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Math Education

Mathematicians Become Hollywood Consultants 521

techstar25 writes "With the recent success of movies incorporating mathematics, Dr. Jonathan Farley, a professor of mathematics at the State University of New York at Buffalo who is currently doing research at Harvard, tapped into his professional knowledge and headed west to Hollywood, where he and Dr. Elizabeth Burns, founded Hollywood Math and Science Consulting to help television and movie producers portray accurate mathematics on screen. Their first client: the CBS drama Numb3rs. 'In many cases, they want me to elaborate on some of the math already in the script,' said Farley. 'I help add dialogue and fine tune the math already in the script. It's not just about fixing mathematical mistakes . . . It's also about helping them get the culture right.'"
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Mathematicians Become Hollywood Consultants

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  • by geomon ( 78680 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:17PM (#12446330) Homepage Journal
    NPR covered this story [npr.org] as well. I found it interesting that the Simpsons had a writer with such an advanced degree in mathematics.
    • by ZephyrXero ( 750822 ) <zephyrxero@yah o o . c om> on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:20PM (#12446364) Homepage Journal
      It would be nice if someone would do this for all computer related things. You can't just zoom in on an already fuzzy picture and sharpen it perfectly! etc...
      • Fantastic picture zooming predates computers. Columbo [imdb.com] solved many a murder by zooming in on a crowd scene or a video to disover a tatoo, monogram, birthmark, etc.

        Law and Order have simply digitized the technique. One season they were fond of zooming in on the name of the particular model of Ford driven by the suspect/victim/witness.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        If you have sequence of similar images from a video or still camera you can use image stacking algorithms to create enhanced stills beyond the original resolution and remove some of the noise. Nothing today can can do that as quickly or as cleanly as what is portrayed in the media today though.
      • The zooming in and "enhance" stuff always gets me. No matter how interesting the story is, I get pulled out of it for several minutes every time that happens.

        My (least?) favourite was after a bit of "zoom in on this" and "magnify that" they did a "pan around to this side". I wish I could remember what that was from; it ruined the whole show/movie/whatever for me. First, a "pan" would keep the camera stationary, he meant (and the effect was) a "dolly" or "truck" or some combination of the two. Second...
      • by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:50PM (#12446630) Homepage
        It would be nice if someone would do this for all computer related things. You can't just zoom in on an already fuzzy picture and sharpen it perfectly! etc...

        Why limit to computers? How about relatively simple technologies like radio, or jet engines? For example, it drove me bugshit when a character on that fine piece of TV work that is "Lost" said he needed three people standing out in the boonies with some weird contraptions for him to stand in a fourth location with a handheld radio in order to perform a "triangulation" of an incoming radio signal. WTF? Didn't the scriptwriters even look up what "triangulation" means before they tried to use it as a plot device? And then there's the pilot episode with the jet engine. Yes, a jet engine upside down on the beach still running after the crash made for a very scary noise, and having it explode in a huge fireball when some dude got sucked in was impressive, but they might as well have had a 50' clown catching people in a giant popcorn bag for all the plausibility it had.

        Honestly, I can suspend disbelief enough to let it slide when TV/movie writers gloss over a few peripheral technical details; but when they employ patently absurd ignorant interpretations of easily researched technology as the linchpin of that episode's story, there's no good excuse. Having worked around script writers, though, I understand why this is: most of them are fools.

        • What about how moving a sword, no matter whether it's touching anything, always produces a metal-on-metal sound in fantasy/historical movies? That bugs the shit out of me.
        • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:21AM (#12449017)
          I was just informed tonight that a book I worked on as the science consultant, one a Harvard astrophysicist has prepublication reviewed and deemed as having "impeccable science" is going to publication.

          The book?

          Poetry. About the making of "The Bomb."

          Look mom, top of the world. I'm an "acknowledgement."

          There are two things I find interesting about the whole thing. The first being that the poet was perspicacious enough to understand that he couldn't just "wing" the science and claim "poetic license." He knew he was writing about deep juju that he didn't understand and that he'd damned well better make sure he got the juju right. Most poets are fools. This one isn't. Even poetry needs to get it right.

          The second thing is where I, personally, come into the picture. The poet was a college English professor with access to the whole of the college's science department, but. . .he couldn't understand a word the physicists there spoke to him. He needed a physicist who could speak physics in English; and better yet, could do so from the perspective of and in the language of a poet. Not to mention help him understand the culture of physicists and the Manhatten Project, since as a poet it was the people and the culture that was of particular interest to him. This requires someone who can step out and view their own field as an outsider. A "Man From Mars."

          We met in a coffeehouse.

          So, it isn't enough to simply know your science. You have to also know how to convey the concepts to the foolish script writers in a manner that fools can understand and get it right. This would appear to be an unusual skill, but I believe one absolutely essential for all scientists to cultivate, because the populace at large is dependent upon us to explain these things to them; and if we don't do a good job we get nonsense like state legislatures introducing bills to make pi equal to 3, which carries far greater consequences them some stupid movie doing something stupid.

          And I'm really rather flattered by the review, as it reflects the quality of my work on the book.


    • It's not just mathematics features that need this. Every time I watched an X-Files, or movie where bioscience was rendered in film, I cringed at some of the silliness or unrealistic determinations that are made based upon the technology rendered.

      • I know someone from Tufts was an advisor on X-Files' molecular biology, although probably far from the only one.

        When I was at UCLA, we had a constant stream of production assistants coming through to check out lab design and setups, and to check details. They'd always start moping "Oh, I wish I'd done something worthwhile like this with my life!" while the grad students would chase after them with their screenplays and treatments.

    • Which episodes/scenes did this writer do? I don't recall any accurate math scenes.
    • by k2enemy ( 555744 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:24PM (#12446919)
      there was actually a slashdot article [slashdot.org] about this too.

      david x cohen - physics at harvard (b)
      - computer science at berkeley (masters)

      stewart burns - math at harvard (phd)

      ken keeler - applied math at harvard (phd)

      bill odenkirk - chem at chicago (phd)

      jeff westbrook - computer science at princeton (phd)
  • by ShaniaTwain ( 197446 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:17PM (#12446339) Homepage
    Their first client: the CBS drama Numb3rs.

    maybe they should get a spelling consultant too?
  • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:18PM (#12446345)
    These are Hanes-32. My boxer shorts have my name in them.... I get my boxer shorts at K-Mart in Cincinnati, 400 Oak street.
  • by jakel2k ( 736582 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:19PM (#12446351)
    Too bad there are no Jedi around.
  • "10001111011101101! AF320043B2C1? Ha ha ha."

    Going over old notes from late-night sessions of coding graphing programs makes me glad that I don't get this anymore.

    We've done science, forensics, now math. What's next? A hardcore squad of geek detectives solving crimes with Netcraft and Nagios? /. prominently mentioned every other episode?

    I've almost forgotten when a crime show was actually about crime and police and stuff.
  • They do need help (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bgspence ( 155914 )
    For the most part, Numb3rs does a hack job on applying math concepts to real problems. On typical example is using statistics to predict exactly when and where a specific event will occur.
  • Now if someone (Score:3, Insightful)

    by martian265 ( 156352 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:20PM (#12446362)
    Now if someone would do the same thing with computers/technology.

    I know that I'm not the only one that gets sick everytime I see an actor "polishing" up an image by typing randomly onto the computer while looking at nothing but the image itself. Or someone hacking into a computer with 3 keystrokes.

    I guess Hollywood thinks that most of the public are so mystified by computers that they'll believe anything.
    • My favorite glaring error was an episode of Spin City I caught in passing. After the fire alarm sounded, the workers were instructed to take their computers with them on the way out of the building. In the next scene, everyone is shown walking down the stairs with their PC monitors!
    • Re:Now if someone (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdfl[ ]com ['at.' in gap]> on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:32PM (#12446453) Journal
      I guess Hollywood thinks that most of the public are so mystified by computers that they'll believe anything.
      They are right.
    • Oh dear yes. Why do we see a never-ending procession of programs with displays that look like Windows, but aren't actually Windows? Licensing and so on likely, but come on. Microsoft would likely kill for someone to actually show a real recognizable Windows desktop on the screen running a real recognizable app of theirs.

      Laughable more is that most seem like boxes drawn in basic VGA graphics in DOS using QBasic. If I see a *nix prompt, it is almost inevitably a phosphor terminal to an unidentified, but qu
      • > "His password will be hard to crack but
        > I think I can do it." (five seconds pass)
        > "Yeah, I got in." Was it "password" by any
        > chance?

        It could have been: "1 2 3 4 5" (the kind of thing an idiot would have on his luggage).
    • Swordfish (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:43PM (#12446560)
      You mean nobody ever holds a gun to your head while somebody goes down on you to make sure you finish a project on deadline?

      That's company policy around here and the only problem is that you take turns being the programmer.
  • We're getting closer to the day when we won't have the lame keyboard beeps when a hollywood hacker types on his Dell(tm) latitude.
  • I'm sure we've all got the /.'er complaint "can't they get some REAL computer people on there? I'm tired of computers that can scan billions of fingerprints instantly, zoom in on videotape from miles away, etc."

    On a more personal note, if they're looking for someone to correct the ridiculous dialogue coming from tv and film psychologists, I'll offer up my resume. ;)
    • by His name cannot be s ( 16831 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:32PM (#12446451) Journal
      I'm tired of computers that can scan billions of fingerprints instantly,

      Actually this irritates me so much.

      The match on fingerprints is actually lighting fast (and doesn't have any graphical comparison crap), but the scanning in and identifing points can take even an experienced tech hours.

      I really hate DNA match magic that CSI uses... not only does it set a false image into people's mind as to how easy it is, but jurors will often beleive that if no DNA evidence is entered, that gives them resonable doubt, regardless of the massive amount of evidence in front of them.

      Hmmm, while we're at it, I'm sick of the shows where people just seem to be able to hack into stuff (NCIS--Very irritating), or where they just start spewing mumbo-fucking-jumbo. ("I hacked into the Router's backbone NAS Mainframe, where I adjusted their DSL lookup server to allow me to track the GPS Meta-quad jigaflops." ) --eh, NCIS is bad for that too.

      • by BitGeek ( 19506 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:02PM (#12446732) Homepage

        And there's real damage done here--- for instance, how many americans serving on jurors believe that fingerprints can be used to tie someone to a crime? Probably almost all of them-- and because they've seen a lot of BS TV shows where fingerprints are "proof" that the bad guy did it.

        Hell, I bet most slashdot readers are under this misimpression.

        But the reality is, fingerprints are not unique.

        Hell, not even DNA is unique in the way that it is used. (To do an actual DNA match, you'd have to sequence the entire genome... which was only done finally within the last decade and they used a bunch of people's DNA, not one person's.)

        Also the odds given for false matches are completely absurd, based on pseduo science.

        But all this pseudo science presented in fiction is taken as reality.

        Real people think that computers can be hacked really quickly and locks picked in 30 secons and fingerprints are unique. (And even more absurd, that you can tie a gun to a crime based on the markings on the bullets-- reading tea leaves is just as fruitful.)

      • The most ridiculous computer related scene perpetrated in a movie:

        In independence day Jeff Goldblum (sp?) sees a captured alien ship which has not been opened or examined by humans before. The ship is sealed and one cannot get inside of it or open it to see its internals. They know nothing about alien technology.

        So what does Jeff Goldblum do? He sneezes and that gives him an idea. Why not give the ship a virus? He proceeds to open his apple notebook and somehow interface with the ship to give it a virus.
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by physicsphairy ( 720718 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:27PM (#12446407) Homepage
    So instead of having dashingly handsome and witty mathematicians who know kung fu and have packs of women trailing at their feet... now we're going to have eccentric old guys with frizzy hair talking for half an hour about homogeneous manifolds not realizing until an hour later that they came in on the wrong day and that's why none of their students are there?

    Heh, I look forward to having the movie theaters all to myself when these new movies come out. :)

  • Here it comes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:27PM (#12446412)
    Now we get to read a bunch of whining posts about how Hollywood always gets computers and math and science wrong.


    It is just entertainment. Does anyone think that anything shown on the large or small screen is real!? You think geeks are the only "insiders" cringing when they see something on screen? If so, don't be so arrogant. Bus drivers cringed through SPEED. Pilots can point out problems in any script. Don't get started on "medicine" on TV. Even tarot card readers think Hollywood gets it all wrong.

    Say it with me know, "Window dressing" and for the advanced students, "Plot device".

  • Its funny, Buffalonians and/or graduates of UB are disproportionately represented in Hollywood. Hill Street Blues, Homocide, Oz, and many other shows have shown the influence.

    The street names and place names on Hill Street Blues were all taken from Buffalo.
  • Talk about niche (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goalie_Ca ( 584234 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:33PM (#12446457)
    many /.'ers can tell you how to take an integral but only a small percentage can tell you how a wavelet transform works. If /.'ers are "nerds" imagine how much the general public cares. For them its all about the drama anyways. Look at CSI. They have consultants but they still "enhance" video like crazy and source micro fibers they find on dead bugs pulled out of peoples asses.
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:36PM (#12446491) Homepage Journal
    A former government agent is running a terrorist organization set to destroy america's way of life. A sleek matematicion who was just released from prison for an algorithm DMCA violation is brought into the terrorist organization under a false pretence and he is offered a rather large amount of money to do what he does best: hack some mathematics.

    The terrorist chief (Travolta) uses his right hand woman (no pun intended here) - (Halle Barry) to coerce the matimatician (Hugh Jackman) into this entire deal.

    The matimatician is given a task to complete: he has to prove Poincaré conjecture - a rather simple task for such a super intelligent person but he only has 60 seconds to do it (including the side axioms and whatnot) while one of the terrorists is holding a gun to his head and a beatiful girl is sucking on his dong.

    Now a serious question: how is Travolta's character supposed to know whether the theorem was proven correctly? I say they should still have instructed the girl to byte the guys dick off. Just for good measure, to show this brain-guy they are not kidding around!
  • Killjoys (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:39PM (#12446514)
    Next thing you know, they will be pointing out that cars going off a cliff don't magically burst into flames in mid air, and that any bullet with enough momentum to pick up the bad guy and carry him 20 feet backwards though the air would have to do the same to the person holding the gun, and that when Superman leaps up from the ground to catch Lois as she is falling from a skyscraper the impact velocity would be much greater than if she just hit the pavement, and that you can't hear explosions in space... well what fun will it be to watch movies then?
  • by homer_ca ( 144738 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:42PM (#12446543)
    The guys directing the car chases must not have gotten the memo. How do you explain this?

    - Cars that explode in midair when they go over a cliff before hitting anything
    - Ducati 916 motorcycles that can't outrun a Lincoln Town Car (Fled)
    - Tom Cruise shooting behind him over his shoulder using a motorcycle rearview mirror to aim
    - Tires squealing on dirt roads
    - Soundtrack to John Connor's dirt bike upshifts 20 times without downshifting
    • by Surt ( 22457 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:10PM (#12446795) Homepage Journal
      These are easy to explain.

      - Cars that explode in midair when they go over a cliff before hitting anything

      Easy: bombs in the gas tank. You should always check for angle activated bombs in your gas tank before driving over a cliff.

      - Ducati 916 motorcycles that can't outrun a Lincoln Town Car (Fled)

      You've gotta remember to use premium.

      - Tom Cruise shooting behind him over his shoulder using a motorcycle rearview mirror to aim

      Even I've done this on one occassion. A star with proper training should have no difficulty.

      - Tires squealing on dirt roads

      It's the people just under the dirt squealing, and believe me you would too.

      - Soundtrack to John Connor's dirt bike upshifts 20 times without downshifting

      That was a custom bike. He clearly did work on it in one scene earlier. He added a lot of gears.

  • by lildogie ( 54998 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:44PM (#12446565)
    Two math consultants are sitting in the studio cafeteria, and one says to the other: "I'll bet you $50 that waitress is an unemployed mathematician."

    His friend the bet. Then while his friend is in the washroom, he calls the waitress over and says "There's a $20 tip for you if, after my friend comes back, you come over and answer my next question "four thirds pi r cubed."

    So his friend comes back from the washroom, and the waitress comes over and he says to her, "What's the integral of pi r squared?"

    "Four thirds pi r cubed," she says, "plus a constant."
    • Re:I'll bet [objoke] (Score:5, Informative)

      by trendyhendy ( 471691 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:52PM (#12446647)
      That's one dumb waitress, because the integral is actually one third pi r cubed (plus a constant).
    • by donutello ( 88309 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:04PM (#12446744) Homepage
      An unemployed mathematician meets an employed mathematician.

      Q: What does the employed mathematician say to the unemployed mathematician?

      A: Do you want fries with that?
    • by zoloto ( 586738 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @09:24PM (#12447701)
      Speaking of jokes, here's a good one.

      Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?

      He worked it out with a pencil! /bad //so bad
    • Hey, I can play this game.

      A man walking along the road at night sees a mathematician standing under a street lamp, staring at the ground. The mathematician explains that he's looking for his keys. The man asks where he dropped them. The mathematician points at his house, three doors down. "But the light is better over here!"


      What's purple and commutes? --- an Abelian grape.

      What's purple, commutes, and is worshipped by a limited number of people? --- a finitely-venerated Abelian grape.

      What's yello

    • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Friday May 06, 2005 @06:59AM (#12449772) Journal
      A famous maths professor working at a university, one day calls a plumber because his tap is leaking. The plumber replaces the seal, presents the bill.

      "Whoa! That's a week of my salary! For replacing a simple seal!"
      "Want to earn as much as I do? Become a plumber. It really IS that easy."

      So the professor decided to give it a try. And it really worked out great. He left the university, he was repairing pipes, replacing seals, several works a week, salary about 20 times what he would get from the university. It lasted several years.

      Until the Union decided all plumbers need to have at least high school finished. So, there were some classes to refresh the memory and then a test. And the math class, teacher calls our professor to the blackboard and asks to write the formula for surface of a circle.

      And the professor realises it was so long ago since he used it last, sometime during studies yet, that he forgot! But he thinks, "I'm a math professor. I can derive that formula". So he starts deriving it. Draws a circle, splits into infinite number of infinitisemal pieces, adds Jacobian for radial projection, integrates and satisfied, writes: S=-pi*r^2.

      But hey, that minus must be wrong, surface can't be negative. So he starts checking his calculations, looks at them, examines, can't find the mistake. Time passes, the teacher looks, more and more annoyed, whispers rise from the classroom, and after a while they become recognisable: "Reverse the limits of the integral! Reverse the limits of the integral!"
  • Dumbed Down (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:44PM (#12446571) Homepage
    'I help add dialogue and fine tune the math already in the script. It's not just about fixing mathematical mistakes . . . It's also about helping them get the culture right.'"

    And then he or someone else dumbs it down so that the normies can get it. I may only be a Junior student ME in a math minor, but even I can see that the stuff about Riemann's hypothesis and fluid mechanics is grossly simplified to save time and make it friendly for a greater audience. I expect this for a show like Law and Order. But it is surprising for a show like Numb3rs which is (I thought) supposed to cater to being accurate.

    Oh well. We see that once again the need for ratings overwhelms the need for completeness and accuracy.

    • Smarten Up (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fprefect ( 14608 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:58PM (#12447175)
      [i]We see that once again the need for ratings overwhelms the need for completeness and accuracy.[/i]

      Seriously? What do you think people would rather watch, someone working through complex equations on paper or a chalkboard for hours on end, or generating a few models and then explaining how they apply to the real world? Is your need for accuracy so important that you are double-checking their work instead of paying attention to the plot of the show? Have you stop watching SciFi since you realized there are no such things as transporters and aliens, and that hacking into a Gibson isn't nearly as fun as they make it look?

      Sure, it's not 100% accurate, but neither are the forensics dramas, murder mysteries, or hospital shows. People don't want to watch the all boring bits of someone else's life where they catalog swabs, fill out paperwork, or treat someone's rash. It's a drama, it's supposed to be about the story and the science or math is mostly there to give it some context. If it shows people that there are practical applications for otherwise cerebral stuff, then it also encourages education and research, which is a win for everyone.

      I understand you, as a math major, had higher expectations for the show, but what's the point of making a show that only 0.1% of the population can even follow, let alone want to watch? Maybe you work on equations all day and want to come home and see it mixed in with your police dramas, but I doubt many people do. Still, I find their characterizations and science to be reasonable, maybe a little sophomoric but much better than most of the fluff out there.
  • by Eunuch ( 844280 ) * on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:45PM (#12446578)
    Is a math-dummy. Read about it in some gossip rag. He needs to practice what he writes awhile because he has no idea what it really means. Another example of how social skills and looks get you far in a world where math skills are optional. A socially skilled actor with no math skills lands a great job like this. A math genius with no social skills has no hope of getting anything!
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:45PM (#12446584)
    Phil Plait is an astronomer/teacher who likes to debunk or comments on movies/media/etc. at BadAstronomy.com. I've seen this guy at a conference and he's very amusing.

    The core problem with science/math in movies and TV shows is that reality is often too boring to make it on film. Writers/directors/studios feel the need to violate the laws of physics rather than violate the laws of entertainment. I can only hope that shows such as Numb3rs can reverse (or at least) minimize this tendency.
  • Great (Score:3, Funny)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:49PM (#12446621)
    Next thing you know, movies stars will be trading witty barbs like "when you take the closed integral of your personality from negative to postive infinity, you get zero!"
  • For example? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Chess_the_cat ( 653159 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:50PM (#12446629) Homepage
    With the recent success of movies incorporating mathematics.

    Care to provide examples of your claim?

  • by whitearrow ( 680715 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:55PM (#12446673)
    Anyone who is a professional or specialist in anything can be driven crazy by how it's portrayed in entertainment.

    Cops, firefighters, lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, social workers (I have a friend who can go on about Judging Amy for hours), military people, airline pilots, etc., etc. -- all of them can go on and on about how inaccurate entertainment portrays their job or profession. So scientists and computer specialists are not alone.

    The bottom line, IMO, is that hey, it's entertainment, not a documentary, and whatever the *thing* is -- whether it's computers or legal procedure or spy technology or whatever -- is supposed to be in service of telling the story and revealing character, not the other way around. Yes, Hollywood makes lots of mistakes that could be fixed very easily, but the majority of any given set of viewers probably won't know or care -- in fact, they might even think something's wrong because the entertainment didn't conform to the cliche.

    The way entertainment shapes real life expectations is a real issue, and one lawyers in particular are concerned about -- they call it the "CSI effect" on juries, the expectation that fancy forensics will be present in every case, when they usually aren't.

    But as for the entertainment itself, it's usually good if the "stuff" is used in service of the story. I sucked at math my entire life (until prob/stat in college, which I was actually good at) but I really enjoy Numb3rs. The math -- whether it's real or not -- is used very effectively in service of the story, and there's a nice dynamic between the FBI brother and the math professor brother. And the professor Peter MacNicol plays reminds me of a brilliant but absent-minded professor I had once. On the library steps, after a conversation: "When you first saw me, was I going into this building or coming out of it?" LOL.

    • by Edmund Blackadder ( 559735 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:12PM (#12446824)
      Lawyers are very worried about legal shows, and not just because of the inacuracies. Actually, entertainment's treatment of law is usually more accurate than its treatment of science and math, because a lot of the writers have had legal training.

      However, some shows set really bad example. For example in Law and Order which is supposed to be the most serious and respected of the legal shows, the main hero of the show (the prosecutor) keeps doing things that are either illegal or immoral for an attorney in his position. It usually has something to do with hiding evidence that he is supposed to submit to the defence, or tricking a defendent or a witness. And the show celebrates these breaches of the ethics rules, essentially portraying the prosecutor in being really clever in getting the bad guy.

      Pretty much every second part of every eposode is portrayed as a heroic battle between the good guys (that prosecutor and an ever changing hot female prosecutor) on one side and the forces of evil (the civil rights of the defendant and the rules of ethics) on the other side. I have yet to see a show where an innocent defendant has been spared inprisonment because of the proper observance of his rights.

      And of course since more or less the whole population has seen at least several Law and Order episodes (and many people watch that show religously), when the government decides to curb civil rights, the people don't really mind, which is not what you would really expect from this freedom loving nation.
    • They'll find errors, but they'll usually give kudos to a show/movie that gets it close.

      My father, who was a retired district attorney used to tell me that Law and Order (the early episodes) was the closest to the real thing ever put on a screen. He would watch it every week, only every so often getting a little irked that they totally messed something up.

      My uncle used to be a Captain in the Air Force whose job was to be a "key turner" in one of those ICBM silos. A few years ago I asked him about the ope
  • Finally! (Score:3, Funny)

    by flajann ( 658201 ) <[ed.xmg] [ta] [llehctim.derf]> on Thursday May 05, 2005 @06:58PM (#12446696) Homepage Journal
    Finally us matheticians will be taken seriously!
  • Classic math mistake (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hao Wu ( 652581 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @07:47PM (#12447090) Homepage
    In the Wizard of Oz, when the Scarecrow finally receives a diploma at the end of the movie, he blurts out:
    "The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side."
    NOPE! A correct statement would have been:
    "The square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides."

    (They could have fixed this mistake digitally for the DVD release, one would think....)

  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @08:28PM (#12447352) Journal
    For a list of movies under discussion try this link [imdb.com].

    That's my dream job! My claim to fame is that I did consult a tiny bit for one of those movies, but as it has a score of 5.6 I'm embarassed to admit what it was.

  • Sneakers Consultant (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MrScience ( 126570 ) on Thursday May 05, 2005 @09:41PM (#12447810) Homepage
    In the great movie Sneakers [imdb.com], they hired Leonard Adleman, one of the co-inventors of the RSA algorithm. He provided slides for the big math lecture. Thinking that, hey, this was Hollywood, he spent a solid week (going off memory there) creating pretty graphs and typographically sound mockups of the subject material, in exchange for giving his wife a chance to meet lead actor Robert Redford.
    To his dismay, on the day of the shoot, he discovered that someone had just grease-penned some mockup slides to make it look more "authentic."
    He said something like, "If I'd known thats what they wanted, I could have handed something over in a few minutes. And it'd be correct!"
    • by rjh ( 40933 )
      Adleman also said the directors were right to use the grease-penned slides. There's no way a mathematician delivering a lecture would spend a week making perfectly pretty graphs. That's a week which could be spent further preparing the speech. A real mathematician would grease-pen the slides and run with it, which is exactly what they did in the movie. Adleman's mistake was he tried to give them what he thought they wanted, not what they wanted.

      The irony is he thought they wanted something that looked
  • Culture?!? How naive (Score:3, Informative)

    by John Whorfin ( 19968 ) on Friday May 06, 2005 @02:11AM (#12448987) Homepage
    A few years ago, I got to be an extra as a soldier on a movie. As a US Army Reservist, I was rather surprised at the blatant disregard for Army "culture" -- like the wear of the uniform.

    (For current/former military types: "Hey, Hollywood! You work in a gas station? Fix your damn, cover!" -- you know what I mean.)

    I pointed these out to the "technical consultant" (also a Reservist) and was told, "don't push it, no one cares."

    Culture, uh-huh.

    That aside I was very impressed at Hollywood's ability to duplicate the entire suite of field gear in foam. Foam rifles, foam body armor, foam (well plastic) helmets, foam in the rucksacks. Much ligher than the real deal :).
  • by Dammital ( 220641 ) on Friday May 06, 2005 @09:15AM (#12450323)
    ... which completely omitted the big payoff idea from Sagan's book. Read Contact if you haven't, and forget that silly movie.

Lend money to a bad debtor and he will hate you.