Two professors at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have warned that the questionable physics seen in blockbuster movies like Spiderman 2 and Speed are contributing to students' ignorance about science.
The pair set out to show just how poorly Hollywood writers and directors understand science in an article published in the German journal Praxis der Naturwissenschaften Physik.
Common sense may indicate that people should know that the stunts in movies are just make-believe, but the professors maintain that this is not necessarily true.
"Some people really do believe that a bus travelling at 70mph can clear a 50-foot gap in a freeway, as depicted in the movie Speed," said UCF Professor Costas Efthimiou.
"Students do not have any basic understanding of science. People say that everyone knows the movies are not real, but my experience is that many students believe what they see on the screen."
Other sources seem to back up the academics' claims. The Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 report showed that the average science scores among 12th graders in the US dropped from the previous year.
Only about a third of all students tested were considered proficient, meaning that they had a solid understanding of the subject.
"If youngsters are not getting the basics at the elementary level it becomes very difficult for them to continue to study the subjects in college, and virtually impossible for them to make significant contributions to the scientific community," said Professor Efthimiou.
Professor Efthimiou began teaching a basic physics course at UCF in 2000, but found that the students were afraid of the subject matter and complained that his class was too hard.
He approached former UCF physics chair R A Llewellyn to find a way to tackle the problem and together they developed the Physics in Film course, which is now one of the most popular on campus.
The course involves finding scenes in films which illustrate various physics concepts and then dissecting the scenes to learn the real laws of physics and how they differ from those in the movies.
Professor Efthimiou is worried that society will pay the price if science and maths education does not improve.
"All the luxuries we have today, the modern conveniences, are a result of the science research that went on in the 1960s during the Space Race. It did not just happen. It took people doing hard science to do it," he concluded.
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