A couple of days ago, Wired ran a piece titled “Civil War’s Winter Soldier Couldn’t Survive This Giant Jump”. As the title suggests, the column mainly revolved around the author taking issue with the with the jump seen at the very beginning of this video:
In short, they did a few basic calculations about drop height, acceleration, deceleration, and such. The non-surprising conclusion was that a normal human might not survive the fall that Bucky just did.
I was dumbfounded. This ran so much against everything I believe in about popularizing science, that I had to write a small response on my research group’s Facebook page (pardon my self-quote):
“And this, my friends, is exactly how you DON’T popularize science.
Trying to make cool things uncool again, by pointing out minor discrepancies with no regard for context whatsoever – generally not a good idea.
This guy has been repeatedly frozen and defrosted back-and-forth between a human popsicle and a bio-engineered super-soldier-slash-assassin, over and over again, for the last seventy years or so. In the previous Captain America movie he went toe-to-toe on several occasions with a a guy jumping out of airplanes without a parachute, and achieved at least a pyrrhic victory each time.
And the writer takes issue with a slightly higher-than-average jump?
Seriously, if you want to write columns about superheroes and elementary physics, at least adopt a positive tone. Something like “Let’s calculate EXACTLY HOW AWESOME Bucky Barners / The Winter Soldier is!”
Shouldn’t be too hard.”
And that pretty much summarizes my opion. Science should not be seen as something that sucks the fun out of everything.
Because that’s not what science is. Science is awesome.
And I’m not even talking about something as high-brow as new theoretical discoveries, or a better understanding of our world. I’m talking about all the cool things – as in cool actual devices – that have been born out of scientific curiosity. Like Tesla coils, soon-to-be flying cars, or actual flying UFOs.
Now, in your mind, compare all those incarnations of awesome, to nit-picking about a character in a movie doing something implausible. And mind this: a superhero character in a superhero movie doing something an unaugmented human might find hard. Can you spot the contradiction?
And note that I didn’t even say impossible – some parkour enthusiasts are doing some quite high drops even now, to no apparent ill effect:
Now, I do understand that we science people have to occasionally sound dull to other people. We might do it for the sake of really essential education, and sometimes even to prevent actual harm from being done or suffered. This is true especially often in health and nutrition related matters, with some quack-treatments for cancer being an extreme example.
However, we are speaking about a movie now. People will understand that it is a movie. People will understand they should not go out jumping out from buildings onto highways. Those who do not understand, should be under the supervision of their parents (and not seeing the movie) or a legal guardian (and possibly not seeing the movie).
Movies are awesome. Science is also awesome. And they are not at all incompatible, even though the former may often violate laws and probabilities derived with the latter.
And Marvel movies are more popular than ever, seen and read about by people from all over the world, from pretty much all possible backgrounds. As such, they are indeed an incredible opportunity for click-baiting people to read something sciency and even educating.
Just think of it: the entire Marvel world is full of possibilities and examples of plain unadulterated tech, and higher scientific concepts alike . From the Iron Man, Ant-Man, and Falcon suits, to helicarriers and alternate dimensions, and even the ever-popular topic of surveillance.
Surely, it shouldn’t be so difficult to come up with something that leaves a good taste on people’s tongues. Something that might leave them wondering if there actually is something to this scy-ence thing after all.
And – if we do our job really well – just might encourage them to click the next related link and learn a little bit more.
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