Friday, July 22, 2016

Ghostbusters - Will It Inspire Young Scientists?

We went to see Ghostbusters the other day. It was good entertainment, but Evalyn and I took different perspectives on the impact it might have as a piece of scifi/fantasy.

Monty says:
This movie makes the same error that nearly every movie with a scientist in it makes - it fails to portray anything close to the actual process of science.

At the start of the movie, two of the ghostbusters have already published a scholarly book on ghosts. The movie makes a HUGE deal about them being “real” scientists even though they study a field frowned upon by the establishment. And yet, when they encounter a ghost, it is their first time to ever document one! When they capture a ghost, it is the first time a ghost has ever been captured by anyone, ever! So where did this body of knowledge come from that allowed them to write a book on the topic? Apparently they just made it all up! Not only that, they made it all up correctly because they constantly let us know that their observations during the course of the movie are verifying their various theories.

What we’ve missed out on here is a chance to show that real scientists study a subject precisely because they DON’T know everything about it already. They form hypotheses and theories based on actual observations and experiments. The observations come first!

Why is this important? Because the scientist we see over and over in popular media is a person who never has to struggle to understand something, never heads down a blind alley or makes a wrong guess, and already knows everything they need to know in order to solve problems instantly. Any child who measures themselves by that yardstick will quickly determine that she or he is not cut out to be a scientist. In real life, scientists are not way smarter than the rest of us - they simply have the curiosity and perseverance to explore a topic down to the frontiers of knowledge and then push those frontiers a bit further.

I want my movie scientists to say, “I don’t know!” and then struggle to figure it out.

Evalyn says: 
It's very rare to find an action movie with a strong female lead. Hollywood has a nasty habit of portraying heroes as predominantly male. Usually, in the action genre, female characters never make it past the over sexualized sidekick or damsel in distress roles, teaching young girls that they can't be the hero. In recent years we've seen a spike in strong female leads, but several of these storylines are dulled by awkward, unneeded, romantic subplots.

This movie is great because it's a reboot of an iconic movie franchise, featuring not one, but four strong female leads. The plot focuses more on the work that the characters are doing, and the friendships between them, than any romantic relationship. It shows young girls that it's possible for them to be the heroes too. What's possibly the best part is that these ladies do it with science.

You see, girls are taught from a very young age that there are certain interests that we should just leave to the boys. (Math, science, athletics, and military service to name a few.) Women who succeed in these fields hardly ever get recognition from mainstream media. That's why having characters like Abbey and Erin is important. They're scientists who are cool because their work saves the world, and a lot of little girls are going to look up to that.

I once had a history teacher who got into history because he wanted to grow up to be an archeologist like Indiana Jones. His search led him to discover two things: that archeologists aren't really that cool in real life, and that he actually had a deep interest in history. I think that this movie could inspire that search in little girls around the world. Maybe they won't grow up to be physicists, or study ghosts, but by learning more about the scientific community they might find a field that they have an even greater interest in.

I think that Ghostbusters might just help inspire an entire generation of future female scientists, and that's pretty awesome.

What's your take?
Evalyn and I agree that we’re both right. There’s more than one way to look at this movie in terms of its potential effect on young viewers. Have you seen the movie? What’s your takeaway?

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