The Science & Entertainment Exchange is a program run and developed by the United States National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to increase public awareness, knowledge, and understanding of science and advanced science technology through its representation in television, film, and other media. It serves as a pro-science movement with the main goal of re-cultivating how science and scientists truly are in order to rid the public of false perceptions on these topics. The Exchange provides entertainment industry professionals with access to credible and knowledgeable scientists and engineers who help to encourage and create effective representations of science and scientists in the media, whether it be on television, in films, plays, etc. The Exchange also helps the science community understand the needs and requirements of the entertainment industry, while making sure science is conveyed in a correct and positive manner to the target audience.
Officially launched in November 2008, the Exchange can be thought of as a partnership between NAS and Hollywood, as it arranges direct consultations between scientists and entertainment professionals who develop science-themed content. This collaboration allows for industry professionals to accurately portray the science that they wish to capture and include in their media production. It also provides scientists and science organizations with the opportunity to communicate effectively with a large audience that may otherwise be hard to reach such as through innovative physics outreach. It also provides a variety of other services, including scheduling briefings, brainstorming sessions, screenings, and salons. The Exchange is based in Los Angeles, California.
In one of its first acts of business, The Science & Entertainment Exchange connected Alex McDowell, the production designer for the 2009 film adaptation of the graphic novel Watchmen, with University of Minnesota physics professor James Kakalios. Kakalios is the author of the book The Physics of Superheroes, and was selected as a science consultant in part because of his extensive experience incorporating comic book superheroes into his writings and lectures as a way to motivate the public to take an interest in science. In the run up to the theatrical release of Watchmen, Kakalios and the University of Minnesota produced a short video (with more than 1,500,000 views as of April 29, 2009) explaining the science behind Dr. Manhattan's super powers to increase public awareness of the science behind the film.
The TV series Fringe is using the Exchange to identify scientists able to address technical questions regarding scripts in development. A rapid-response team of specialists in neuroscience, epidemiology, and genetics—themes frequently featured in the series—has been gathered to assist the scriptwriters.
Thor screenwriters connected through The Exchange with Kevin Hand from Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab, who helped them turn the comic book's mythological worlds into believable cinematic scenery.
In addition, the collaboration resulted in the film featuring Natalie Portman as Jane Foster, a female physicist. This worked towards eliminating the stereotype that many hold viewing scientists strictly as men and not women. This action also served to portray scientists in a positive, relatable manner which so many other media productions miss the mark on completely by making scientists out to be mean, evil, and cruel. This outcome illustrates a main goal of the Exchange, to use popular entertainment media to better communicate to the public about the true realities of scientists and science information in general.
Science as social context
Since long before C. P. Snow's "Two Cultures" essay, science has struggled to overcome negative stereotypes; communicating science's tremendous importance and appeal to a general audience is an enormous challenge. Traditional entertainment media have portrayed scientists, over and over, as evil, mean, and cruel in the past. These ubiquitous and consonant mass media messages served to cultivate a false perception of scientists, and science in general, in the public. With movies and television shows constantly portraying scientists in this false manner it led people to believe it was an accurate portrayal. This effect that the media can have can be described by cultivation theory. Cultivation theory was first formulated by George Gerbner in 1976. It identifies television (and now film) as a main source of information and storytelling in today's world. The theory of cultivation makes several assumptions which function to explain how false perceptions, such as those about science, are created. First, the theory assumes that media are controlled by a few, powerful corporate interests. Next, it believes that these players create ubiquitous and consonant messages that the lay public witnesses repeatedly. Finally, it assumes that the effects of these redundant and constant messages will occur over time to slowly cultivate false perceptions of reality in the public. As a result of the cultivated beliefs about science that have formed over the past 30 years or so, science is currently not an area of interest or importance to the majority of the lay public and thus this area of research is not understood accurately by many; the majority of the public lacks basic scientific knowledge and understanding. However, the Exchange is working to effectively change this. Entertainment media that portray scientists and their work in a positive light have been found to have direct educational and socializing influences on audiences. For example, survey analyses show that some science fiction portrayals appear to boost public evaluations of science. After controlling for education and other background variables, studies find that heavier viewers of science fiction television hold greater belief in the promise of science, and are more supportive of controversial topics such as therapeutic cloning.
In a study of the audience effects for the 2004 blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, viewers of the film, after controlling for education, gender, age, and political views, were significantly more concerned about global climate change, more likely to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and more trusting of government agencies such as NASA and NOAA.
As news agenda-setters, film and television can also have an important indirect influence. These films provide dramatic "news pegs" for journalists seeking to either sustain or generate new coverage of an issue. For example, studies comparing the news attention sparked by the 2001 release of the Third IPCC report on climate change with the amount of coverage generated by the 2004 release of The Day After Tomorrow and the 2006 release of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, find that both films far surpassed the IPCC report in media publicity. This illustrates the great power that the entertainment media industry has in communicating with a lay audience. Science is a topic that most laymen seem to disregard, and do not show great interest or concern in. By incorporating it into a more mainstream media environment, such as television series and films versus scientific journals and newspapers, the Exchange allows scientific information and news to be communicated in an accurate and clear manner to those that would otherwise ignore the subject.
In another example, the 1998 releases of the blockbusters Deep Impact and Armageddon galvanized news attention to the potential problem of Near Earth Objects, a science policy issue that otherwise rarely, if ever, receives news attention.
Scientific verisimilitude in movies and television has been positively correlated with commercial success, providing "realism" and "legitimacy" to which audiences respond.