Hollywood isn’t too worried about getting the science in its movies right. It’s more concerned about finding useful publicity angles. Case in point:
A couple of weeks ago I recevied a PR email from Summit/Zoom Werks, the production company responsible for the movie Push (which was quite thoroughly reviewed by Mark last week).
“I wanted to touch base with you to see if you might have any interest in the subject of “Remote Viewing”? We are working on a motion picture about this subject and we have a professional Remote Viewer, Jack Rourke, who is consulting with us. Mr. Rourke has had extensive experience in this arena and has conducted work for government and law enforcement agencies.
As you may know, Remote Viewing (RV) refers to the attempt to gather information about a distant or unseen target using paranormal means or extra-sensory perception. Typically a remote viewer is expected to give information about an object that is hidden from physical view and separated at some distance.
It is a fascinating subject and apparently governments around the world employ individuals with this ability. I don’t know what the success ratio is for a Remote Viewer in accomplishing his/her assignments but it triggers a most interesting debate.”
So, off the bat, the email addressed my scientific interests, claiming Push to be a movie based in fact, promoting remote viewing as a credible practice. This approach immediately raised my hackles, since, as far as I know, there is no conclusive evidence supporting the viability of this ESP technique. Just because “governments around the world employ individuals with this ability” doesn’t mean it actually works.
A 1995 review of the literature concludes that although remote viewing experiments resulted in better than chance results (termed “small to medium” effects), there was no way of confirming the result was due to a psi phenomenon. The review also argues against the usefulness of remote viewing for intelligence gathering purposes.
Verdict? The science fails to back-up the claims. Did they really think it was a good idea to try to sell me on the film using this kind of an unsupported pitch? It wouldn’t be worth my radio time because there really is no debate. People who believe in this psychic phenomenon would present anecdotes, and I would have to keep repeating myself… “There is no convincing experimental evidence published in major peer-reviewed journals.” Boooring!
However, don’t get me wrong. I love a good science fiction story. So, I grabbed a girlfriend and went to the movies.
I won’t review the film itself because Mark did a great job of that. I will say that despite the flimsy plot, I did enjoy myself. The film itself is cinematically interesting with unique lighting, color, and pacing. It was difficult to “suspend my disbelief” given my initial bias due to the email, which made the plot even harder to choke down.
I think part of the problem with Push is a problem for many movies these days. They don’t create the make-believe world well enough for the audience to completely let go of the real world. Or, they place unbelievable things into the real world without giving them enough support. Just saying, “well, that’s the way it is,” doesn’t really fly anymore.
That said, there are people in Hollywood really trying to make more believable films. Astrophysicists are consulting on films about outer space. Scientists are talking to film makers. Scientists are even starting to write scripts.
Science is getting more and more visibility as more and more scientists start using the media to their advantage. This makes it a useful vector for the publicists who know little to nothing about science, but need to find an angle to get their people into the TV and radio interviews. This is how Jack Rourke becomes the possible interview subject rather than a scientist. And, after seeing the film, I’m not exactly sure what he possibly could have added to the production of the film as a consultant aside from his name.
I am looking forward to many more such PR efforts, but publicists be warned to use the science angle at their peril.