I was excited to see Eric Lander, a co-chair of the the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and Director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, address the attendees at AAAS 2010 tonight. As a TA I’ve watched Lander deliver numerous intro biology lectures to bored, young MIT undergrads (mostly engineers who couldn’t pass out of the Biology requirement), but I’ve never seen him give a public talk. I was particularly thrilled when, while giving his speech on Science and Technology in the First Year of the New Administration, he went off on a bit of a strange tangent to talk about (what else?) the movie 2012! (I mean, seriously, who will survive 2012?)
He brought it up because in 2012, the hero is a scientist. And not just any scientist, Dr. Adrian Helmsley (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), the Deputy Geologist for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP – get with the lingo people, acronyms are all the rage) of which PCAST is a part. I looked it up and I can’t actually find a Deputy Geologist, but it’s reasonable.
Also in 2012, the hero scientist is able to admit that he is not infallible, that at one point, apparently in the oval office, he admits to the President that he was wrong (disclaimer: I am taking Lander’s word for this as I have not actually seen the movie). And Lander feels that this is the kind of scientist that should be advising the public, one that knows that science isn’t perfect and isn’t afraid to admit it.
However, Lander does admit that when it comes to the actual science in the movie, something about solar neutrinos heating the earth’s core, “The science itself… is sort of utterly incoherent.”