[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] First things first: this was probably the most fun I’ve had working through an STS monograph. (Really: Who doesn’t like reading about Jurassic Park and King Kong?) In addition to being full of wonderful anecdotes about the film and television industries, David Kirby’s Lab Coats in Hollywood: Science, Scientists, and Cinema (MIT Press, 2011) is also a very enlightening exploration of the role of science consultants on television and in film, and the negotiations of expertise involved in relationships between scientists and the cinema. Scholars of STS will recognize some of the major themes that Kirby raises in the course of a fascinating look behind the scenes of the cinematic production of “science”: negotiated definitions of accuracy and plausibility, technologies of virtual witnessing, the social construction of knowledge. Many of the chapters will change the way you see representations of scientists and their work in the movies and on TV, and Kirby’s description of the filmic use of “diegetic prototypes,” or cinematic depictions of future technologies, is a stand-alone contribution in itself. This is a must-read for anyone interested in popular representations of science. Kirby describes the ways that visual media interpret, naturalize, and engage with scientific theories (be they well-accepted, controversial, or fantastical), and how some scientists in turn manipulate cinematic depictions for their own ends. Plus, have I mentioned how much fun it is?
Check out David’s recent discussion of the film Prometheus!