When a scientist becomes a movie critic

Neil deGrasse Tyson got quite exercised while watching the movie Gravity, which seems to be garnering rave reviews. In case you didn’t know, it’s about two good-looking astronauts (George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) who become marooned in a space capsule. I’m sure I’ll see it some day.

Tyson weighed in on Twitter. He wasn’t happy about the science.

Some of his tw**ts:Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 5.59.33 PM Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 5.59.09 PM Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 5.58.11 PM Screen shot 2013-10-07 at 5.57.34 PM

After all that, perhaps wary that’s he’s been too captious, Tyson adds this:


Scientists walk a fine line when calling out inaccuracies in movies involving science: we’re irked by things that could easily have been fixed, but being too critical makes you look like a geek.  I know I was rankled by the movie Evolution (although it featured a reference to “Coyne and Orr” on a classroom blackboard), but I was mostly annoyed that it was a dreadful film.

Did Tyson stay on the right side of the line?

And, if you saw the movie, did you like it?


  1. Lianne Byram
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    I found his tweets amusing. I really enjoyed the movie too – very gripping and suspenseful.

  2. Mark
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    No. It’s a dreadful mix of reasonably OK science and really bad misinformation, with no clue as to when the story switches from one to the other. It deserves to be lambasted by intelligent and well informed people.

  3. mokmok8080
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    yeah, he did

  4. Marta
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be seeing this very soon at an IMAX theater in 3D.

    The science parts could be wrong or partly wrong. How would I know? And I may not care. For what it’s worth.

    When I motored my way through Star Wars series (hey, the first three)I already knew the science was deeply questionable. I loved them anyway. You don’t watch these for the science. You watch them for the hope.

  5. Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t seen the movie…but, if I understand the basic premise, it’s not unlike a couple people in a sailboat getting capsized a few hundred miles away from Guam deciding their only hope for survival is to swim to Hawaii. And they successfully proceed to do so by swimming due south.

    I’m all for willing suspension of disbelief, but there’re limits. At the very least, you need to offer up some sort of self-consistent fantastical device, like a magic wand or the particle of the week.



    • Diane G.
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      “I’m all for willing suspension of disbelief, but there’re limits.”

      This. And Hollywood almost always exceeds them.

      • Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

        And the frustrating thing is that Hollywood’s the perfect place for doing impossible things in a believable manner. Just set this particular movie 50 years in the future and give them atomic jetpacks and air manufacturers, and build the dramatic tension by the particle of the week damaging the equipment. Now you can get all the orbital mechanics correct — it’s not that hard — and you don’t have to worry about Neil twittering about how clueless you are.



        • eric
          Posted October 7, 2013 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

          Forget the atomic backpacks. If you’re going to do this sort of plot, just make Poul Anderson’s A Bicycle Built for Brew.

          • Prof.Pedant
            Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

            That would be so very freaking cool.

          • Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

            Must admit, I don’t know that one….


      • tmkeesey
        Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

        Can we stop blaming everything on this “Hollywood” bogeyman? Hollywood makes tons of movies, ranging from excellent to horrible. And this particular film isn’t even really a “Hollywood” film. Cuarón is a true auteur who maintained a very high degree of control. He blocked attempts by executives to inject a love story, or flashbacks, or explosions that make noise in space (although they still slipped one into one of the trailers). And it was shot almost entirely in England (partly in Lake Powell). This is a “Hollywood” movie in the same sense that 2001: A Space Odyssey is a “Hollywood” movie — yes, the funding came from there, but that’s about it.

        The movie is light on plot because it tells a very small story, almost in real time. It’s set in an alternate timeline, where we’re still using Space Shuttles and the Chinese have their own space station (apparently built mostly by Russians). And it has the best depiction of what it’s like to be in space since Apollo 13, or maybe 2001.

        If you see it in 3D, you’re not even going to be thinking about that stuff. You’re going to be engulfed in a masterfully-crafted cinematic spectacle the likes of which you’ve never seen. You’ll be too busy alternating between feelings of awe and dread to notice a few piddling little “gotchas”.

        • Mark Perew
          Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:43 am | Permalink

          I saw Gravity in Imax 3D and I was definitely thinking about all the factual errors and plot holes. The pseudo-realism only heightened the cognitive dissonance.

          • tmkeesey
            Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

            What plot holes? The plot’s not big enough to have holes.

            They stretched a few points, like the locations of the objects, sure. Although, again, since it’s already in an alternate timeline, I’m not even sure that counts as an error. (Do we hold it against 2001 that Pan Am is still around?)

            It’s just weird to me that this movie’s already getting so much flak. Especially when it’s from the same people who love Star Trek, where people still run around on the floor when the power’s out and there are aliens that look exactly like humans.

  6. Nate
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    I saw the movie and thought it was slow and boring (luckily it was very short). I imagine it would have been 100x better if I paid for the 3D version.

    • Lianne Byram
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      I saw it in 3D.

    • jdhuey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      I hate 3d movies – the visual gimmick always seems to take away from the story and contributes nothing: except for Avatar, and now Gravity. There were a few places where they got gimmicky but, all in all, the 3d was effective in putting the viewer into the environment and making you a part of the story. Yes, they sacrificed the science to tell a story. I enjoyed it a great deal – I’m not sure it would be worth seeing twice but it certainly made my heart pound.

      • Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

        Two other movies that good esthetic use of 3-D were “Hugo” and “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”.

        • Kurt Lewis Helf
          Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

          Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3-D was excellent save for the bizarre postscript.

  7. Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    I just saw the movie this afternoon having read rave reviews. I’m not a scientist but I thought it was a dreadful fluff piece on so many levels, really stupid and sickening pablum. One of my main questions wasn’t even the perfectly coifed hair, it was where did they go to the bathroom?

    Anyway, if you want a really dramatic and important film, much much shorter, watch this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRGVTK-AAvw#t=573

    • Mel
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      Check out Karen Nyberg, currently on the ISS, for a real-deal micro-gravity ‘do. I think it’s great. This is her Twitter photo. http://goo.gl/EObhK4

      • Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink



      • Marella
        Posted October 9, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

        I want to be an astronaut just so I can have space hair.

  8. bricewgilbert
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic film and intelligent people can recognize the scientific faults while still enjoying it.

  9. canatheist1
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed the film, more because it happened in space and seemed pretty accurate. I never took notice of her flacid hair though, but come to think of it…

  10. Mel
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    I know a movie (“Breezy” with William Holden–directed by Clint Eastwood) where a couple on the California shore of the Pacific Ocean, watch a sunrise over the Pacific.

    I watched Neil’s tweets coming across and give him a lot of credit for speaking up. Maybe scientists should get themselves Hollywood agents and accept consulting positions on movie productions.

    Maybe the movie will be on Netflix streaming someday; I’ll watch it then.

    • Andrew Platt
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 4:19 am | Permalink

      Well Prof Brian Cox (is he as big a star in the US as here in the UK?) was apparently scientific advisor for the dreadful film “Sunshine”. Forget that it is merely a re-hash of every sci-fi movie you’ve ever seen and instead ask how puny humans, living on the speck of dust they call earth, could ever hope to re-start a dying star.

      The best advice Cox could have given was to not make the film in the first place. If he wanted the fee so badly why didn’t he at least ask for his name to be removed from the credits?

      • darrelle
        Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:19 am | Permalink

        So, having fun is bad?

    • tmkeesey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      Don’t bother on TV. See it in 3D IMAX now, or don’t even bother. Go big or stay home.

  11. Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Ridiculous movie. Not only was it scientifically absurd (unless technology is a religion for you, ha!) it was emotionally maudlin and intellectually shallow. It was painful to watch how she survived impossible feats such as slamming into physical objects at high speeds that were crushing everything composed of metal all around her.

    It’s a film for idiots who like being brainwashed that some miracle is going to save us from certain destruction.

    There seems to be some funny parallel between the catastrophe zombie genre and the fabulist survival genre.

    The end is going to be far more mundane. Famine, pandemics, and violence of the really ugly sort.

    • Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      Not with a bang but a whimper!

    • SA Gould
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

      Didn’t dislike it *that* much, but… I kept waiting for the movie to have a point. *SPOILER* woman loses daughter in accident, becomes depressed. Regains faith in god/heaven due to disaster.

      Also Clooney is barely in it for a mere 10 minutes! Would have been a better story if he was actually dead *the whole time.* Woman acts like complete nitwit for first half of the film, then decides to (wo)man up.

      Pro: the only movie I’ve seen where 3D effects made actual sense.

  12. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    I want to see the movie but I usually avoid ones where inaccuracies will bother me too much (like Troy – I will probably never see Troy).

    It’s okay to be a geek and look like a geek as long as you aren’t disturbing those around you in the theatre.

    • Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know enough about that period of history to have noticed them, let alone be bothered by them. I enjoyed it.


      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:44 am | Permalink

        Yes, it’s a blessing and a curse to know about ancient history and the Iliad. 🙂 It is why I have a hard time dealing with Gladiator as well but I loved the opening scene. As a few others have said in this thread – Hollywood has the means to be accurate but choose not to; I feel the same way with Gladiator and Troy. The real history is far more interesting than the fiction they made up.

    • Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

      In Troy, I thought Brad Pitt was more wooden than the horse.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Diana, just curious, by inaccuracies in Troy do you mean departures from the Illiad, or departures from plausible depictions of Bronze Age warfare?

      I ask because they made an interesting choice to tell the mythical story of Achilles but without the supernatural elements that dominate the Illiad.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 8, 2013 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        I think the cultural context of who Achilles and his love of his boyfriend Patroklos for starters. Once I got to that part, I couldn’t watch it at all. Also, since the gods pretty much move the plot of the Iliad, it skews the whole thing and modernizes it so that character and psychological behaviour moves the plot more than it does in heroic epics.

        I suspected there were so many things I wouldn’t like given these fundamentals that I would annoy anyone watching it with me.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

          I meant to say who Achilles was and his love of Patroklos. Even Alexander the Great mimicked Achilles with the Patroklos part. I like my Achilles like I like all my Bronze aged heros, single minded and kinda gay. 🙂

          Later Greek renditions of Herakles really show a dislike of that old hero with the once brutish Herakles reduced to a big mook that’s always hungry.

          • Latverian Diplomat
            Posted October 8, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

            Thanks. Maybe it’s just me, but I always thought Hector was the real (but tragic) hero of the Iliad. This may be a result of modern sensibilities.

            I think Troy handles the Hector story reasonably well. It’s the only Eric Bana performance I’ve ever enjoyed.

            Also, I never liked that the divine intervention that helps Hector defeat Patroklos in the Iliad, and as I said, that sort of stuff isn’t in the film.

            Achilles sexuality in specific, and classical Greek and Roman male sexuality in general aren’t well understood by modern audiences. In particular you have to portray someone who is

            1) The apex of manhood, admired and feared on both sides

            2) Capable of throwing a pout storm over a woman captive (Briseis) but also

            3) Thrown into fury over the loss of his male lover Patroklos

            It would be nice to see Hollywood try, but I regretfully understand their hesitation.

            • Latverian Diplomat
              Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

              By real hero of the Iliad, I mean to me personally, I’m under no illusion that Homer and his contemporaries didn’t see Achilles as the admirable and also tragic protagonist of the Iliad.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:16 am | Permalink

                They saw Achilles as the hero alright but everyone was really just living out their fate. Achilles was fated to live a short life full of triumph and even his mother couldn’t protect him by dipping him into the river Styx (pro tip: if dipping your kid into the river Styx to make him invincible, make sure to get all the spots. You may therefore need to do it twice). Even heros and demi gods and gods don’t get to escape fate.

                Hector gets his turn in the Aeneid (poor Roman substitute but the Romans needed a nice creation story that tied Augustus to Venus and to Rome).

                The hero of Odysseus in the Odyssey and all those themes are pretty set too – the loyal woman who waits for her husband for a generation and spurns suitors as best she can, heck even the dog waits for Odysseus! The hero who can’t help being a liar and bragger in his cunning…..all that fun stuff.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

              Oh Achilles did indeed pout over not getting all the women to rape but they were on par with all the gold and other trinkets he would plunder from a conquered city. In this respect his brooding is accurate and is the reason Patroklos gets killed – it’s the central theme of the Iliad which opens, “sing goddess of the wrath of Achilles”.

              The Iliad is far from sentimental but it comes close when Priam takes his hands and begs for his son’s body to be returned to him.

              I know I’m a total pedant about these stories but I think it would be nice to teach people about the cultural context and try to convey that. Otherwise, people get things all mixed up. Having said that, I hope it convinces more people to learn about the Classics – I know watching dreadful renditions of Classical stories got me to read about Classical mythology (Edith Hamilton’s tattered book is still on a shelf somewhere), which made me want to take Latin in highschool, which led to me studying Classics in university and brought me to here – where I complain pedantically about movies and their bad treatment of Classical things. 🙂

  13. Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Pedants are the worst.

    • bric
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:56 am | Permalink

      The worst what? Please be specific, preferably using numbered headings. And references.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:04 am | Permalink

        +1 nice!

  14. Allen
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to see it, accompanied by some other HS physics teachers. Phil Plait’s review was much more generous.

  15. mordacious1
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    About the hair, I had a GF who used Aquanet…you couldn’t move her hair with a crowbar.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

      In highschool, I went to kiss a girl and nearly had my eye poked out. (Treated with certain products, hair can be a lot more dangerous than a BB gun!)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        That was just god’s way of keeping you chaste. 😉

        • JohnnieCanuck
          Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

          Then probably god didn’t succeed that time either.

          Where there’s a Will, there’s a way (or a Wilma).

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

      We called that shellacking your hair in the 90s when we went out to clubs. 🙂

    • Posted October 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

      LOL. It probably could easily be set on fire though. 🙂

  16. Dennis Weaver
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    Easy fix: preface the beginning of the movie with the caption, “This motion picture depicts scenes of unrealistic astrophysics, scientific discretion is advised.”

  17. Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Oh hell, you may as well just watch this:


    • Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

      Odd how — years after shows like Candid Camera and Game for a Laugh — people’s first reaction is that something genuinely weird is going on.


      • Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Remember, they did multiple takes, and they’re only showing you a few seconds of the best reactions. And, the way some of those scenes were edited, the reactions could have been to the initial emotional outburst. Plus, they admitted they had lots of accomplices in the room; I’m sure at least some of them gave convincingly emotional reactions, and we could well be seeing those.


  18. Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    It cant be anywhere as dreadful as Prometheus, which is anti-science fiction movie

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

      Oh hell – Prometheus is anti scientist! How could they assemble the dumbest people ever to go on that trip? That movie was just awful. Everyone just Stop. Making. Alien. Movies. You killed the franchise after Aliens.

    • tmkeesey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      It is definitely not anywhere near as bad as Prometheus. It’s reasonably close to accurate, which I guess makes some of the imperfections stand out to some people.

  19. Andrikzen
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s called willing suspension of disbelief.

  20. Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I am willing to suspend disbelief for a movie, even one pretending to be about incidents in ‘real’ space. This one is really a sci fi movie. Attractive astronauts not dieing after a bunch of accidents in orbit = aliens and noisy space explosions. Not much different, really.
    What really cheeses me off are the science and nature documentaries with blatant inaccuracies for the sake of extra sensationalism.

  21. kmhorn
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think Neil deGrasse Tyson needs to worry about looking like a geek to people who follow Neil deGrasse Tyson on twitter.

  22. Brad
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Saw in IMAX3D. Visually powerful, like you’ve heard. A survival story essentially. Misses greatness, for me anyway, for two reasons. One, the filmmakers don’t seem to understand that human beings working in space through the medium of advanced tools is gripping stuff. Not because if something goes wrong your dead but rather because it’s just friggin amazing if you think about it. Not enough wonder for me. And two, Sandra Bullock is given a lame and morbid backstory that only interupts the critical events unfolding before our eyes. It’s pure Hollywood contrivance. I didn’t need this portal into her psyche. I assume that anybody w. the credentials to work in space is spectacularly intelligent and driven and curious and interesting. Isn’t that enough?

    • tmkeesey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

      But the backstory is so minimal, it seems silly to me to gripe about it. It’s a few lines of dialogue — no flashbacks (like the studio wanted), no introductory scenes (as in a standard action flick), or anything.

  23. ladyatheist
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

    One of the few books I have shlepped in many moves is Lawrence Krauss’s “The Physics of Star Trek” (still in print)

    • Lianne Byram
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      I enjoyed that book too. As well as all things Star Trek (more or less).

      • Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink



        • Latverian Diplomat
          Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

          Enterprise had so many self inflicted wounds, but probably the biggest problem was a prequel series that had such contempt for the original. In particular, two of the most interesting elements of the original that the Enterprise team seemed not to understand and to actively dislike:

          1) The Prime Directive
          2) Vulcans

          When Manny Coto took over in season 4 he tried to fix #2, but he did it in typical Manny Coto style, with a long, tedious three-parter where the heroic human captain saves the Vulcans from themselves and sets them on the path to cultural renewal.

  24. Mel
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Hey! Neil got himself on NBC Nightly New. See the NBC video inside this story by Alan Boyle, NBC News science editor.


    How often do we see astrophysicists on the nightly news? Who knows, maybe he’ll get a spot on Leno or Letterman.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

      He was on the Daily Show or Colbert after criticizing the astronomy of a different movie

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted October 7, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

        It was the stars in the movie, Titanic but he also has weighed in on Thor’s hammer, and we all argue about Thor’s hammer sometimes.

        • Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

          “We” being geeks?


          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:59 am | Permalink

            Well yes we being “geeks” though with Thor now on the big screen, the hammer discussions have spread to the non geek as well….or perhaps the non geeks have been assimilated into geek culture all through the seductiveness of Thor’s arms (I have a friend who has a man crush on Thor).

        • Latverian Diplomat
          Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

          It seems to miss the point that the Mjolnir’s apparent mass varies with the virtue of the person trying to pick it up.

  25. Barry
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I saw it in 3D and thought it was great. But it was not done along the same plot lines as other recent exciting movies. It ends too soon when she lands the escape pod in a lake, swims to the surface and walks away. It would have been more exciting if the lake were full of crocodiles, and then some lions when she defeats the crocodiles and climbs out on shore, and then ………….. etc.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

      That’s almost the ending I wanted for Battlestar Galactica. They land in Africa, a lion mauls Lee. He yells, “I once was a pretty man” then the lion eats him.

    • Latverian Diplomat
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      And then she sees a squad of Gorilla soldiers beneath the shattered remains of the Statue of Liberty.

      • Marella
        Posted October 9, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink


  26. Posted October 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Saw it in 3-D and thoroughly enjoyed the visuals. Having read about the errors in physics, I have to wonder why they didn’t get more of the details right; it seems like they could have still made a gripping movie that would have been just as satisfying. My real complaint, though, is with the ponderous and silly pop
    psychology/spirituality that encroaches on the film as it progresses. I would love to see the film with about 80% of the third act’s dialogue (monologue, actually) cut, and have the action just play out in the silence of space. It worked very well when it combined beauty and terror visually, and when things were operating on a visceral level (most of the film), but fell flat when it tried to get inside the Bullock characters’ head. That said, I’d see it again just for the visual imagery!

    Oh….the soundtrack was really good too. If you stay thru the closing credits you can hear all of the films themes reprised. The score suited the movie just about perfectly.

    • jdhuey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Agree about the pop psychology stuff – an unnecessary distraction from the actual story.

  27. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Haven’t seen Gravity yet so no spoilers! But a good friend says we really ought to see it in 3D at the theater for the full on effects. I hope “someday” means while it’s still running at the cinema for you, Prof. Ceiling Cat.

    Also, I love Dr. de Grasse Tyson’s spunk, but I’m a fan of real world physician and ex-US astronaut Story Musgrave. Check this out, from his wiki page:

    “He received a BS degree in mathematics and statistics from Syracuse University in 1958, an MBA degree in operations analysis and computer programming from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1959, a BA degree in chemistry from Marietta College in 1960, an M.D. degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1964, an MS in physiology and biophysics from the University of Kentucky in 1966 and a MA in literature from the University of Houston–Clear Lake in 1987.”

    I know, not everyone can be like him, but it’s not unprecedented.

    • Shwell Thanksh
      Posted October 7, 2013 at 7:24 pm | Permalink

      Oh, I forgot to add that on STS-61, “the HST [Hubble Space Telescope] was restored to its full capabilities through the work of two pairs of astronauts during a record 5 spacewalks. [Medical doctor and astronaut] Musgrave performed 3 of these spacewalks.”

    • Posted October 7, 2013 at 8:25 pm | Permalink


    • Posted October 8, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      That’s a lot of degrees!

  28. Shwell Thanksh
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    As long as we’re picking nits, those in the know always refer to “microgravity”, never “zero gravity”, in LEO (low Earth orbit).

    • Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

      At 230 miles above the Earth’s surface (the altitude of the International Space Station), gravity is 89% of its strength at sea level. If you stood on a 230 mile high tower built on the North or South Pole, you would weigh 89% of what you do now. From this perspective, gravity at this distance is neither zero nor micro.

      For objects in free-fall, which is what an orbit is, the term microgravity is used to account for a myriad of extremely small accelerations. Weight is for all practical purposes zero, but tidal force is strong; the spaceship and every object in it experiences an extremely weak stretching force because the part of the ship facing the Earth is accelerated faster than the part facing away from the Earth. The term “microgravity” accounts for, among other things, this slight differential.

      “Weightlessness” is perhaps the more correct term in this discussion, – but I am guilty of picking nits 😀

      • Latverian Diplomat
        Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        It’s just a little unfortunate that the correct terminology you just went through really doesn’t help with understanding the distinctions between mass, weight, gravity etc.

        It’s tricky but not that tricky, but the language really gets in the way on this one.

        • Posted October 8, 2013 at 11:57 am | Permalink

          Reading it again, I agree it is not good writing. But it was 5:30 AM, and I am suffering from a 7 hour jetlag, I should have waited a week.

          • Latverian Diplomat
            Posted October 8, 2013 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

            No it’s not your writing, the terminology really is weak.

            For example g is not really zero, but we often refer to it Zero-G. And Free Fall is accurate, but not intuitive, because if you’re in orbit you’re not falling in the conventional sense (though you are falling in the vector calculus sense).

            Part of it is just that our language is pre-Newtonian.

  29. Harbo
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm | Permalink

    Gully Foyle could have shown them how to do it!

    • Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

      It would’ve been a jauntier film, no doubt.


    • darrelle
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:24 am | Permalink

      Vorga, I kill you filthy!

  30. Dave Ricks
    Posted October 7, 2013 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Tyson tweeted —

    Mysteries of #Gravity: Satellite communications were disrupted at 230 mi up, but communications satellites orbit 100x higher.

    Wikipedia shows that today in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Iridium and Globalstar satellites orbit at altitudes of approximately 400 and 850 miles respectively. Yes those two LEO constellations are higher than 230 miles, but not 100x higher.

    I haven’t seen the movie. I assume the movie is set in the future because I don’t recognize their space suits. My point is Wikipedia shows LEO is a valid choice for a communications constellation today and in the future. Tyson would be wrong to say this is wrong on science.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:57 am | Permalink

      Yes, iridiums are in polar low earth orbit which makes seeing them quite common as well. I have serendipitously seen a iridium flare a couple of times.

    • tmkeesey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      It’s set in an alternate world where we still have Space Shuttles and the Chinese have their own space station (apparently mostly made from Russian parts).

    • Dave Ricks
      Posted October 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

      Fact, in 2009, two communications satellites collided in LEO, so I say this aspect of the movie was based on that fact.

  31. Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Visually impressive, and overall I enjoyed it. However it did seem like they kept trying to throw whatever extra obstacle they could think of at Sandra B’s character. For example, unless there was a puncture, I don’t understand the lack of fuel. I also missed why the ‘object’ at the end lost its orbit and re-entered the atmosphere.

    • tmkeesey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      SPOILER: The object burning up at the end is the rest of the escape pod.

  32. Posted October 7, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Buzz Aldrin likes it. (Shwell Thanksh @ 28: Note his use of “zero gravity”!)


  33. prochoice
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    Tyson is right.
    It needs to be said.
    And there is ONE reason for all the nonsense:
    It is another one of those films where a panicky girlie needs to be rescued by a man.
    As role model as bad as the films in my youth.

    • ladyatheist
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 4:50 am | Permalink

      How else can you get man-boys to take a night off from their video games?

      • prochoice
        Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:09 am | Permalink

        o.k., we live in capitalism.
        cannot deny that film producers want a share of the money videogaming boys can spend.

        Even if I could guess that a few movies at the expense of pink toys and slimming diets could bring in more, in addition to the longterm effects on girls´lives: less health damage AND a field of interest with a better chance for a wellpaying job.

        Just my point: chance missed, again.
        Leaves me as bitter as I am old.
        (And do not forget – if your remark was not only irony, ladyatheist – the problem often crops up in the education system: better chances for girls seem to be shortterm disadvantages for boys. To sell the longterm view has been hard each time)

        • Max
          Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          On the other hand, she was a woman scientist/astronaut/HERO OF A MAJOR MOVIE. You really want to ignore all that because she got some help and advice from a guy? You know, that happens sometimes in real life.

          Were the astronauts in Apollo 13 less manly or heroic because they got help from the men at Mission Control?

    • tmkeesey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      There’s an arc over the course of the film. In the beginning she’s rescued, but by the end she’s triumphantly independent.

      That said, it is interesting to think about it if the sexes had been reversed.

  34. staffordgordon
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    I was already thinking that Stanley Kubrick wouldn’t have been this sloppy before his masterpiece of nearly fifty years standing was mentioned.

    Mind you I haven’t seen the film yet, but I think I can take Neil deGrasse Tyson’s word at face value.

    • tmkeesey
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:21 am | Permalink

      You mean where he says he really enjoyed it?

  35. Dominic
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 2:23 am | Permalink

    If we want to criticise films, while I quite enjoyed Oblivion (Tom Cruise), there are several daft bits important for the story line but just daft. The plot depends on him being out of radio contact with his base. This is a technology with space flight & remote robotic patrolling flying machines so the idea that they would have to rely on line of sight communications is silly – they could have satellites for goodness sake!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:06 am | Permalink

      I have a whole rant about Oblivion that starts with – why would a machine intelligence need squishy humans to do repair work? Also, why do they need water? Everyone always wants the Earth’s water. A friend said for Oxygen but I figured you could get it from a nebula with less resistance.

  36. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    Movies have always been full of errors and inconsistencies whether it be defying the laws of physics, misrepresenting the relative positions of Java and Krakatoa, giving ants only four legs (A Bug’s Life), giving cowboys pistols that apparently never need re-loading or by playing fast and loose with historical facts.
    Most of the time it doesn’t matter as we know it is fiction and the only thing that matters is whether or not the story grips us. I guess we all have our own sensitivities about which particular blooper outrages us to the point that we can no longer enjoy the movie.

  37. JBlilie
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit surprised (Jerry) that you found Creation dreadful.

    I enjoyed it; though it had it’s grating moments. I think Bettany (one of my favorite actors) and Cumberbatch (another excellent actor) did a fine job in their roles. (Huxley came off as an aggressively grouchy creep; but maybe that’s not too far off the mark.)

    I’d be curious what you found dreadful about it. ??

    • JBlilie
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      … or even its moments … (sheesh, I hate that error.)

  38. morkindie
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    He did not go too far.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with picking apart a movie, or a book or whatever.

    If movie makers don’t want to hear it, they will consult scientists. That would be a small expense and it might draw in more geeks.

    • Posted October 8, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Imagine the publicity if Neil had instead sent out a similar bunch of twits about all the stuff they got right. “OMG — can’t believe I’m gushing over Sandra Bullock’s hair, but did you see the way it floated?”


  39. Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I saw it in 3-D Extra Experience. It was OK, and I enjoyed some of it, especially the special effects and the floaty feeling. The views of earth and the aurora borealis are stunning, but the movie is very disappointing and thin on plot and dialogue.

    I’d give it at the most 69%.

    The best thing I saw today was a nice program about Darwin on eqhd, “Darwin’s Brave New World”, narrated by one of Canada’s heroes and environmental activists, Dr. David Suzuki. There were cameo appearances by Prof. Coyne, and Dr. Dawkins!

    Here’s a little trailer.


    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted October 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Hey I saw that Darwin show too! It’s a series. I thought it was pretty good but didn’t catch the whole thing.

      • Posted October 8, 2013 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        Thanks, Diana! I didn’t know it was a series, but just in case, I set the PVR to record any and all. 🙂

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted October 8, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

          I’ve just done the same!

  40. krzysztof1
    Posted October 8, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Wait a minute! Was he tweeting during the show? I hate when people do that!!!!!

  41. Marella
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    YOU DON’T LIKE “EVOLUTION”? We can’t be friends any more. I know it was thoroughly silly, but I love that movie.

  42. Diana MacPherson
    Posted October 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Neil deGrasse Tyson has replies to the press attention to his tweets & says that he said nice things too. 🙂

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