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"Outbreak"/_Hot Zone_,etc.

Patrick O'Neil patrick at corona
Wed Mar 15 17:43:34 EST 1995

On 15 Mar 1995, Biology Department wrote:

> Bio-net members
> 	Kathryn's message about the movie "Outbreak" and the book "Hot 
> Zone" identifies an important role of popular media in sceitific 
> education.  I am speaking from ignorace since I have not yet seen 
> Outbreak nor habve I read completely "the Hot ZOne"--I, fortuanetly, was 
> able to catch a National Public Radio Interview with Preston (the author 
> of the book).  
> 	Kathryn's is correct in maintaining that popular media items are 
> important to scientific education, especially for lay persons with little 

I have been waiting for someone to specifically jump on my critique of 
the move _Outbreak_ for similar reasons as some have jumped on others:  
it is just a movie and is fiction (loosely based on fact).  I was, 
perhaps, overly critical but then I keep thinking in a broader sense and 
decide that, perhaps I wasn't afterall.  

I do not mind the escapist movie now and then but I do get irritated when 
science and the military is so horribly misrepresented in popular culture 
because for many, this is where they develop their basic feelings and 
ideas about these two areas.  People ARE basically lazy as a whole and so 
few will take the time to examine their preconceptions provided by pop 
culture to see how they jive with reality.  This country already has 
problems with science education and trust in various institutions that, 
ultimately MUST be utilized and trusted to some extent.  We have 
fundamentalist christians, new agers, occultists, all in full bloom and 
each with a HORRENDOUS idea of what is and isn't science or scientific.  
Many equate pseudo-science to real science because they have been failed 
in school.  It simply doesn't help things at all when hugely popular 
diversions work to reinforce mistaken ideas.  Sure, make adventure movies 
and escapist fare but PLEASE use real science when science is called for 
(especially when the science in the movie takes itself seriously rather 
than farcically).  

  It would not have really hurt _Outbreak_, for instance, if the epidemic 
wasn't so quickly and easily cured at the end (with people who were, 
minutes before, on the edge of death getting up and walking home with 
just a little fatigue).  It would even have left a little ball of dread 
in the stomachs of the viewers if the end wasn't so pretty and happy, but 
nevertheless, HOPEFUL.  I say this only because I have seen too much of 
the public (as I am sure many here have too) who are terribly ignorant 
about the real difficulty involved in trying to cure any virus.  People 
who think that AIDS should have already been cured by now, as though it 
is a simple matter.  People who blame the military for Hantavirus in the 
Four Corners area - instead they should be made aware of the dangers 
involved in encroachment into undeveloped areas and that good hygiene is 
still important.  
  Science can be made exciting to the general public without taking TOO
much liberty with facts and reality.  And the military...it is made up of
people just like any other endeavor and just about every one of the
military people that I served with were some of the most dedicated,
heroic, stoic, professional, and honorable people I have ever had the
pleasure of being with - yet they were still human and had many of the
same foibles as civilians.  I just get tired of negative or simpleminded
portrayals of science or the military (other institutions suffer the same
treatment, of course, but these in particular seem to take hits). 

I think the entertainment industry can do better - entertaining and 
providing an education of some sort just as a matter reasonably accurate 


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