), but apparently it is 2012 that really stands out as the “dumbest fucking shit, like, ever.*”
Calling it “absurd” and an “exceptional and extraordinary case” of being retarded, 2012 scared so many people with its bullshit premise of a catastrophically over-heated core causing earth’s destruction that NASA made the unprecedented move of setting up a website to deflect 2012 questions specifically.
“The filmmakers took advantage of public worries about the so-called end of the world as apparently predicted by the Mayans of Central America, whose calendar ends on December 21, 2012. The agency is getting so many questions from people terrified that the world is going to end in 2012 that we have had to put up a special website to challenge the myths. We have never had to do this before.”
There were films that garnered praise however, films that present a relatively accurate portrayal of scientific principles, or at least embellish in a way that doesn’t completely betray them. Jurassic Park generally plausible genetic conceit is among the mentioned films, along with Blade Runner, Gattaca, Metropolis, and The Day The Earth Stood Still. NASA officials were also able to peel away the sap and pandering of Contact to find the warm gooey science-core (still unaffected by neutrinos, thank you Mr. Emmerich).
The list doesn’t seem to be fully compiled and available yet (everyone’s stories are just referencing each other in a big circle), but New.com.au and The Australian are the deepest sources I can find. This all comes from second-hand reports from a private meeting in California where they discussed Hollywood’s treatment of science, and their own consulting history. Apparently NASA “regrets its complicity in the abuse of science” but will still roll out their people and vehicles in films they deem worth of their endorsement.
Ultimately, a film’s fidelity to science is irrelevant- a shitty film can have great science and great film can have terrible science. It’s neither magic nor coincidence though, that the projects which take the most care in researching and developing the authenticity of their phony science have often also taken the most care in every other aspect of the film, and thus a good film happens. Consistency of internal logic and a reasonable acknowledgment of basic principles is usually a good start for any film, so hopefully NASA can help encourage that mindset of care in Hollywood. An overall increase in the amount of thought put into projects in Hollywood though? I’m not holding my breath.
*Nobody at NASA said that.
EDIT: Originally the article stated that the Science & Entertainment Exchange, a program of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was involved in the creation of the list. This is not the case. It’s all NASA’s doing. You can check out the S&EE website and Facebook page to see the cool (though not directly connected) stuff they’re up to though.