Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

The Imitation Game, and how hollywood's STEM stereotypes are bad for all of us

If you haven't seen The Imitation Game, you should. I just caught it on DVD. Be warned first though it's terribly sad. It's about Alan Turing, a brilliant mathematician and computer scientist who helped Britain and the allies win WWII by building a machine that decoded german radio messages. But the society he lived in was more concerned that he was a homosexual and wasted a great deal of his potential with bullshit intolerance. His life ended early, his career ended early, his work was spent under the shadow of secrets. Why? Because people.

The movie did a good job with that message. What they didn't do so well was the technology.

A few years back I read a book that became one of my all-time favorites, called The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun. The theme of that book is that our assumptions about scientists are all wrong, and screwing with our ability to duplicate the processes great inventors use to innovate.

We learn in history class all these stories about one amazing hero guy (Newton, Jobs, Edison, Einstein) being an eccentric super genius all alone and one day in the shower he suddenly realizes the answer to everything and the next day we have the iphone.

In reality when you look back at the stories and talk to the people involved, the majority of great innovations are created by teams or partnerships. not one guy working all alone. and there are failures along the way. and that great idea only happened because of years of work... like putting the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle, you don't say "oh I SUDDENLY solved it!"

So I wondered what Scott Berkun (who is also a really nice guy on Twitter) would say about The Imitation Game, which shows Alan Turning being a real jerk to his colleagues and wanting to work alone because he doesn't need anybody. So I searched, and found that he'd linked to this wonderful wonderful article by Monica Guzman:

Guzman reports that the movie did us all a disservice - Turing was not a "lone genius" asshole at all. His colleagues said the movie straight up lied about that to make the story more interesting and don't we all know that's how scientists are supposed to BE. There were others in the group who made very important contributions to the code-breaking machine, and Turing was willing to work with them all along.

The movie also glossed over the actual math and science behind the machine, assuming us audience members have no interest or just aren't smart enough. You're all not smart enough. Here's the genius, just get out of his way. That's the message.

But the message is really bad for science, as it always has been. We wonder why kids don't want to go into math and science?

Maybe it's all these films that send the message that unless you are The Chosen One, you have nothing to give.

We need to tell the real stories of how great ideas found their way into our lives, empower more students to believe in themselves. Science isn't just for magic science people. It's for hard workers, team players, passionate enthusiasts, and it thrives on diversity. There's a spot for everybody and that message needs to go out.
Tags: engineering, movies

Posts from This Journal “movies” Tag

  • friday 5: setting the scene

    questions from today. On these it was easier to think of my favorite films, and go backwards! What’s your favorite film set in space?…

  • 2016 movies

    The friday five this week reveals how little I go out to the movies. 1) Do you try to see all the nominees for Best Picture each year before the…

  • My five year old watching Silent Hill

    When Halloween came around this year spacekid, age 5, was thrilled. She wanted the house to be scary, wanted to visit halloween stores, and of course…

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded