Monday, December 31, 2007

Superstition in Hollywood


Last night I went to see the new animated "Bee movie". It was a cute entertaining movie and I would recommend it to anyone, however, one thing in the movie bugged me =). In the very beginning of the movie there was a black screen and on it they wrote the infamous myth that "According to all known laws of aviation the bee should not be able to fly, but unaware of this fact, the bee continues to fly anyway.

This is of course nonsense, and it annoys me a little bit that they could not do a Google search to find out whether their claim is true or false… So Seinfeld, if you read this, Bees have been studied intensively, and according to the laws of aerodynamics they can fly. The citation above is based on the assumption that insects fly like airplanes and thus need same wing-area, an assumption which is simply not true. Bees and insects in general are small compared to airplanes and they accomplish their lifting force in qualitatively different ways. We do not know the details of how all insects fly, however, bees have in fact been studied rather intensively, and they can fly. If you are still in doubt take a look at any one of these links:

Caltech – Transcript of the original research

Wikipedia – Go to "bee flight"

Live Science

Ask Dr. Galapagos – Detailed analysis of this question

Skepticality discussion board – Discussion on all explicit and implicit claims in Bee Movie

Seinfeld and his friends are hardly the sole perpetrators when it comes to spreading superstitions. I have always been a fan of the series X-files. In the X-files (which I have heard is based on real cases) you have two FBI agents, Mulder and Scully. In a typical episode Mulder and Scully gets a case with weird circumstances and they go to investigate. Mulder always come up with a supernatural explanation, often involving grey aliens with pear-shaped heads, whereas Scully always comes up with a scientific explanation involving hallucinations and rare scientific phenomenon. Sounds like a perfect setting right?



The only problem is that in every episode Scully's scientific explanation is always ridiculed. In the series you often see the supernatural events actually occurring, sometimes they happen right in front of Scully, and yet she sticks with her scientific dogmatism – looking really dumb in the process.

My worry here is simply that a lot of people will walk away from their screens believing that scientists are extremely narrow minded people, even though they are not. I would bet that no scientist would ever claim that bees cannot fly – we see that they do. Just because there currently is no satisfactory theoretical explanation for a certain phenomenon does not mean that one has to deny its existence, and I don't know any scientist who would think like that. As a student of the brain I constantly come across examples where a phenomenon has been detected "e.g. consciousness", and yet there is no good theoretical account of how that phenomenon is caused. Much of science is devoted to finding such explanations – how are bees able to fly even though they have so small wings?, how does this thing that we call consciousness come about in the brain? Scientists do not deny inexplicable phenomenon, they study them and try to come up with an answer, a noble endeavor indeed.

Ps: My productivity has been a little poor lately. The reason is simply that I have been extremely busy. My blog is not about to die…

9 comments:

Felicia Gilljam said...

So not only are most of the worker bees in the movie male (this assumption is based on having seen a trailer, I haven't seen the movie), they spread the myth of bees not being able to fly as well. Sigh. Seinfeldt claimed in an interview that he went on a visit to beekeepers in France to study bees before the movie so he'd get things right. Maybe all the beekeepers there spoke french and that's why he got everything wrong in the end...

rasmussenanders said...

I think that most of the worker bees in the movie were male, so I guess one could add that to the list...

It is also interesting how in the absence of bees, all flowers and trees dies in a very short time. I know that bees are important to nature but are they that important?

Felicia Gilljam said...

Flowers and trees wouldn't die without bees, but the pollination rate would go down a lot and they would hence have trouble reproducing. The estimated loss for farmers should honeybees disappear is huge. There are plenty of other pollinating insects but none that come in such large numbers and are that effective.

That said, ALL flowering plants don't depend on bees, they can be quite choosy.

bluthetan said...

Promoting superstition in Hollywood and Washington D.C. is a core value among conservative republicans like Seinfeld. To maintain their position in the political process they must discredit science and reinforce mythological beliefs. The debate about teaching Intelligent Design in schools is another example of conservatives glorifying superstition. Many conservatives equate science with evolution; evolution with atheism; atheism with socialism. Any whiff of socialism must be nipped in the bud by right thinking wealthy conservatives to protect their corporate interests and personal wealth.

Martin said...

Unfortuneatly, the way people commited to the scientific method is portrayed in movies and alike, is often pretty negative, as you describe. The problem is that they're often not as scientific that you are led to belive, but rather that they have learned the general opinion among scientists, and that they're now sticking to it. It becomes some kind of dogmatic view on the world, which I guess is how a lot of "open minded" think about the scientific method. That it isn't so much a method as it is a certain set of (often boring) belives.

rasmussenanders said...

Thanks for the comment Martin,
Yes I agree with you. There are many people, not just public entertainers, who has heard a claim in its tenth generation saying that "did you know bees can't really fly", or "did you know that a coin falling from the eifel tower could kill you" or something similar.

The real problem is that they don't check up on these claims, which is really easy to do after all (normally all you have to do is visit wikipedia).

Travis Morgan said...

ha! That's the same and only thing that bothered me with that movie.

Ridhi Web Expert said...

Is it just superstition, or could something really have happened to her?
Thank you
Brad Fallon

sharma said...

The citation above is based on the assumption that insects fly like airplanes and thus need same wing-area, an assumption which is simply not true..
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