restricted access 6 Screening Science
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141 In “Give Me a Laboratory and I will Raise the World,” Bruno Latour asks, “If nothing scientific is happening in laboratories, why are there laboratories to begin with and why, strangely enough, is the society surrounding them paying for these places where nothing special is produced?”1 Latour drew this rather startling question from his early anthropology of laboratory life, a study that helped launch a wave of science studies, which culminated in the hue and cry roused by Paul Gross and Norman Levitt’s Higher Superstition. A National Association of Scholars meeting then had shrilly trumpeted, “Science Is Being Challenged,”2 and the Sokal/Social Text “scandal” received unexpected national media attention. Latour was a central figure in these controversies which really were not about the validity of science per se, but rather had to do with what counts as science in contemporary culture.3 The present essay inverts this debate. Instead of examining scientific practices—laboratory life or scientific writing—in order to demonstrate how they are or are not embedded in ideology and culture, I propose to discuss public entertainment as scientific practice. I want to see how the tools developed by these rogue sociologists and chaptersix ScreeningScience Pedagogy and Practice inWilliam Dieterle’s Film Biographies of Scientists T.HughCrawford Observation and experiment are subject to a very popular myth. The knower is seen as a kind of conqueror, like Julius Caesar winning his battles according to the formula “I came, I saw, I conquered.” A person wants to know something so he makes his observation or experiment and then he knows. —ludwick fleck Anderson - Educated Eye.indb 141 Anderson - Educated Eye.indb 141 7 October 2011 12:56:40 PM 7 October 2011 12:56:40 PM 142 • TheEducatedEye historians work when applied to films that depict (and, as I will argue, are) science in action. In the late 1930s and early ’ 40s, Hollywood film biographies of scientists and inventors were enormously popular. mgm released Young Tom Edison and Edison the Man in 1940, and Mervyn LeRoy’s Madame Curie premiered in 1944. Central to this subgenre are two films by William Dieterle : The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) which received two academy awards and has been called the first docudrama, and Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet , which was released in 1940. Produced at a crucial historical moment regarding the prestige of scientists in America, Dieterle’s films provide a unique perspective on the production of scientific authority through popular entertainment. It is difficult to place Dieterle’s science films in traditional genres. They are not action films; they partake of drawing room comedy and family melodrama, but those elements are peripheral to what is clearly their pedagogical function. Unlike related films of the period—Young Tom Edison and Edison the Man—which do not explain the actual principles underlying their subject’s technological innovations, Dieterle devotes considerable time depicting scientists at work.4 Dieterle’s scientists are active agents making quick, incisive decisions in order to reveal scientific truth in spite of a dull, unimaginative, and often willfully ignorant populace. His message is that the practice of science requires strong moral conviction, extreme self-reliance, indomitable will, and the occasional support of colleagues, spouses, and families. Rather than simple “Pasteurs of microbes” (to use Latour’s phrase), Dieterle’s scientists are Rambos in the lab. In the depths of the Great Depression, this creation of hero-scientists and the depiction of science’s seemingly inexorable progress marks an anxiety about parallel social progress, but perhaps what is more significant in these films, when viewed through the lens of recent sociology of science, is their (probably unconscious) commentary on the production of scientific knowledge. Latour’s work is particularly useful for this discussion, as he spends a great deal of time dealing with two particular elements of scientific practice that serve as the focus of Dieterle’s films: theater and inscription. Pasteur is a careful representation of laboratory life and dramatizes Latour’s concept of the “Theater of Proof,” while Ehrlich carries these themes further and, at the same time, examines the role of inscription in science. However, if this analysis were to remain on this level—examining these two tropes in the films—it would simply be a discussion of the representation of scientific practice in a popular medium. The key insight Latour and his sometime Anderson - Educated Eye.indb 142 Anderson - Educated Eye.indb 142 7 October 2011 12:56:41 PM 7...


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